23 Agosto 1927
Nicola Sacco Bartolomeo Vanzetti
—From a fading wall poster commemorating the 75th anniversary of
the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti spotted by the author in
a side street in Florence, Italy, in October 2003
At the funeral, Mary Donovan described the legacy of Sacco and Vanzetti as a betrayal, a peculiarly tragic American loss of innocence. That Miltonian sentiment—poignant, bitter, cerebral—fitted into the liberal, rather one-dimensional paradigm that defined the case for sixty years. In a way that Donovan could not have realized, arguably Sacco-Vanzetti was more about loss of another type of innocence: manipulation of the news media, various government agencies, and a sometimes credulous public.
Willi Münzenberg could not have asked for a better historical denouement. Nevertheless, from his office in Berlin, the undersized but vibrant propaganda chief could take considerable pride from an international cause that would burn in the minds of the righteously outraged and guiltstricken for decades. Almost everything went right: the historical timing of the trial, the issue of radicalism gratuitously injected into the transcript, the defense lawyer with his connections to anarchist and labor movements, and the worldwide ascendancy of various radical movements,