No. 213 UCDA P194/536

Extract from a letter from Michael MacWhite to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Rome, 29 August 1938

My Dear Joe,
During the Summer months little or no work is done in official circles here. A Coupon which I sent to the Foreign Office three weeks ago for the release of some gasoline has not yet been attended to. This is nothing unusual. It took me over a fortnight to get my car released despite personal representations to the U.[nder] S.[ecretary] for Foreign Affairs and to the Director of Customs. In the United States these things would have taken about forty eight hours.

Nearly all the diplomatic people have been absent since early July and are not expected back before the middle of September or the beginning of October. The corridors of the Chigi Palace1 are therefore deserted. There, it would be considered an act of discourtesy to raise any important issue until the effect of the Summer heat has faded away and the Autumn breezes have cooled the atmosphere a little.

The Italians take their holidays seriously and in accordance with ancient tradition. Titled people, and here everybody seems to bear one, are obliged to visit the same resorts year after year unless they are very wealthy when they can afford to ignore the tyranny of custom. The only people here who seem to have money to spend are the middle classes and the small shopkeepers and industrialists. Many of these have autos to take them from place to place but the Dukes, Counts and Barons travel by Bus or on foot. They may own fine houses and beautiful paintings but, as a rule, these are designated as National monuments which nobody wants as they cannot be taken out of the country. No Italian is wealthy enough to buy them and no foreigner can acquire them. They cannot even raise money on them in a pawnshop.

The political situation in Europe is still somewhat cloudy though Simon's2 speech of a couple of days ago introduced some clarifying elements. As regards British Italian relations it seems as if the recent agreement has gone into cold storage much to the chagrin of Lord Perth and Count Ciano, as neither of them can have forgotten the embarrassing lesson of the gentleman's agreement of a couple of years ago. The Duce is not inclined at the moment to withdraw any of his troops from Spain. Nor can it be expected that he will be able to do so until Franco's victory is assured, which may, yet, be many months in the offing. Rightly or wrongly, he is convinced that this has been retarded by the cupidity of France in facilitating over her territory the transport of men and war munitions to the Red Government of Barcelona and Valencia, despite her apparent adhesion to the Non-intervention agreement. The Italo-British deadlock is indirectly due to the French attitude and so, also, is the apparent consolidation of the Rome-Berlin axis. This latter, in my opinion cannot last very long after Franco's [...]3 has been established over all of Spain as the Italian people seem altogether opposed to it. They dislike the Germans for the same reason that the Germans dislike and despise them. It is the fear of isolation that forces the Duce into a position which is considered by some of his immediate associates to be repugnant to his innermost sentiments. Nevertheless, in case of a general conflagration, before the Spanish question is solved in accordance with his desires, he would most assuredly march shoulder to shoulder with Germany. But I am equally convinced that after a Nationalist victory in Spain, and the causes of friction with France are disposed of, the Duce would welcome the opportunity to gracefully retire from a situation which is causing him many a heartache.

The Italian General Staff knows very well that, in case of war, it would be subordinated to that of Germany, a fact that would, in all probability, break the morale of the Italian troops and, at the same time, endanger the Fascist Regime which, amongst other things, has raised Italy to the level of a first class Power. Whatever people may say of Mussolini he is a brilliant statesman who has made very few mistakes. His past shows that he does not hesitate to shift his position should circumstances demand it. There is a widespread feeling in Italy to-day that between Ethiopia and Spain the people have had enough of war to last them for some time to come more especially as the material advantages appear so insignificant. Italian industrialists and bankers who have not yet recouped their losses from recent Fascist adventures are consequently opposed to any further gambles. Another Ethiopia would bankrupt Italy and another levy on capital would so weaken the industrial and financial structure as to leave grave doubts as to whether her economic system could survive the shock.

For want of something more sensational the Fascists, a month or so ago, started a race campaign directed mainly against the Jews which appears to serve no special purpose as there is only one of the tribe of Israel to every thousand inhabitants some of whom can count on eight or ten generations of Italian ancestry. The stand taken by the Pope in their defence, especially where he pointed out that the Duce was only attempting to copy the policy of the Fuehrer, so angered the Fascist Party as to induce them to make threats against Catholic Action but they soon realised, as His Holiness emphasised, that 'he who eats the Pope dies'. It may be taken for granted that the Party will take no irrevocable step against the Church as they know that it is stronger in Italy to-day than when the march on Rome took place sixteen years ago. Clerical observers assure me of this fact. Under the parliamentary regime religious instruction was forbidden in the schools, whereas under Fascism it is compulsory. In the last century anti-clericalism amongst the workers and Freemasonry amongst the middle classes were encouraged. Political advancement was not possible otherwise. How different things are to-day. Instances were pointed out to me where some local Fascist leaders were expelled from the organisation for discourtesy towards the clergy in their districts. Before the war it was snobbish to be Anti-clerical; now, it is a decided breach of good taste, detrimental to the promotion of those in office as well as to their standing in the community. One must read foreign newspapers in order to get conversant with the controversy between Campodoglio4 and Castel Gandolfo5 as the native press gave only two or three lines to it. So far as Fascism is concerned, it was only meant for foreign consumption.

There are some phases of Fascism which I am endeavouring to get a firm grasp of about which I will write you at a later date. At the moment my knowledge of them is rather superficial and subject to verification as one cannot always rely on official publications some of which are only propaganda.

It will be a great relief to Paula and myself [...]6 we can lease the Flat now under consideration but difficulties arising out of local regulations, too long to write about, are standing in the way. The question of a deposit equivalent to three months rent which would stand without interest for the duration of the tenancy is the main one. The owner would dispense with this clause but her Counsel says she cannot as it would be an infringement of the Law. I hope we will be able to get over it somehow as the Flat would suit our purpose excellently and is more impressive than the Holy See Legation.

[matter omitted]

1 The headquarters of the Ministry of Colonies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

2 Sir John Simon, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

3 Word missing in the original.

4 Mussolini's headquarters were located in the Palazzo Venezia at Campodoglio (The Capital) in the centre of Rome.

5 The summer residence of the papacy.

6 Word missing in the original

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