Thursday, August 23, 2007

Italy’s American Baggage

In the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, it seemed immediately clear to many in Europe and the United States that their arrest in 1920 — initially for possession of weapons and subversive pamphlets, then on a charge of double murder committed during a robbery in Massachusetts — the three trials that followed, and their subsequent death sentences were intended to make an example of them. And this regardless of the utter lack of evidence against them and in spite of defense testimony by a participant in the robbery who said he’d never seen the two Italians. The perception was that Sacco, a shoemaker, and Vanzetti, a fishmonger, were the victims of a wave of repression sweeping Woodrow Wilson’s America. In Italy, committees and organizations condemning the sentence sprouted up as soon as it was announced. By the time the sentence was carried out in 1927, Fascism had been in power in Italy for nearly five years and was brutally consolidating its dictatorship, persecuting and imprisoning anyone hostile to the regime — including anarchists, naturally. And yet when Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, the biggest Italian daily, Milan’s Corriere della Sera, did not hesitate to give the story a six-column headline. Standing out glaringly among the subheads was the assertion: “They were innocent."

One can, perhaps, distinguish between a miscarriage of justice and the issue of ultimate innocence.

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