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Did Mussolini really keep the trains running on time?


Benito Mussolini wielded a lot of power post-World War I, but was he really responsible for Italy's improved rail industry?
Benito Mussolini wielded a lot of power post-World War I, but was he really responsible for Italy's improved rail industry?
ullstein bild/Getty Images

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini rose to power after World War I. He created Italy's Fascist Party, became prime minister and eventually took control of the country. Mussolini liked to take credit for everything that went right in Italy, even when it didn't go that well at all. He was particularly fond of saying he was responsible for successful, large-scale public works projects, such as the railroad system.

In fact, there's an old saying about Mussolini that goes something like this: "Mussolini made the trains run on time." The idea is that even dictators have their good points. Despite fascism being an often brutal model of efficient government, full of poverty and corruption -- hey, at least the trains ran on time [source: Cathcart].

But, in Mussolini's case, even this good point wasn't exactly true. He used pro-Fascist propaganda to boost his power and selected the rail industry as an example of a key way in which he'd improve daily life for Italians. While there were some improvements -- in terms of reduced unemployment and investment in infrastructure -- this didn't always translate into the perfection the propaganda purported [source: Biography].

Italy's railway had entered a state of disrepair after World War I, but there had been a number of improvements that made the rail system run better. Mussolini liked to say he was responsible for those improvements. However, those improvements took place before Mussolini stepped into power. He couldn't really take credit for them, although that didn't stop him. More to the point, the trains didn't always run on time, either.

When Mussolini seized the reins as Italy's dictator in the 1920s, it wasn't a popular move. He may have believed his plan for a reliable mode of public transportation would help move public opinion in a more positive direction. Still, there were several attempts on his life, and he set a series of dictator-like moves into motion. He banned more than 100 members of parliament, refused to let opposing parties have their say, created a secret police force, did away with local elections and reestablished the death penalty for political crimes.

Mussolini led a very troubled life, one that included a violent youth. He bullied schoolmates and was prone to picking fights. At 10, he stabbed another child in the hand and later stuck a knife in a girlfriend's arm. As a young adult, Mussolini was known for a proclivity for sword fighting. Perhaps he should have studied his country's train timetables instead [source: Greenspan].


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