Aldo Moro’s kidnapping and violent death in 1978 shocked Italy as no other event has during the entire history of the Republic. It had much the same effect in Italy as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy had in the United States, with both cases giving rise to endless conspiracy theories. The dominant Christian Democratic leader for twenty years, Moro had embodied the country’s peculiar religious politics, its values as well as its practices. He was perceived as the most exemplary representative of the Catholic political tradition in Italy. The Red Brigades who killed him thought that in striking Moro they would cause the collapse of the capitalist establishment and clear the way for a Marxist-Leninist revolution.
In his thorough account of the long and anguished quest for justice in the Moro murder case, Richard Drake provides a detailed portrait of the tragedy and its aftermath as complex symbols of a turbulent age in Italian history. Since Moro’s murder, documents from two parliamentary inquiries and four sets of trials explain the historical and political process and illuminate two enduring themes in Italian history. First, the records contain a wealth of examples bearing on the nation’s longstanding culture of ideological extremism and violence. Second, Moro’s story reveals much about the inner workings of democracy Italian style, including the roles of the United States and the Mafia. These insights are especially valuable today in understanding why the Italian establishment is in a state of collapse.
The Moro case also explores the worldwide problem of terrorism. In great detail, the case reveals the mentality, the tactics, and the strategy of the Red Brigades and related groups. Moro’s fate has a universal poignancy, with aspects of a classical Greek tragedy. Drake provides a full historical account of how the Italian people have come to terms with this tragedy.
Richard Drake is Professor of History at the University of Montana and author of The Revolutionary Mystique and Terrorism in Contemporary Italy (winner of the American Historical Association’s Howard R. Marraro Prize).