Archive for January, 2022

Italy’s Frankenstein and His Monster

A January 1922 New York Times Magazine article described Benito Mussolini as a rising figure in Italy. By October, he would be Prime Minister.

Mussolini had helped birth the Italian fascists (Fascismo) who used rough tactics, up to and including extrajudicial killings, in the name of law and order. As the article explains:

After the close of the war, Italian Socialists and Communists got out of hand… In Italy, as elsewhere in the distracted post-war world, it was the extremists, the preachers of change, who were the militant party; the conservatives, the believers in law and order, vehement as their words might be, were not conspicuous for action… Then — suddenly — these extremists found themselves face to face with something quite as bellicose and lawless as themselves.

A new element of violent action stepped into the field. It presented the strange anomaly of men banded together to uphold law and order and conservatism by methods undistinguishable from those of bank robbers and hold-up gangs. This new element was Fascismo. It was the creation, primarily, of Benito Mussolini.

This January 1922 article can be compared to the June 1921 article in the same publication about Gandhi, discussed here on 100 years later in June 2021. Both men were only just starting to make waves in the early 1920s, although both would become primarily remembered by history for what they did 15 to 20 years later. (One of them, of course, being much more positively recalled than the other.)

For Mussolini, the events were truly set in motion about nine months after this article was published. Tens of thousands of his followers marched in Rome to demand the resignation of the current Prime Minister, Luigi Facta, who indeed resigned under pressure. King Victor Emmanuel III gave Mussolini the job, against the unanimous recommendation of his entire cabinet, since he feared a civil war if he did not.

After Mussolini helped overthrow his predecessor, what goes around comes around. Mussolini himself was deposed by that very same king, who was still in the position, in July 1943, as a result of Italy losing the war by that point and mass national discontent with his policies.

A few months later in September 1943, Italy declared an armistice with the Allies, led by the U.S. and Britain. Then in October 1943, Italy officially switched sides and declared war on its former ally Nazi Germany. Mussolini himself was shot and killed in April 1945.


Italy’s Frankenstein and His Monster (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 29, 1922

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Written by Jesse Rifkin

January 30th, 2022 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Overseas

Free Union of Hughes and Harding

After President Warren G. Harding publicly contradicted his Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes on an issue related to Japan, rumors swirled of bad blood between the two men:

Why should Mr. Harding interpret the pact one way when Mr. Hughes had more than once interpreted it the other way, unless the president wished to rebuke the overweening ambition of his secretary?

Clinton Gilbert, author of 1921’s The Mirrors of Washington, disputed the idea.

Mr. Harding’s administration is not a personal government. There is room in it for a Cabinet officer who achieves more prominence than the president… They must get the treaties through the Senate by mutual applause. They must stand hand in hand before the country when it votes next fall.

It’s hard to claim that Hughes was “more prominent than the president,” although he had additionally previously been both a Supreme Court justice and the 1916 Republican presidential nominee.

Yet Hughes was never fired nor did he ever resign for interpersonal reasons, and indeed served out the remainder of Harding’s short-lived presidency until Harding’s death from a heart attack in August 1923. Hughes continued to serve under Calvin Coolidge through the remainder of Harding’s would-be first term.

If you want to see actually bad blood between a president and a Secretary of State, it’s hard to beat Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson:


Free Union of Hughes and Harding (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 22, 1922

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Written by Jesse Rifkin

January 23rd, 2022 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

After Two “Dry” Years

Two years after Prohibition was enacted via the Eighteenth Amendment, this New York Times article called it “practically irreversible.”

You can see why, in January 1922, such a phrase would be used. The legislative branch didn’t seem to be budging on the issue.

Still more significant has been the fact that the new Congress has in the autumn of 1921 strengthen the Volstead Act [the law which actually enforced the 18th Amendment] in important particulars. It is the claim of the drys that their cause is more strongly entrenched at the Capitol than ever before, and if we are to judge by the Congressional Record, the claim would seem to be justified.

Neither was the judicial branch budging, either.

Apparently, there were those who expected that the Supreme Court would come to the rescue with some legal technicality which would mitigate the impending drought… But a consideration of the many decisions of the Supreme Court shows that this tribunal has assumed that the people of the United States knew what they were doing when they passed the Eighteenth Amendment, and that in any event, if they did not, they must bear the consequences. It was not for the judges to rectify the enthusiasms or the negligence of the electorate. The Supreme Court has in the main upheld the authority of Congress to interpret and of the federal offices everywhere to enforce the amendment.

Well, that didn’t last. In 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition once and for all. One wonders which “practically irreversible” aspects of modern American politics, life, or society may similarly fail to last even a dozen more years.


After Two “Dry” Years (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 15, 1922


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Written by Jesse Rifkin

January 16th, 2022 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized