FRANCE, GERMANY, AND ITALY
Mussolini knew that Italy could not bring France to her knees except in alliance with England at sea and with Germany on land, or at least unless she could rely on the benevolent neutrality of the one while she was allied with the other. The Chamberlain— Mussolini understanding ensured the benevolent neutrality of the British Empire. As for Germany, Mussolini and his friends hoped that France and Germany would sooner or later be involved in a new conflict. When this happened, Germany would be able to crush the French on condition that she granted Italy a sufficient share of the booty. Vice versa, France might avert the disaster of an Italo-German alliance by paying a suitable price for an alliance with Italy.1
Mussolini would most likely have preferred an understanding with France to one with Germany. But he was ready to side with Germany if France was unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices. If the French accepted his demands, he promised that he would "understand and sympathize with French concern over her security".2 "I am convinced", stated a Fascist propaganda agent who wrote in French for the French, "that Mussolini would welcome with his whole heart the opportunity to constitute himself, at the side of the French nation, the guardian of French territorial integrity on the Rhine."3
The propaganda agent did not make clear just how far Mussolini was willing to pledge himself in this connection. Il Duce had to offer the olive branch to the French without arousing the protests of the Germans and without shocking the British too much. Aping the language of diplomats of the old school, his agents adopted formulé which pledged him to nothing. An example in point is furnished by the above-quoted writer, who pushed his generosity to such extremes as to say:
"An agreement between Italy and France would have the advantage of defining clearly and concretely the reciprocal engagements of the Governments of Rome and Paris to insure the territorial integrity of the two countries. . . . France would no longer be obsessed with anxiety over her 'security'" (p. 146).