CHAPTER III
THE FRENCH OCCUPATION OF THE RUHR

In his maiden speech as Prime Minister before the Chamber of Deputies ( November 12, 1922), Mussolini announced that he was going to force upon Italy's former allies "such a severe examination of conscience as they had not dared make since the Armistice". The wrong done Italy by the Allies would be righted "whatever the cost". He would no longer co-operate in anything except at a price. His motto in foreign affairs would henceforth be "fifty-fifty" ("niente per niente").

The hour of this examination struck a few days later. A conference was to be held at Lausanne to formulate a Peace Treaty with Turkey. Mussolini left Rome amidst a great fanfare in the Press. Instead of proceeding directly to Lausanne, where the British Foreign Minister, Lord Curzon, and the French Premier, Monsieur Poincaré, were awaiting him, he stopped "stock still" at Territet, on the other side of the lake. He would go no farther. It was they who must come to meet him. Curzon and Poincaré did as Mahomet did when he saw that the mountain would not come to him. Mussolini thus scored his first diplomatic victory.

An Italian journalist who was in touch with British and French officials, and whose word is above suspicion, reports that, before starting discussions with Curzon and Poincaré, Mussolini demanded that the meeting be closed to Barrère, the French Ambassador to Rome, and Tyrrel, the Permanent Secretary of the British Foreign Office. When he found himself alone with the two wild beasts he intended to tame, he rehashed for their express benefit the speech he had delivered before the Chamber on November 16: it was high time that Italy's allies came to their senses.1 After administering this lesson to Curzon and Poincaré, he deigned to continue on his way to Lausanne, but the next day, as additional proof of his courage, he was late for his appointment.

When they got down to business, and whenever he was confronted by a proposal, regardless of its nature, he would abruptly retort: 'What shall I get in return?"2 He chafed uneasily against his stiff white cuffs, rolling his eyes. "Je suis d'accord," was the most important thing he said.3

Lord Curzon dubbed him "vulgar and a poseur", "a humbug". Mussollni found the English lord "pompous and ridiculous".

____________________
1
Borsa, Memorie di un redivivo, p. 421.
2
Pertinax, Dictators and War, p. 3.
3
Nicolson, Curzon, pp. 289-90.

-37-

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