The profound consternation one felt that May 9 is still there 20 years later. Faced with the crude reality of defeat, the illusion that, in the end, so-called authority was bound to prevail over terrorism, just fell away. After 55 days of vain searches, Aldo Moro (Christian Democrat statesman kidnapped on March 16, 1978 in Rome by Italy's leftist Red Brigades terrorists) was given back to us, dead, his body found in a Rome street specially chosen to launch an unequivocal political message - close to the Botteghe Oscure (Italian Communist Party headquarters) and a step away from its Christian Democrat counterpart. The Red Brigades had not just assassinated one particular statesman of high profile both national and international, but also succeeded in causing the irreversible upheaval of the specific and courageous plan for democratic normalization which had already recorded some considerable results despite widespread hostility and misunderstanding.
That several non-marginal elements are missing from the reconstruction of the facts has been explicitly confirmed by Antonio Marini, Public Prosecutor in the subsequent trials; and Aldo Moro's brother, Alfredo Carlo, has also expounded on this in an essay which is a mix of family feeling and jurisdictional rigor. One of the reasons for the gaps in the facts is said to be that the only possible sources for investigators, almost, are the memories and confessions of the perpetrators of the via Fani tragedy (where Moro was kidnapped) regarding the macabre secret "hearings" of Aldo Moro's "trial" (during his captivity) by the so-called Revolutionary Tribunal.
May 9, 1978. Aldo Moro (Christian Democrat statesman kidnapped in Rome by Italy's leftist Red Brigades terrorists) was given back to us, dead, his body found in a Rome street specially chosen to launch an unequivocal political message - close to the Botteghe Oscure (Italian Communist Party headquarters) and a step away from its Christian Democrat counterpart. The Red Brigades had not just assassinated one particular statesman of high profile both national and international ...
of the reconstructions are highly detailed, such as the diary of Anna Laura Braghetti,
tenant of the apartment which had become the "People's Prison". But even there,
there is reason for doubt because of some decisive omissions.
The via Fani operation proved to have been organized for some time. It succeeded in its precise aim to seize Moro and kill his five police bodyguards on the spot. But it comes as a surprise to find no reference at all to this massacre in Moro's subsequent letters or memoirs (on his captivity). Hadn't he been informed of the killings - he could well have been knocked unconscious - or where some of his missives not released? Or, he might not have mentioned the five murders in fear that the burden of these deaths would have made the Brigades' demand for an "exchange of prisoners" even less acceptable.
Were the Brigades taking it for granted that they would condemn him to death or, independently of any acknowledgement of them as a political entity, had they left a door open? Had Moro himself suggested the release of 13 or more prisoners (in exchange for his own freedom) or had that been part of the initial strategy?
There is no certain answer to these questions judging by the published proceedings of the case. All I can say is that the oft-cited possibility of clemency for one Brigader, Besuschio, was never an option. Justice Minister Francesco Paolo Bonifacio ascertained that Besuschio was in custody on a second charge and would have remained in prison even in the event of a pardon by then President Giovanni Leone. Moreover, the goodwill gesture of agreeing to transfer the prisoner Alberto Buonoconto to Naples for health reasons was already under way when the "death sentence" (on Moro) was carried out. The irrelevance of this initiative in practice seems to me to be confirmed by all available sources.
The disheartening question about whether Moro's life could have been saved is now back to haunt public opinion and especially the young. Why disheartening? This has always seemed to me to be an insult, quite apart from the infamy of those who unashamedly state that the government, the Christian Democrats or the Communists never wanted Moro released. These people's appeals to history and humanitarian traditions are ill-placed.
|Aldo Moro's body is found in Rome's via Caetani|
have certainly no desire to under-estimate and much less censure those who tried to find a
way out of this wicked adventure albeit in vain; this, even though some groups - including
criminals - claimed the credit for action that produced no effective results. Quite the
One should also reflect on the psychological conditions of those years as far as the allegedly insufficient action of the police is concerned. Large sections of the population saw the State as an adversary or, at best, an entity not be trusted. One small security measure - the possibility of 48-hour police custody (the Reale Law) - provoked harsh reactions followed by a referendum on the issue in which seven million voted against it.
In no way was it possible to negotiate with the Brigades. For, their design was to play a political role, the ultimate aim being to win back the grassroots for the class struggle, grassroots betrayed, in the Brigades' view, by the Communists when these latter had officially forsaken the revolutionary way and accepted the hated foreign policy of the West.
It is precisely on this last point that I feel I must make a specific observation. Some people continue to say that the Americans were particularly opposed to the inclusion of the Communists in the game of government in Italy. This was indeed the attitude in 1976 (note the dates). There had been that ugly Portorico Declaration by France, Germany, Britain and the United States warning Italy not to alter the make-up of its majority coalition government. It is still not known whether the then Italian Premier Mariano Rumor and Moro, who was Foreign Minister, had been excluded from that meeting (on the Declaration) or whether, unaware of its subject matter, they had overlooked the importance of it. It is all too easy to give advice and issue warnings. But how could Italy as a nation have overcome the drama of the moment - drama that also beset State finances - without introducing some bold innovations? Even the German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, spokesman of these four powers, was well aware that Italy's gold reserves had been pledged to German banks and that we had no further access to credit.
... but also succeeded in causing the irreversible upheaval of the specific and courageous plan for democratic normalization which had already recorded some considerable results despite widespread hostility and misunderstanding
- automatically, I would say - assumed the political helm in this situation. He began by
convincing the Christian Democrats to remove the barriers to communication with the
Communists. But he was only partly successful in that the Christian Democrats were not
willing to engage in talks with the Italian Communist Party. All they would only
hesitantly agree to was the possibility that the talks might be chaired by the person
asked to form a government - Moro himself. But then I suddenly found myself designated
Prime Minister by Moro who reminded me of how, in 1939, he as central chairman of the
Catholic University Students' Federation (FUCI) had called me to edit the Azione Fucina (a
FUCI publication). While later we were to have our political differences, especially
regarding the wearisome itinerary of the center-left wing, in that it seemed to me that we
ought to seek the necessarily gradual "recuperation" of the whole left wing
lobby in Parliament and not just the Socialists. But that's another story though it's
worth remembering that the involvement of the Socialists as a separate entity again had
been strongly promoted by the Americans (see Schlesinger's book on Kennedy's Hundred
There had also been momentary friction in 1974 provoked by the rash improvizations of Intelligence (SID) director General Vito Miceli who enjoyed Moro's unreserved trust.
|Then Italian Communist Party Secretary, the late Enrico Berlinguer, shakes hands with Aldo Moro, Christian Democrat Chairman|
the summer of 1976, our views automatically converged again. Perhaps this was helped along
by the fact that strategies were now the domain of Parliament and its lobbies as opposed
to the intrigues of Party secretariats. And when two years later the Communists dismissed
their abstentionist policy as inadequate and, falling back uneasily on the notion of a
"majority platform" asked to be admitted to government, Aldo Moro wanted me to
stay on as Prime Minister claiming that he would be able to promote the turning point
better from the outside.
Meanwhile, international appreciation in our regard had grown somewhat. And some of the most eloquently positive opinions were being expressed by none other than Chancellor Schmidt.
The Communists would have liked a Cabinet reshuffle to give their members an additional reason to vote in favor of the change. But Moro was of the opposite opinion in fear of over-critical interpretations within and without Christian Democrat ranks. The ensuing ill-humor of the Communist Party at this was drowned, however, by the general impact of the March 16 (kidnapping) tragedy.
Voice is more or less still being given to rumors of foreign responsibility for Moro's death. And there is a passage in Moro's memoirs that could give rise to misunderstandings. It is the part where he writes that the Americans were dismayed and surprised at the Italian Communists' adherence to the North Atlantic Treaty, adherence solemnly declared in Parliament in November 1977. The Moro memoirs sustain that underlying the Communists' 1976 accord of non-belligerence was another pact stipulating that foreign policy be excluded from the agenda. However, the opposite was true. In the accord, engaging Moro, Enrico Berlinguer (Communist Party Secretary) and myself, an unequivocal commitment had been undertaken - that the Communists would request no foreign policy changes but, on the contrary, were planning to acknowledge its validity; in the meantime, we agreed that if the Communists were to go back to being the opposition, I would resign in rejection of any bid to alter previous voting patterns. As I said, the Communists declared their adherence to NATO in 1977 and confirmed the adherence they had already pledged to the European Community. For my part in 1978, in the crisis following Moro's assassination that beset this more or less aptly named "historic compromise" (with the Communists), I had two Christian Democrat senators leave the House to safeguard the government majority to be obtained on the strength of "National Democracy" votes following the split in their ranks.
|Aldo Moro's funeral, celebrated by Pope Paul VI, in the Rome Basilica of Saint John Lateran|
believe that, in stating that the Americans did not appreciate the Communists' conversion,
Moro was leading his captors to believe that the portent of the changes under way was not
as significant after all.
But I also think - how difficult it is to discuss this for it is always a matter of opinion - that Moro's invectives against the Christian Democrats (during his captivity) and against certain individual members, myself and (Christian Democratic Party Secretary) Benigno Zaccagnini at the top of the list, were also designed to persuade the Brigaders that, if they were to allow him to go home, he would no longer be our point of reference but would move over to a new opposition front.
There are some definite signs which I think I may interpret as devices to make us realize that the key to his writings was not their literal meaning. One example was his censure of me over the appointment of (former Treasury Minister) Senator Giuseppe Medici - who always enjoyed Moro's great esteem and friendship - to Montedison (State chemicals) even though I had had nothing to do with this decision. But this was not the only message he transmitted. That this was so seems to be confirmed by the way he formulated his conclusion in his memoirs: "I would like to acknowledge that I owe my life and the restoration of my freedom to the generosity of the Red Brigades. I am deeply grateful. As far as everything else is concerned and considering what has happened and the reflections I have summarized above, I can only state my complete incompatibility with the Christian Democratic Party. I renounce all my commissions, excluding any future candidature. I resign from the Christian Democratic Party and I ask the Speaker of the House to transfer me from this Party's benches to the all-party lobby."
I have deliberately not touched on the question of Pope Paul VI's interventions to save Moro's life. I will leave it to others to correct my inaccuracies or to add other significant details. With the affection he had as a one-time FUCI religious assistant, Paul VI tried in every possible way
regards alleged international responsibility for the Moro murder, I must add that, in my
contacts with the Americans, I had occasion to note their appreciation of the significance
of the Communist decision not to vote against - as had been their custom - the laws on
modernizing the armed forces.
In the opposite direction, which is to say, as regards suspicions of Soviet responsibility, there is no proof whatsoever. There is no doubt that Berlinguer's retreat by claiming the autonomy of European Communists from Moscow's traditional "Party guidance" had angered the Soviets and provoked calls for revenge of which Berlinguer had been perfectly aware. But we must stop there.
I have deliberately not touched on the question of Pope Paul VI's interventions to save Moro's life. I will leave it to others to correct my inaccuracies or to add other significant details. With the affection he had as a one-time FUCI religious assistant, Paul VI tried in every possible way. But, without needing to be reminded by anyone, he understood the need for the State to stand firm.