As far as I’m concerned, we can’t put forward enough reminders of how the U.S. government, and the corporations that own it, do business. Platitudes about peace, freedom, justice, etc. aside, the land of the free is not even remotely interested in spreading democracy. There is an abundance of evidence to back up this assertion. For now, I offer the example of post-World War II Italy. Mussolini was gone but the U.S. elites had no intention of letting Italy slip through the cracks.
When the war-weary Italian people went to the polls in 1946, the Italian Communist Party and the Socialist Party combined to gain more votes and more seats in the Constituent Assembly election than the U.S.-favored Christian Democrats. This was not surprising, considering that a worker- and peasant-based movement fought off six German divisions during the liberation of northern Italy…with the invaluable aid of the Communist party. As a 1948 election loomed on the horizon, however, the U.S. realized that certain perceptions of reality needed to be seriously altered. “It was at this point that the U.S. began to train its big economic and political guns upon the Italian people,” William Blum explains in Killing Hope. “All the good ol’ Yankee know-how, all the Madison Avenue savvy in the art of swaying public opinion, all the Hollywood razzmatazz would be brought to bear on the ‘target market’.”
Downplaying the quite impressive anti-fascist credentials of the communists and the potentially embarrassing record of collaboration with Mussolini displayed by the Christian Democrats, the U.S. cleverly framed the battle around, what Blum calls “the question of ‘democracy’ vs. ‘communism’ (the idea of ‘capitalism’ remaining discreetly to one side),” and the most powerful election issue was that of U.S. aid.
The influential American media obediently did its part with the January 21, 1947 New York Times proclaiming that, “Some observers here feel that a further Leftward swing in Italy would retard aid.” By March 22, 1948, Time magazine was labeling a potential leftist victory in Italy to be nothing short of “the brink of catastrophe.” As the election neared, the CIA pulled out all the stops. Blum has documented some of the steps taken in this “awesome mobilization of resources.” A few representative examples should offer an idea of the propaganda’s scope and depth:
A letter-writing campaign from Italian-Americans to their friends and families in Italy was guided by “sample letters” provided by the U.S., that included such passages as: “A communist victory would ruin Italy. The United States would withdraw aid and a world war would probably result.”
Short-wave broadcasts to Italy warned that “under a communist dictatorship in Italy,” many of the “nation’s industrial plants would be dismantled and shipped to Russia and millions of Italy’s workers would be deported to Russia for forced labor.”
The stars of Hollywood, like Gary Cooper and Frank Sinatra, were called upon to make Voice of America radio broadcasts and/or engage in fundraisers for causes like “the orphans of Italian pilots who died in the war.”
As for more direct aid, the CIA admitted to giving $1 million to Italian “center parties,” although Blum says the figure could be as high as $10 million. In case all the funny stuff failed, the CIA also took the precaution of organizing Operation Gladio, a secret paramilitary group in Italy, “with hidden stockpiles of weapons and explosives dotting the map,” says author Mark Zepezauer. While the rationale for such intervention was the always-handy “threat of Soviet invasion,” Zepezauer reveals the actual purpose of Operation Gladio, e.g. its “15,000 troops were trained to overthrow the Italian government should it stray from the straight and narrow.”
They needn’t have bothered because, after the circus left town, the Christian Democrats stood as the clear winner with 48 percent of the vote.
The future course of Italy had effectively been charted.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
Mickey Z. can be on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.