Mythmaking & the Aldo Moro Case

By Drake, Richard | New Criterion, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Mythmaking & the Aldo Moro Case

Drake, Richard, New Criterion

After twenty years, the search continues for definitive explanations and ultimate meaning in the Aldo Moro murder case. The key leader during the 1960s and 1970s of Italy's regnant Christian Democratic party, Moro died in 1978 at the hands of the Red Brigades, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group. They killed Moro fifty-five days after their spectacular kidnapping of him on the streets of Rome in an operation that left five security guards dead.

The Moro case has given rise to endless conspiracy theories, and, in trying to determine their real worth, the historian faces the perennial questions about evidence, logic, and interpretation in historical argument. The traditional approach to these questions, originating in Thucydides, called for a rigorous critical analysis of history based as much as possible on documented evidence. The primary philosophical source of opposition to traditional historiography is Marx, who wanted to change the world, not merely to understand history. Politics, therefore, has always strongly colored Marxist historiography, in its direct and indirect forms, from the late nineteenth century up through Foucault's notion that truth is relative to "regimes of power." Marxism and its offshoots have been enormously influential in Italy, and they remain so even after the demise of the Communist Party and the radical reduction of formal Communist culture. The pro-conspiracy reaction of the Italian Left to the Aldo Moro murder case illustrates the great extent to which our first loves leave their mark on us.

Conspiracy theories in the Moro case involve the Italian government, the CIA, Henry Kissinger, Mossad, the KGB, and numerous other entities and individuals either singly or in diverse combinations. Conspiracy theorists hold that the progressive Moro, who zealously worked to include the Communist Party in Italy's ruling coalition, was sacrificed on the altar of Cold War politics. In short, reactionaries on both sides of the Atlantic welcomed Moro's kidnapping as a godsend and, by refusing to negotiate for his release and failing to mount an effective police search, sent him to his doom. These traitorous individuals thereby accomplished their real objective during the fifty-five-day manhunt. The question haunting Italy today is, Who allowed Moro to die what the novelist Leonardo Sciascia called that "vile death"?

Reporting on the huge popularity of such conspiracy theories in Italy, The New York Times earlier this year listed me, along with Giulio Andreotti and some former Red Brigade terrorists, as "the only prominent dissenters" from the conventional wisdom in Italy about "a dark conspiracy that remains veiled" in this notorious crime.(1) I qualified for their list because of my book, The Aldo Moro Murder Case (Harvard University Press, 1995), in which I downplay the conspiracy theories. Andreotti, a former prime minister, is currently on trial for murder, and the Red Brigade terrorists are convicted murderers. They are not the most morally unproblematic allies one could wish for in a battle where virtually the rest of the country, according to The New York Times, is on the other side.

The New York Times exaggerated the one-sideness of this battle. The reporter neglected to mention that among the dissenters are to be found all the judges in the five sets of concluded Moro trials. In the front rank of the most knowledgeable experts about this complex case, the judges disparage the conspiracy theories that hold the Italians in thrall, arguing that no evidence of any kind exists to support such interpretations of the Moro murder. In a letter to The New York Times, I pointed out this discrepant fact, but learned from an editorial assistant that the newspaper did not wish to publish a response "at this time." The press had spoken.

It seemed odd to me that The New York Times would have ignored the Moro trials. During four separate trips to Rome, where I did research in the judicial archives, I developed a deep respect for the professionalism as well as the physical and moral courage of the judges in the Moro case. …

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