The reasons behind Mussolini’s decision to join Hitler in the invasion of the Soviet Union and the subsequent behavior of the Italian troops have sparked lively controversy in the historical literature. In this historiographical essay, the author initially poses the question: was the Duce driven to intervene by sound, or warped, Realpolitik, or by ideological conviction? The author then turns to the nature of the Italian occupation and examines the extent to which Fascist ideology permeated the minds and influenced the conduct of the Italian soldiers fighting along side the Wehrmacht. Did they believe in the Fascist definition of anti-Communist crusade, or were they fighting more out of duty, honor, and country? Next, the author tackles the thorny question of racism and anti-Semitism in the Italian ranks. In his treatment of these questions, the author discusses the important writings of recent historians on the subject. The author then addresses the nature of the relationship between the Italian and German soldiers. Did they, as «good Italians» forge closer ties with Soviet citizens, thanks to a common outlook and experience, than the socalled killer Wehrmacht warriors? Again, the writings of eminent historians who have recently written on these questions are analyzed. In conclusion, the author evaluates Mussolini’s decision to send a large contingent of his military to fight on the Eastern Front.
Keywords: Mussolini’s decision to intervene, Fascism and the Italian troops, the so-called italiani brava gente, friendly Russian and brutal German, racism and anti- Semitism, the Axis alliance at war, Mussolini’s flawed decision-making