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Italian-Americans View on Mussolini During World War 2

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  • Italian-Americans View on Mussolini During World War 2

    I have been researching a mystery surrounding a fire in West Virginia that occurred at the Sodder family home on Christmas Eve, 1945. In discussing this with other people I am told that the father,George, was not liked by other Italian-Americans in the area because of his views on Mussolini and some made threats to him and it is believed the fire was the act of an arsonist. My understanding is that Italians hated Mussolini in the United States especially at the end of World War 2. Could someone help me out with this? Was Mussolini really that hated or were there some Italian-Americans that liked him?
    “When you're in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, 'Damn, that was fun'.”
    ― Groucho Marx

  • #2
    By the end of the War an awful lot of Italians in Italy hated him even if they had been fascist supporters to start with. he had taken Italy into a war that she didn't need to fight, unprepared and initially on the loosing side.

    Given that Mussolini declared war on the USA and not the other way round it would be difficult for a US citizen of Italian descent to justify support for him without openly siding with an aggressor nation.I don't know if the Emergency Powers legislation of WW2 went as far as that of WW1 and made expressing such views imprisonable (1st amendment not withstanding) but in any case it would seem somewhat reckless to take such a stance.

    However during the 1930s there had been an attempt to spread Fascism amongst the "Little Italies" around the world and a branch of the Italian National Fascist Party was established in the USA (HQ in New York I believe). The movement gained support from both the KKK and some ultra sections of the Catholic Church (strange bedfellows but ones that shared anti Semitism). There are photos of American INFP members clustered round a portrait of Mussolini. However membership began to wane when Italy came into the war in 1940 and after war was declared on the USA vanished entirely. The Centro Primo Levi New York has done work and held seminars on Fascism in America. See also Star-spangled fascism: American interwar political extremism in comparative perspective, a paper by Richard Steigmann-Gall

    I have the impression that most former members of the INFP in the USA from 1942 onwards tried to appear more patriotically American than George M. Cohan but their former support may well have been remembered.
    Last edited by MarkV; 13 Feb 19, 07:11.
    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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    • #3
      There's another possibility: Sodder's public statements might have drawn the attention of La Cosa Nostra. We know that Charles "Lucky" Luciano made a deal with the Office of Naval Intelligence to keep New York's docks free from fascist activity and to arrange intelligence for the upcoming invasion of Sicily, in exchange for transfer from Dennemora to more comfortable accommodations, as well as commutation of his sentence. We also know that the Neapolitan Vito Genovese, in order to curry the Mussolini regime's favor, arranged for the assassination of noted antifascist journalist Carlo Tresca in NYC. Maybe Signori Soddu (his original Sardinian name) upset some fellas who knew how to take care of . . . . problems.

      . . . . George Sodder was born Giorgio Soddu in Tula, Sardinia in 1895, and immigrated to the United States in 1908, when he was 13. An older brother who had accompanied him to Ellis Island immediately returned to Italy, leaving George on his own. He found work on the Pennsylvania railroads, carrying water and supplies to the laborers, and after a few years moved to Smithers, West Virginia. Smart and ambitious, he first worked as a driver and then launched his own trucking company, hauling dirt for construction and later freight and coal. . . . .

      They married and had 10 children between 1923 and 1943, and settled in Fayetteville, West Virginia, an Appalachian town with a small but active Italian immigrant community. The Sodders were, said one county magistrate, “one of the most respected middle-class families around.” George held strong opinions about everything from business to current events and politics, but was, for some reason, reticent to talk about his youth. He never explained what had happened back in Italy to make him want to leave. . . . .

      "The Children Who Went Up in Smoke," by Karen Abbott, Smithsonian Magazine, 25 Dec 2012

      I was married for two ******* years! Hell would be like Club Med! - Sam Kinison

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      • #4
        Italian organized crime at this time opposed Fascism in the USA, and in Italy itself too. Any pro-active stance by them would have been against supporters of fascism, not the other way around.

        And I wouldn't try to make up a mystery out of the reason why a 13 year old boy wanted to leave a puny village in the interior of Sardinia in 1895. Simple poverty is the likeliest reason.
        Michele

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Michele View Post
          Italian organized crime at this time opposed Fascism in the USA, and in Italy itself too. Any pro-active stance by them would have been against supporters of fascism, not the other way around.

          And I wouldn't try to make up a mystery out of the reason why a 13 year old boy wanted to leave a puny village in the interior of Sardinia in 1895. Simple poverty is the likeliest reason.
          And since the OP has indicated that the victim may have been a Mussolini supporter they cannot be ruled out - although it does seem a little far fetched. Before anyone is misled into thinking that Italian crime organisations were somehow the good guys it should be noted that they were only anti fascist because Mussolini had vowed to wipe them out in the first place - like many of his projects it sank into a mixture of under funding, incompetence and corruption. Rather like a wasp landing on a scorpion - someone is going to get stung but you don't care who - but the survivor is going to be a damn nuisance.

          On looking further i find that efforts to introduce Fascism into the USA began in the 1920s rather than the 30s and were targeted at first generation Italian immigrants who might be feeling nostalgic about the old country so that the victim might have been an ideal recruit
          Last edited by MarkV; 13 Feb 19, 11:55.
          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Michele View Post
            Italian organized crime at this time opposed Fascism in the USA, and in Italy itself too. Any pro-active stance by them would have been against supporters of fascism, not the other way around.
            That depended on the gangster, and Italy's fortunes in the war at any given moment.

            Originally posted by Michele View Post
            And I wouldn't try to make up a mystery out of the reason why a 13 year old boy wanted to leave a puny village in the interior of Sardinia in 1895. Simple poverty is the likeliest reason.
            Sardinia has a nastier reputation than Sicilia and Calabria combined. The only part of Italy more dangerous is Campania. (When viewed like that, Vito Genovese's choice to support Mussolini made sense: nonostante suo nome il capo era napolitano. ) I'm wondering if Sodder's silence about his youth in Sardinia wasn't a defense mechanism against some one he might have wronged -- genuinely or not -- back in the Old Country. Combine that with the odd characters seen in the vicinity of the Sodder home leading up to the arson and the children's subsequent disappearance, and it starts to look like an old fashioned conspiracy.
            Last edited by slick_miester; 13 Feb 19, 12:39.
            I was married for two ******* years! Hell would be like Club Med! - Sam Kinison

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            • #7
              Originally posted by MarkV View Post
              By the end of the War an awful lot of Italians in Italy hated him even if they had been fascist supporters to start with. he had taken Italy into a war that she didn't need to fight, unprepared and initially on the loosing side.

              Given that Mussolini declared war on the USA and not the other way round it would be difficult for a US citizen of Italian descent to justify support for him without openly siding with an aggressor nation.I don't know if the Emergency Powers legislation of WW2 went as far as that of WW1 and made expressing such views imprisonable (1st amendment not withstanding) but in any case it would seem somewhat reckless to take such a stance.

              However during the 1930s there had been an attempt to spread Fascism amongst the "Little Italies" around the world and a branch of the Italian National Fascist Party was established in the USA (HQ in New York I believe). The movement gained support from both the KKK and some ultra sections of the Catholic Church (strange bedfellows but ones that shared anti Semitism). There are photos of American INFP members clustered round a portrait of Mussolini. However membership began to wane when Italy came into the war in 1940 and after war was declared on the USA vanished entirely. The Centro Primo Levi New York has done work and held seminars on Fascism in America. See also Star-spangled fascism: American interwar political extremism in comparative perspective, a paper by Richard Steigmann-Gall

              I have the impression that most former members of the INFP in the USA from 1942 onwards tried to appear more patriotically American than George M. Cohan but their former support may well have been remembered.
              Last edited by marktwain; 13 Feb 19, 15:33. Reason: up wid the angels....
              The trout who swims against the current gets the most oxygen..

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              • #8
                Originally posted by slick_miester View Post

                I'm wondering if Sodder's silence about his youth in Sardinia wasn't a defense mechanism against some one he might have wronged -- genuinely or not -- back in the Old Country. .
                A more mundane explanation might be that his entry into the USA as a minor with a brother who scarpered back to Italy may have broken US immigration rules. Illegals are not a new phenomenon.
                Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                Comment


                • #9
                  Thanks for all the responses. The people in the area where the Sodders lived believe the mafia had something to do with it but unless George did something pretty bad to them I doubt they would have gone after his family.
                  “When you're in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, 'Damn, that was fun'.”
                  ― Groucho Marx

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                  • #10
                    I have met Italian students in Australia that have a neutral if not a positive outlook of Benito Mussolini, very similar to the opinion of Russians today for Josef Stalin. They all say the same thing, that compared to modern Italian politicians, Benito was all for Italy, and engaged in none of the large scale corruption that costs the ordinary Italian taxpayer so much grief today.

                    Mussolini, at least, wanted a strong and economically vibrant Italy, rather than the self interested murder and corruption of La Cosa Nostra.

                    I don't know how widespread these opinions were or are among ordinary Italians today, but I do note that Mussolini's grandaughter was an elected politician for Italy for many years, with no threats to her life or to her family.

                    For my own opinion, I think Benito was an opportunist, willing to wear whatever uniform or philosophy that would keep him in power. His grandstanding and speech-making certainly make for colorful history and the Fascist party could so easily have lasted just as long as Franco's dictatorship did had Mussolini kept his head and guided the Italian people clear of war and conquest.

                    Also, Mussolini's declaration of war on the United States was a direct product of the "Pact of Steel". Ciano describes the moment he stood on his balcony to announce the decision as to an audience who were plainly "unenthusiastic", but he also remarked that it was late in the day, many were hungry and tired, and probably knew far more about the United States and it's potential than Benito, and Victor Emmanuel ever would.

                    I remain an admirer of the Italian people as a whole. Such a magnificent and tragic history, and a country that is a picturesque museum piece from one end of it to the other. I also get my back up when I'll informed posters and authors poke fun at the Italian military, whose history and traditions have, hopefully, recovered from the severe damage of the Spanish Civil War and WW2.
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by slick_miester View Post

                      That depended on the gangster, and Italy's fortunes in the war at any given moment.
                      We know that the moment was 1945, and you mentioned mafiosi. They would be on the US side.

                      Sardinia has a nastier reputation than Sicilia and Calabria combined.
                      Are you really trying to explain regional reputations to me? I'm Italian.

                      Michele

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by MarkV View Post

                        A more mundane explanation might be that his entry into the USA as a minor with a brother who scarpered back to Italy may have broken US immigration rules. Illegals are not a new phenomenon.
                        Unlikely. The scarpering back was probably due to the older brother being refused entry through Ellis Island - you didn't buy a transatlantic ticket just to accompany your brother, back in 1895. It was a lifetime investment. The older brother probably planned to stay too, but at Ellis Island lots of people were found ill and turned back.
                        A 13-year-old boy alone on Ellis Island who gets a pass? He must have had some other relative who was already established in the USA, who vouched for him, found him his first job and some sort of accommodation. I.e., above-board. Otherwise, a boy this young would not have found an illegal way out of Ellis Island. It was a pretty tight ship.
                        Michele

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Michele View Post
                          We know that the moment was 1945, and you mentioned mafiosi. They would be on the US side.
                          The wildcard could have been someone who took his comments personally. Maybe.

                          Originally posted by Michele View Post
                          Are you really trying to explain regional reputations to me? I'm Italian.
                          Minchia! Sei napolitano!

                          You do realize that nearly 18 million Americans are either of Italian descent or are themselves Italian immigrants -- and that's not counting those of Italian descent who've emigrated to the US from yet other countries, like Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, etc. As it is, I'm up to my armpits in Guineas. Why right now, I'm asking a native of Puglia what the most notorious region of Italy is. Guess what he said. Sardinia.

                          Regarding a couple of the points raised by you and MarkV: illegal immigration to the US from Italy was so pervasive that it prompted an addition to the English language -- WOP, With Out Papers. A fair percentage of Italians that came to the US during the late 19th-early 20th centuries actually intended to return to Italy, and perhaps 50% of Italian immigrants did ultimately return to Italy. Migration from Italy to the US never really stopped, however: many thousands of Italians settled in the US during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s -- decades in which US immigration policy was rather tight compared to the 1980s, '90s, and 2000s.

                          Look, it's certainly possible that the Sodder home was lit by some neighbor angry at him for any old reason, not just his politics. It's even possible that it wasn't arson at all, just some kind of accident. That still doesn't explain the odd characters seen at the Sodder home in the weeks prior to the fire, nor the disappearance of the children. Those events remain quite suspicious.
                          I was married for two ******* years! Hell would be like Club Med! - Sam Kinison

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by slick_miester View Post

                            Minchia! Sei napolitano!
                            Huh, no.

                            You do realize that nearly 18 million Americans are either of Italian descent or are themselves Italian immigrants
                            I do. You do realize that an Italian currently living in Italy is a better source. My wife's grandma was from Pennsylvania, I do not conclude that my wife is a better source about the reputation of the US states than a US citizen now living there.

                            Why right now, I'm asking a native of Puglia what the most notorious region of Italy is. Guess what he said. Sardinia.
                            He's entitled to his wrong opinion.
                            Sardinians do have something of a reputation, but it's for personal ill-temper and long-lasting family feuds, not for organized crime. They did have their own form of organized crime, too, but not on the scale of the Sicilians or Campanians, and most importantly it was running rampant after the war, and long after 1895.


                            Regarding a couple of the points raised by you and MarkV: illegal immigration to the US from Italy was so pervasive
                            Oh sure. But I doubt that much of that illegal flow went through Ellis Island. There were ways to circumvent the system there, but you needed money and an important connection outside, I have my doubts that would have been the case with a 13-year-old boy from a god-forsaken village in the interior of Sardinia. The more likely scenario is the one I mentioned. The boy would have a relative already in the USA, ready to vouch for him and offer him work and lodging, which was already a great thing. But not somebody so rich and well-connected to be able to get him out of Ellis Island, if he had not been able to land legally. The brother probably had some disease and was forced back.

                            These are all conjectures, but in these cases I'd go for the simplest and most likely one.

                            Michele

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Drusus Nero View Post
                              I have met Italian students in Australia that have a neutral if not a positive outlook of Benito Mussolini, very similar to the opinion of Russians today for Josef Stalin. They all say the same thing, that compared to modern Italian politicians, Benito was all for Italy, and engaged in none of the large scale corruption that costs the ordinary Italian taxpayer so much grief today.

                              Mussolini, at least, wanted a strong and economically vibrant Italy, rather than the self interested murder and corruption of La Cosa Nostra.

                              I don't know how widespread these opinions were or are among ordinary Italians today, but I do note that Mussolini's grandaughter was an elected politician for Italy for many years, with no threats to her life or to her family.

                              For my own opinion, I think Benito was an opportunist, willing to wear whatever uniform or philosophy that would keep him in power. His grandstanding and speech-making certainly make for colorful history and the Fascist party could so easily have lasted just as long as Franco's dictatorship did had Mussolini kept his head and guided the Italian people clear of war and conquest.

                              Also, Mussolini's declaration of war on the United States was a direct product of the "Pact of Steel". Ciano describes the moment he stood on his balcony to announce the decision as to an audience who were plainly "unenthusiastic", but he also remarked that it was late in the day, many were hungry and tired, and probably knew far more about the United States and it's potential than Benito, and Victor Emmanuel ever would.

                              I remain an admirer of the Italian people as a whole. Such a magnificent and tragic history, and a country that is a picturesque museum piece from one end of it to the other. I also get my back up when I'll informed posters and authors poke fun at the Italian military, whose history and traditions have, hopefully, recovered from the severe damage of the Spanish Civil War and WW2.
                              Mussolini is revered - in Canada,because he made the trains run on time, which,, eighty plus years later, VIA Rail rarely does...

                              Note the artist in 1928, in Montreal, painted EL Duce as dumpy, middle aged, receding hairline, worried expression......
                              The trout who swims against the current gets the most oxygen..

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