Mussolini's diplomatic tight-rope walking during 1934 was nothing short of miraculous.1

When Hitler went to Venice to visit the Duce (June 14 and 15) the meeting was preceded by the official statement that it "was not directed against France". The conversations were followed by a communiqué which stated that the two dictators had discussed problems of a general character and others of especial interest to Germany and Italy "in a spirit of cordial co-operation". Then Mussolini, during the course of one of those spectacular demonstrations that the Fascist Party could stage so well, proclaimed "to the Italians within and beyond the frontier" that Hitler and he had not met "to remake the map of the world" (this might have been interpreted as abandoning the idea of remaking the map of the whole world, but not of treaty revision in some sections of Europe). They had met "to attempt to dispel the dark clouds that hung so heavily over the European horizon" (good news for the pacifists of England and America). "Europe was faced with a terrible choice: it could either achieve a minimum of political understanding or its doom was irrevocably scaled" (news both good and bad for everybody). "During these days our spirits have been in close communion which cannot fail to affect our future actions" (warning to France). Mussolini's "ultimate goal" was "the greatness of the Italian people"; "this patrimony we will defend against everyone" (good and bad for both Hitler and. Barthou). "We will defend it by persuasion if possible, otherwise with the hum of our machine-guns" (for domestic consumption, according to peace-loving foreigners; a warning to foreigners, according to those Italians who liked machine-guns).

While the official communiqué emphasized "cordial co-operation", and Mussolini spoke of "spirits in close communion", the correspondents of the foreign Press were encouraged by Mussolini's

Feiling, Life of Neville Chamberlain, p. 250:

"True, her [ Italy's] relations with France were as ugly as ever over Tunis, colonies, and the Balkans. Yet a mighty Germany unless used in very skilful doses, would do her more harm than good. Her [ Italy's] nourishing or Dollfuss's Fascist Austria, the clientship of a revisionist Hungary, a proper humility in the Yugo-Slavs, economic outlets through Fiume and Trieste, all were menaced. So throughout 1934, Mussolini's words and actions were balanced and contradictory. As always, he denounced Versailles, declaring Germany had a right to arms and that the League must be reformed; yet he hinted that British ministers pressed France too hard, he wished to Germany no bombers, and demanded her return to the League".


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