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March 22, 2017

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The Foreign Policies of Hitler and Mussolini

Russell Tarr sees similarities but also important contrasts in the foreign policies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy

Germany's Führer Adolf Hitler (right) beside Italy's Duce Benito Mussolini (left).Germany’s Führer Adolf Hitler (right) beside Italy’s Duce Benito Mussolini (left).

To the casual observer, Mussolini and Hitler are something of a diabolical double act: aggressive right-wing dictators who rose to power in similar circumstances, shared a similar ideology, fought side by side in World War Two, and died violently at the end of the conflict in 1945. But the reality is much more complex. In particular, it was Mussolini’s Italy – not the democracies of Britain, France or the USA – that initially led the most vigorous attempts to contain the aggression of Hitler’s Germany. It was the West’s decision to appease Hitler rather than confront him that was at least partly responsible for Mussolini’s decision to realign Italy as an ally of Germany. In the words of Richard Lamb, ‘British policy threw Mussolini into Hitler’s arms’. A study of the foreign policy of both dictators therefore highlights at least as many contrasts as comparisons.