In this article material is used from the Italian archives about so-called ‘defeatists’ to illuminate ‘deep beliefs’ among the Italian populace about war and empire. To a perhaps surprising degree, these beliefs embrace views that are widely separate from the fascist norm and were often hostile to it. Thus, at least some Italians resisted propaganda about the glory of Ethiopian conquest in 1935-6 and the virtue of the Italian presence in the Spanish Civil War. They remained even more sceptical about many aspects of Italy’s ‘special’ Second World War. Some thought Britain, France and the United States rich and powerful compared with Italy. Others disliked Nazism, or the Germans, or both. A number simply recalled that aggression was sinful and in the past had been generally unproductive for the Italian people anyway. By this evidence some Italians continued to a considerable degree to make their own imaginings, for all the fascists’ attempts to impose a cultural revolution on the nation.