Following the alleged prescription of the Jesuits, that having control over children from an early age would wed them to your cause, the Italian Fascist government attempted to instill Fascist virtues in the future generations of Italian children. Opera Nazionale Balilla (called Balilla for short) was the Fascist version of Boy Scouts – it was intended (like its German counterpart – Hitlerjugend) to become a totalitarian organisation for youth. However the Catholic church objected to the abolition of its own youth groups, during the negotiations for the Lateran Accords[i], which were led for the government by Mussolini. The clergy on the ground however found they occasionally had to fight to keep children in Catholic organisations.
From 1935 it became compulsory for boys age 6-8 to join the Figli della Lupa (Sons of the Wolf). From 8-14 they were in Opera Nazionale Balilla and then from 14-18 joined Avanguardisti. These groups for children and adolescents had a military focus. Sons of the Wolf even relieved the guard at Mussolini’s residence! From age 18-21 young men joined the Giovani Fascisti militia; between 21-34 they joined the regular army for 18 months service and then moved into the active reserves. Finally from age 34-55 they were in the reserves. Fascist university students had Gioventu Universitaria Fascista to keep their enthusiasm for Fascism at fever pitch.
Girls were allowed to join Piccole Italiane from age 8-13, then moved on to Giovani Italiane from 14-17 & then to Giovani Fasciste from 18-21. There was also special training for women in medical, chemical and allied fields.
In all these Fascist youth groups the emphasis was on sport, marching & mimicking of soldiers. As in the Hitlerjugend, children were taught to idolise their leader. During the sanctions campaign, resulting from the Ethiopian War in 1935-6[ii], parents were informed that their patriotic children, members of Balilla, Figlio della Lupa or Piccolo Italiana, would be horrified to receive toys that were not Italian made. Indeed the regime’s plans for so-called ‘luxury’ toys to be replaced by more warlike ones, to emphasise Mussolini’s war aims, were highlighted by the introduction in 1938 of a perfect wooden working replica machine gun firing projectiles, or perhaps the little Balilla member might enjoy a submarine that could fire shots from a cannon placed on its deck.
Mussolini: A New Life by Nicholas Farrell, 2004, Phoenix
Mussolini by RJB Bosworth 2002, Arnold
Mussolini’s Italy by RJB Bosworth 2005, Allen Lane
[i] In January 1929 in return for accepting the territorial settlement of the Risorgimento as final, the Vatican City became a fully independent enclave within Rome. Mussolini gained great kudos nationally & internationally with this agreement with the Catholic Church.
[ii] October 1935 – May 1936 – this unequal war between modern Italy, using planes, bombs & poison gas, and third world Ethiopia was a struggle to establish a new Italian empire.