giovedì 2 maggio 2002

Research hints at ill Duce's syphilis

Rory Carroll in Rome

Thursday May 2, 2002

Benito Mussolini exploited a grenade wound in the first world war to cover up syphilis, according to new research which would explain the Italian dictator's uncharacteristic refusal to boast about his heroism at the front.

Generations of historians have accepted Mussolini's claim that he was hit by shrapnel during grenade practice in February 1917, obliging him to spend the rest of the war convalescing.

However, an examination of records in the state archives in Rome has exposed inconsistencies which suggest Il Duce lied about his condition. Paul O'Brien, an Irish historian, has published the findings in the latest edition of Contemporary Italy, an academic journal.

Mr O'Brien's tracing of medical records shows that two months after he was hospitalised an army doctor declared Mussolini's condition to be "extremely good".

Yet the embryonic fascist spent another four months in the Milan hospital, and then in August was given a year to convalesce. On July 24 the clinic noted his wounds had closed, but later the patient wrote to friends saying he remained bed-bound because the wounds had not closed.

Mussolini also instructed the newspaper he founded and edited at the outbreak of war, Il Popolo d'Italia, not to report on his treatment, and shunned an opportunity to have his his courage and sacrifice hailed.

Mr O'Brien says that either the grenade wound was exaggerated, or the future dictator had an embarrassing ailment he wanted hushed up.

The syphilis theory fits with rumours which circulated in Italy during his rule - and his chronic gastric problems, a symptom of the sexual disease.

The historian notes that Mussolini's personal physician, Ambrogio Binda, was a close friend who could have invented a wound to leg muscles - which other doctors made no mention of - to excuse his mobility problems.

The new research comes just as far-right activists, galvanised by France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, have plastered Rome with hundreds of posters of Mussolini.

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