The very idea of hostilities between Italy and the United States would have struck a great many people as absurd, aside from the fact that Italy would be hopelessly outmatched in any conflict between the two powers. Italians and Americans generally had a high opinion of each other. They had fought side by side in the First World War, Americans were very fond of Italian culture, Giuseppe Garibaldi had been very popular in the United States, Italians had a long history in America and even into the early days of the Fascist regime many Americans found much to admire about Italy. When Air Marshal Balbo made his famous trans-Atlantic flight to the United States he was given a rapturous welcome with a ticker-tape parade in New York City. With Italian-Americans making up a significant part of the population, many Italians had friends and family in the United States and Mussolini himself, while despising President Roosevelt and his administration, was quite fond of the American people. As far as the ordinary people were concerned, neither the Italians nor the Americans had any desire to fight each other. However, relations between their governments became increasingly tense.
The Duce responded soon after in early 1941 with the statement that, “Italy’s non-belligerency has effectively ensured peace for two hundred millions of men, but, notwithstanding, Italian merchant traffic is subjected to a constant surveillance that is vexatious and harmful. As far as I know, Germany is opposed to a further expansion of the conflict, and Italy likewise. We must learn whether this is also the Franco-British aim. The only European nation that dominates a large part of the world and possesses a monopoly on many basic raw materials is Great Britain. Italy has no programs of that kind. As to the repercussions which an extension of the war fronts might have on the three Americas, I call attention to the fact that Italy has never concerned itself with the relations of the American republics, with each other, or with the United States - thereby respecting the Monroe Doctrine. And, one might therefore ask for reciprocity in regard to European affairs.” In other words, he was telling Roosevelt that he was being needlessly paranoid and that since he didn’t interfere with America, FDR should not interfere with Europe, and certainly not Italy.
Even in the United States, where, prior to Pearl Harbor, an 86% majority opposed intervening in World War II, many condemned the seizure of Italian ships as a criminal act. Not only Republicans but some of his fellow Democrats accused Roosevelt of purposely trying to provoke Italy into an act of war. Mussolini was livid, saying that, “Illusion and lying are the basis of American interventionism - illusion that the United States is still a democracy, when instead it is a political and financial oligarchy dominated by Jews, through a personal form of dictatorship. The lie is that the Axis powers, after they finish Great Britain, want to attack America.” Yet, his rage was still directed at the Roosevelt administration and not the United States as a whole. The Duce said, “I understand how the American people, in their despair and confusion caused by the Depression, looked longingly to this man (FDR) for help, because of all the attractive, if baseless promises he made. Now, the only way he knows to make good on those assurances is to spill the blood of innocent peoples on behalf of a war-stimulated economy.” What is ironic is that American proponents of intervention were saying exactly the same thing about the career of Mussolini in Italy.
“This is another day of solemn decision in Italy’s history and of memorable events destined to give a new course to the history of continents. The powers of the steel pact, Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, ever closely linked, participate from today on the side of heroic Japan against the United States of America. The Tripartite Pact becomes a military alliance which draws around its colors 250,000,000 men determined to do all in order to win.
Neither the Axis nor Japan wanted an extension of the conflict. One man, one man only, a real tyrannical democrat, through a series of infinite provocations, betraying with a supreme fraud the population of his country, wanted the war and had prepared for it day by day with diabolical obstinacy.
The formidable blows that on the immense Pacific expanse have been already inflicted on American forces show how prepared are the soldiers of the Empire of the Rising Sun. I say to you, and you will understand, that it is a privilege to fight with them.
Today, the Tripartite Pact, with the plenitude of its forces and its moral and material resources, is a formidable instrument for the war and a certainty of victory. Tomorrow, the Tripartite Pact will become an instrument of just peace between the peoples.
Italians! Once more arise and be worthy of this historical hour! We shall win.”
The King-Emperor, faced with the fact of war, also hoped that at least the Japanese attacks in Asia might draw away British strength from the Mediterranean theater and, like most, assumed that American retaliation would fall first on Japan. Hitler and Mussolini alike were counting on this as well. Unfortunately for them, Roosevelt did the exact opposite and agreed with Churchill on a policy of “Germany first”. The war with Japan would be carried on as aggressively as possible but priority would be given to the European theater of operations, making Germany and Italy the primary targets. As it happened, the United States was able to bring sufficient forces to the land, sea and air to wage successful offensive operations on both sides of the world simultaneously. The Italian war effort was doomed and, looking back, one can say without much possibility of argument that the Axis powers as a whole were doomed as soon as the Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. The forces arrayed against them were simply overwhelming.
Finally, one thing that is noteworthy is that the Americans had almost exactly the same view of the Italians as Mussolini often expressed in regard to the American people. Even at the height of the conflict, the American people could never quite bring themselves to view the Italians the same way they viewed the Germans or the Japanese. It was simply impossible for most Americans to view most Italians as enemies. An example of this mentality can be seen in the American war film “Sahara” starring Humphrey Bogart, made during the war, being released in 1943. It tells the story of the crew of an American M3 Grant tank in North Africa that picks up an assortment of Allied troops as well as two Axis prisoners of war. The characters are meant to represent the different countries involved. Bogey, of course, represents the ideal American view of themselves and there are characters representing the French (a resistance fighter who loves wine and cheese), the British (very gallant and ready to bear any burden) and the British Empire (an African colonial soldier) and so on.