Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo

By Jane C. Schneider; Peter T. Schneider | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Mafia and the Cold War

Many people are convinced that, once suppressed by Mussolini's “Iron Prefect, Mori, the mafia was then given the kiss of life by the Allied military authorities during their seven-month occupation of Sicily in the period 1943–44. One vivid detail has long been emblematic of this scenario: that American intelligence agents, after negotiating with New York (and Sicilian) mobster Lucky Luciano, dropped a yellow silk foulard bearing Luciano's monogram from a plane flying over the small rural town of Villalba, signaling the onset of the Allied invasion. Surrounded by latifundia, Villalba was the home of the charismatic capomafia Don Calogero Vizzini. The story originated with a well-known journalist, Michele Pantaleone, a socialist enemy of Don Calò who was from a landowning family of the same town. According to Pantaleone (writing in 1962), after receiving the Americans' signal, Vizzini alerted his mafia colleague, Don Giuseppe Genco Russo of Misilmeri, near Palermo, to prepare logistic support for the advancing American and British troops. In return, Don Calò and other mafiosi received favored treatment from the provisional military government, AMGOT.

There is now substantial scholarship questioning the accuracy of this story, while at the same time pointing to a more nuanced relationship between American interests and the mafia as the Cold War took shape. Pentito testimony, journalists' accounts, and recent historical research together suggest that the postwar mafia was able to reconstitute its intreccio with the state and to penetrate the modern domains of urban con

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