November 7, 2016

1954. McCarthyism's Impact on Italy

What's Happening in America?
Augusto De Marsanich, the president of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, delivering an election speech in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna. Photograph by Chim (source)
This text was originally written in telegram style. It has been formatted to reflect the report filed by Bill Downs.
Bill Downs

CBS Rome (1954)

For Murrow:

McCarthy and McCarthyism have not had the same impact on Italy evident in other countries such as France and Germany, mostly because Italy's economic and political problems take precedence over what is a comparatively minor political phenomenon from overseas. The other reason for this is that the Communists are not defined as political untouchables here, where one out of every three voters support the extreme left.

Italy's Communist press occasionally uses McCarthy's name to charge resurgent fascism in the United States, but lately it has done little harping on it. On the other end of the political prism, the extreme rightists—neo-fascists and monarchists—seldom give space to the Senator. Rightist leaders are often survivors or aristocracy and military, and McCarthy could not qualify as a "member of their club."

Where Americans in Rome notice the greatest McCarthy impact is among America's friends—centrist political leaders and intellectuals who constantly ask, "What's happening in America?" United States diplomats, correspondents, and tourists spend a lot of time trying to explain, and Italians are understandably as confused as Americans.

Catholic Church circles and the Vatican are officially noncommittal, but since the Pope's illness there has been increasing interest in his career. The other day one high Catholic layman in Rome pointed this out: "If someone wanted to lift quotations out of context and go back over Pius' speeches and statements during his Church career as McCarthy has done, then the Pope most certainly would be a candidate for investigation." I asked why, and my informant picked two passages from Pacelli's speeches. In the 1948 election year, the Pope said, "The social crisis is so great at the present time and so dangerous for the future as to make it necessary for everybody—especially for those who are blessed with greater wealth—to put common welfare before private profits."

In another passage taken from a 1944 speech, the Pope gave this rundown on what ails the world: "We see an ever-growing legion of laborers who strike against those excessive concentrations of wealth which, hidden under the name of corporations, succeed in withdrawing themselves from their social obligations, and make it almost impossible for the worker to amass any property of his own. We see on the one hand a certain number of the rich dominating the private and public economy, and frequently even the opportunity for work. On the other hand, we see the innumerable masses of those who, deprived of every means of security, lose all interest in higher spiritual values, abandon all hope of any sort of freedom, and despondently join up with any political faction—submitting themselves slavishly to anyone who promises them bread and peace. Experience has shown even in the present age how easily people in such circumstances accept any form of tyranny."

My friend closed the book and said, "You ask about the impact of McCarthy on Italy. It's as hard to define here as it is at home. It's nonsense, of course, to think that the Pope should be called for Congressional investigation, but the fact that his words might even be considered subject to such questioning comes the closest to defining McCarthy's impact not only in Italy, but throughout the intellectually free world."