November 1, 2005

Italy since 1943

With Italy much in the news again (see below) because of its role in Libbygate and the Yellowcake Forgeries, it's worth reviewing in more detail the contemporary history of that country.

In the 20th Century, Italy seemed like a misfit. In an age of mass ideologies and mass armies, the Italian tastes for luxury, family, personal connections, bribery, and stealth (see Shakespeare's many plays set in Italy for the traditional English view of Italy) -- and consequent incompetence at large-scale organization -- made the country seem outmoded. Italy's attempt at mass-scale modernity, Fascism, seemed more like the exception that proved the rule that Italy wasn't cut out for the age of ideology. You'd have to live in a country where the trains didn't run on time to see an obvious popinjay like Mussolini as the wave of the future.

Fortunately, the era of mass ideologies and mass warfare is over (knock on wood), and our political vices are returning to the more human scale that the Italians have always found more congenial.

Most Americans feel a deep aversion toward conspiracy theories. To label something as a "conspiracy theory" is to dismiss it out of hand. Americans believe they believe in high-minded principles and believe their enemies believe in evil ideologies. Thus, when members of our government decided to respond to 9/11 by invading Iraq, lots of educated Americans suddenly decided that Osama and Saddam were united by their ideology of Islamofascism, thus justifying the Iraq Attaq. Nobody, including all the alleged Islamofascists, had ever heard of "Islamfofascism" before, but the term quickly became popular among certain classes of Americans. Suggestions that the various players in the Bush Administration were motivated by less principled reasons were denounced as conspiracy theories.

In Italy, in contrast, conspiracy theories are most people's preferred explanation for how the world works, for the simple reason that, in their part of the world, conspiracies are the main mechanism for actually getting anything done. The notion that political operators would favor something on principle seems laughable. The political is personal, in the sense that if you want to understand historical events, you need to understand the connections among the players.

We often heard before the Iraq Attaq that because the U.S. did such a good job reforming Germany and Japan after WWII, we were bound to do the same for Iraq. Strikingly, though, we never heard much about the long-term impact of the 1943 American invasion of western Sicily, which Patton rolled through so easily while Montgomery's British army struggled up the east coast.

The U.S. government long refused to release documents that could confirm or disprove the story that the military made a deal with the Sicilian-born mobster Lucky Luciano to ease the invasion, but Italian experts on the Sicilian mafia date that organization's comeback to 1943. When the Fascist state evaporated in Sicily, we needed to keep civil order without tying down scores of thousands of our troops. (Sound familiar?) So, we turned local control over to patriarchs of families not contaminated by ties to Fascism, men of respect within their own communities, friends who had friends who could keep things quiet and keep out the Communists: i.e., mafioso who had been lying low during Mussolini's crackdown on the mob. Some of this was naiveté on our part, some of it was rigged by well-connected individuals among the 15% of our invasion force that was of Sicilian descent, and some of it was realpolitik.

It worked, but the blowback lasted for at least 50 years. In recent decades, a few heroic Italian prosecutors and cops have made progress against the Sicilian mafia, but Italy remains a country where nothing is what it seems. It's not hard to get Italians to connive and conspire, but the U.S. also funded a lot of these Italian predilections during the Cold War.

he overwhelming importance of defeating our subsequent ideological foe during the Cold War caused the U.S. to tolerate, even subsidize, a lot of conspiratorial criminality in Italy, where the chance of a Communist takeover, by invasion, coup, or election was always fairly high. The Mafia's get-out-the-vote abilities in southern Italy made it a bulwark of the anti-Communist Christian Democrats, which we heavily subsidized. Our main man in Cold War Italy, Giulio Andreotti, seven times Prime Minister of Italy, has spent most of his retirement being tried for connections to the Mafia and murdering a scandal-mongering journalist.

In the north of Italy, NATO established a network of potential sleeper cells of armed, trained "stay-behind" resistance fighters who would sabotage any Soviet takeover (Operation Gladio). Very patriotic, but of course, being Italians, some of the conspirators weren't content to wait around until their country needed them and began to freelance on their own.

The late 1970s and early 1980s were the fever years in Italy, when the chance of a Communist takeover at the ballot box and leftwing kidnappings were at their peak. Bizarre events were common, such as the horrendous bombing of the Genoa train station, apparently by rightwingers, the hanging death of "the Pope's banker" Roberto Calvi, and the discovery, most ridiculous sounding of all, of the secret and sinister P2 Lodge of Free Masons to which much of the right of center Italian establishment apparently belonged.

All this seems very alien to most Americans. Yet a few Americans positively love to conspire, most notoriously Lee Harvey Oswald. Another inveterate plotter is NRO Contributing Editor and International Man of Mystery Michael Ledeen. Separating truth from fiction about Ledeen is hard, but a few things are agreed-upon, such as his role in initiating the Iran-Contra scandal that almost destroyed the Reagan Presidency and his central role in setting up the recent meetings in Europe, including Rome, between the Neocongate suspect Larry Franklin, fellow Feith operative Harold Rhode, Italian Intelligence agents (SISMI), and Ledeen's old collaborator from Iran-Contra, the notoriously unreliable Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar.

Ledeen spent most of his formative years in the late 1970s and very early 1980s in Italy, moving in CIA-related journalistic / intelligence circles. He was apparently a consultant for SISMI, the Italian Intelligence service, during those years. For an anti-Ledeen report on what he was supposedly up to during those years, see this, the accuracy of which I absolutely cannot vouch for.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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