Developments in Italy


By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain

Delivered in House of Commons, London, July 27, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 645-647.

THE House will have heard with satisfaction of the downfall of one of the principal criminals of this desolating war. The end of Mussolini's long and severe reign over the Italian people undoubtedly marks the close of an epoch in the life of Italy. The keystone of the Fascist arch has crumbled, and without attempting to prophecy, it does not seem unlikely that the entire Fascist edifice will fall to the ground in ruins, if it has not already so fallen.

The totalitarian system of a single party armed with secret police; engrossing to itself practically all offices, even the humblest in the government; and with the magistrates and the courts under control of the executive; with its whole network of domestic spies and neighborly informants—such a system, when applied over a long period of time, leaves the broad masses without any influence upon their country's destinies and without any independent figures, apart from the official classes.

This, I think, is a defense for the people of Italy—one defense, although there can be no really valid defense for any people which allows its freedom and inherent rights to pass out of its own hands.

Now the external shock of war has broken the spell which in Italy held all those masses in a fog for so long; in fact, for more than twenty years, and held them for all this period in physical and, even more, in moral subjection.

We may therefore reasonably expect that very great changes will take place in Italy. What their form will be or how they will impinge upon the forces of German occupation and control it is too early to forecast.

The guilt and folly of Mussolini have cost the Italian people dear. It looked so safe and easy in May, 1940, to stab falling France in the back and advance to appropriate the interests and possessions of what Mussolini no doubt sincerely believed was a decadent and ruined Britain. It looked so safe and easy to fall upon the smaller State of Greece. However, there have been undeceptions. Events have taken a different course.

By many hazardous turns of fortune and by long marches of destiny, British and United States Armies, having occupied the Italian African Empire, the North of Africa, and the great bulk of Sicily, now stand at the portals of theItalian mainland, armed with the powers of the sea and of the air, and very large land and amphibious forces equipped with every modern weapon and device. What is it, Mr. Speaker, that these masterful forces bring to Italy? Sir, they bring, if the Italian people so decide, relief from war, freedom from servitude, and, after an interval, a respectable place in a new and rescued Europe.

When I learned of the scenes that were enacted in the streets of the fine city of Palermo on the entry of the United States armies, and when I reviewed the mass of detailed information with which I had been furnished, I could not doubt that the main wish of the Italian people is to be quit of their German taskmasters, to be spared a further and perfectly futile ordeal of destruction, and to revive their former democratic and parliamentary institutions.

These they can have. The choice is in their hands. And what is the alternative? The Germans, naturally, desire that Italy shall become a battleground, a preliminary battleground, and that by Italians' sufferings the ravages of war shall be kept as far away as possible, for as long as possible, from the German fatherland.

If the Italian Government and people choose that the Germans are to have their way, no choice is left open to us. We shall continue to make war upon Italy from every quarter north and south, and from the sea and from the air, and by amphibious descents we shall also endeavor to bring the utmost rigor of war increasingly upon them.

Orders to this effect have been given to all Allied commanders concerned. A decision by the Italian Government and people to continue under the German yoke will not affect seriously the general course of the war; still less will it alter its ultimate results. The only consequence will be that in the next few months Italy will be seared and scarred and blackened from one end to the other.

I know little or nothing of the new government. I express no opinion upon it. But it is obvious that so far as their own people are concerned they have a very important decision to make. Meanwhile, I am anxious that the various processes by which this decision is reached shall be allowed to run their course under no other pressure than that of relentless war. This operation may well take some time.

There may be several stages of transition. Past experienceshows that in cases of a great change of heart and character in the government of a nation, very often one stage is rapidly succeeded by another. I cannot tell.

So far, we have had no approaches from the Italian Government, and therefore no new decision is called for from us except those decisions connected with bringing the maximum avalanche of fire and steel upon all targets of military significance throughout the length and breadth of Italy.

However, I must utter a word of caution. We do not know what is going to happen in Italy. Now Mussolini has gone and once the Fascist power is certainly and irretrievably broken, we should be foolish to deprive ourselves of any means of coming to general conclusions with the Italian nation.

It would be a grave mistake, when Italian affairs are in this flexible, fluid and formative condition, for the rescuing powers of Britain and the United States so to act as to break down the whole structure and expression of the Italian State. We certainly do not seek to reduce Italian life to a condition of chaos and anarchy, and find ourselves without any authority with whom to deal.

By so doing we should lay upon our armies and upon our war effort the burden of occupying mile by mile the entire country, and of forcing an individual surrender of every army or coherent force in every district into which our troops might enter.

An immense task of garrisoning, policing and administering would be thrown upon us, involving a grievous expenditure of power and still more of time.

We must be careful not to get ourselves into the kind of a position into which the Germans have blundered in so many countries; namely, of having to hold down and administer in detail, day by day, by a system of gauleiters, the entire life of a very large population, and thereby becoming responsible, under the hard conditions of this present period, for the whole of their upkeep and well-being.

Such a course might well in practice turn this sense of liberation, which it may soon be in our power to bestow upon the Italian people, into a sullen discontent against us and all our works. The rescuers might soon, indeed, be regarded as tyrants, and might even be bated by the Italian people as much as, or almost as much as, by their German ally.

I certainly don't wish, in the case of Italy, to tread a path that might lead to execution squads and concentration camps and, above all, to have to carry on our shoulders a lot of people who ought to be made to carry themselves. Therefore my advice to the House of Commons and to the British nation and the Commonwealth and the empire and to our allies at this juncture may be simply stated. We should let the Italians, to use a homely phrase, "stew in their own juice" for a bit and hot up the fire to accelerate the process until we obtain from their Government, or whoever possesses the necessary authority, all the indispensable requirements we demand for carrying on the war against our prune and capital foe, which is not Italy but Germany.

It is in the interests of Italy, and also in the interests of the Allies, that the unconditional surrender of Italy should be brought about wholesale and not piecemeal. Whether this can be accomplished or not I cannot tell, but the people in this country and elsewhere who cannot have the necessary knowledge of all the forces at work, or assign true values to the various facts and factors should, I think, at this juncture be restrained in speech and writing in case they may add to the tasks and toils and losses of our armies, and prolong and darken the miseries which have descended upon the world.

In all these affairs we are, of course, acting in the closest concert with the United States, our equal partner and good, gallant comrade, in this new, tremendous Mediterraneanenterprise. Our Russian friends are also being kept regularly informed. The Allied commanders in the Mediterranean theatre are in closest accord, and the British and United States armies under their leadership are working as if they were the army of one single nation. Our two Governments are in continuous consultation and association through the Foreign Office, and I correspond personally almost daily, under the authority of the War Cabinet, with President Roosevelt.

I conceive that His Majesty's Government have the right to ask for the solid and sustained confidence of Parliament. After years of extreme difficulty and danger, we are conducting an increasingly successful war and policy, and we feel sure that the House would not wish us to be deprived of the fullest freedom to act in the name and interests of the nation as we think fit at this particular and swiftly moving juncture.

It is extremely important that full latitude should continue to be accorded to the Government by the House and that no diminution of the responsibility of the executive should be attempted, and that no untimely or premature explanation should be sought in respect of this business of such consequence and complication.

Questions have been addressed to the leader of the House about a debate. Sir, it may be possible for me to make some further statement, not only on the Mediterranean position but upon the war as a whole before the House rises. I should be quite willing if this were possible, but I cannot at present promise to do so, because I do not know whether any point will be reached in the next week from which a general survey can usefully be made.

Very complete, vivid and excellent accounts are appearing in the newspapers of all operations. An immense army of correspondents move with the troops and carry their cameras into the heat of fighting. An immense volume of material of the deepest interest and of a very high level of quality and accuracy fills the public press from hour to hour, and there is at present very little which I could add to this, except, of course, to set matters in proportion as I and my colleagues view them and to place the proper emphasis, or what we conceive with our fallible judgment to be the proper emphasis, upon the various facts and factors.

I would venture to offer another word of caution, and I do not think it is inappropriate to do so in a period when, not unnaturally, our spirits run high. What is Italy as a war unit? Italy is, or rather it was, perhaps about one-tenth of the power of Germany. The German tyranny is being violently assaulted and beset on every side.

The mighty battles on the Russian front, far exceeding in scale any of the operations in which we and the United States have hitherto been engaged on land, have in the month of July inflicted very deep injuries upon the German Army. The systematic shattering of German cities continues remorselessly and with ever-growing weight.

The spirit of revolt rises higher in all subjugated lands. German rule is maintained, from the North Cape in Norway to the Island of Crete, only by hideous and ruthless cruelty, reprisals and massacres. German hopes of U-boat warfare turning the tide of war are sinking as fast as the U-boats themselves.

The whole outlook of the Nazi party and regime, their whole ideological outlook, as it is called, will be disturbed and darkened by the events which have happened and are going to happen in Italy, and the overthrow and casting down in shame and ruin of the first of the dictators and aggressor war lords strikes a knell of impending doom in the ears of those that remain. Nevertheless, let us not allow this favorable inclinationof our fortunes to bind us to the immensity of the task before us or of exertions still to be made and privations and tribulations still to be endured and overcome.

German national strength is still massive. German armies, though seriously mauled by the three Russian campaigns, are still intact and quite unbroken. Hitler has under his orders over 300 German divisions, excluding satellites. Three-quarters of them are mobile and most of them continue to be well equipped. We are fighting some of these divisions in Sicily at this moment, and, as we see, they offer a stubborn resistance in positions well adapted to defense. The authority of the central government of Germany grips and pervades every form of German life.

The resources of a dozen lands are in their hands for exploitation. Harvest prospects are reported to be fairly good. This Nazi war machine is the hateful incubus upon Europe which we are resolved utterly to destroy, and the affairs of Italy must be handled with the supreme object constantly in view.

Both our strategy and our policy, I venture to claim, have been vindicated by events, and I look forward to offering to Parliament as the months unfold further convincing proofs of this assertion. But we cannot afford to make any large mistake which we can, by careful forethought, avoid, nor can we afford to prolong by any avoidable mismanagement the somber journey in which we shall persevere to the end.