Fascist Italy was no picnic. The hardships of day-to-day life under Mussolini are often overlooked by Hollywood and historians alike. The life of the citizens of Italy is a footnote in the chapters of the Great War. For those who lived it, the period was a cesspool of propaganda, militarism, and censorship.

Ride or die

In Fascist Italy, you were either with Mussolini or against Mussolini. Dissidents quickly met the harsh justice of the Blackshirts, Mussolini’s paramilitary force. Their duty was to spread terror, and they did it well. Labor leaders and socialists were some of the Blackshirts’ favorite targets.

When they ran out of those, they’d head to the countryside to violently harass peasant leaders and anyone else who posed a threat — real or imagined. Some poor souls were even forced to drink castor oil. The Blackshirt’s motto was “Me ne frego,” or “I don’t give a damn.”

How to vote like a fascist

In Mussolini’s Italy, voting was easy and accessible. In 1934, fascist headquarters was plastered with how-to-vote posters during election time. On the side of the building was a blown-up picture of Mussolini circled in red with the word “Si” next to it, meaning “Yes.”

When you voted, you handed in two slips: a pro-Fascist slip and an anti-Fascist slip. Whichever you supported went into the voting box. Whichever you opposed was handed to an official. Government officials were able to keep track of how everyone voted. Big Brother was always watching.

Where charisma met terror

Remember those cringy moments when your boss would make an awkward joke and the whole room would pretend to laugh. Take that, throw in some bloodshed, and multiply it times a thousand.

When Mussolini made a public appearance, every micro-expression was put under the microscope. Beginning in 1927, Mussolini used his secret police to spot subversives. With the death penalty reinstated and arrests common, there was plenty of high-stakes shmoozing going on around-the-clock.

With the government closely monitoring the voting patterns of the population, officials closely monitoring the actions and facial expression of the citizens, and the Blackshirts effectively acting and Mussolini’s force, the people of Italy lived in fear.