Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.
Claim: Italian dictator Benito Mussolini made the trains run on time.
Origins: Every political leader — whether he be a democratically elected representative or a usurping tyrant — seeks to gain broad public support, because the greater his support, the greater his power. That power may ultimately be used for good or for bad, but either way it must be obtained before it can be wielded.
of the best ways to gain the support of the people you want to lead is to do something of benefit to them. Failing that, the next best thing is to convince them that you have done something of benefit to them, even though you really haven't. So it was with Benito Mussolini and the Italian railway system.
After the "march on Rome" (which was itself a myth of fascist propaganda) on 28 October 1922 that resulted in King Vittorio Emanuele's appointment of Benito Mussolini as prime minister and the accession to power of the fascists in Italy, Mussolini needed to convince the people of Italy that fascism was indeed a system that worked to their benefit. Thus was born the myth of fascist efficiency, with the train as its symbol. The word was spread that Mussolini had turned the dilapidated Italian railway system into one that was the envy of all Europe, featuring trains that were both dependable and punctual. In Mussolini's Italy, all the trains ran on
Well, not quite. The Italian railway system had fallen into a rather sad state during World War I, and it did improve a good deal during the 1920s, but Mussolini was disingenuous in taking credit for the changes: much of the repair work had been performed before Mussolini and the fascists came to power in 1922. More importantly (to the claim at hand), those who actually lived in Italy during the Mussolini era have borne testimony that the Italian railway's legendary adherence to timetables was far more myth than reality.
The myth of Mussolini's punctual trains lives on, albeit with a different slant: rather than serving as a fictitious symbol of the benefits of fascism, it is now offered as a sardonic example that something good can result even from the worst of circumstances. As Montagu and Darling wrote:
Mussolini may have done many brutal and tyrannical things; he may have destroyed human freedom in Italy; he may have murdered and tortured citizens whose only crime was to oppose Mussolini; but 'one had to admit' one thing about the Dictator: he 'made the trains run on time.'
No, thanks. I'd rather walk.
Sightings: In an episode of televisions L.A. Law ("Romancing the Drone," originally aired 17 November 1988), Michael Kuzak answers Grace Van Owen's criticism with "And Mussolini made the trains run on time."
Last updated: 29 September 2007
Montagu, Ashley and Edward Darling. The Prevalence of Nonsense.
New York: Dell Publishing, 1967 (pp. 19-20).
Smith, Denis Mack. Mussolini.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982. ISBN 0-394-50694-4 (p. 118).