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The United States and "Psychological Warfare" in Italy, 1948-1955 by Mario Del Pero (The Journal of American History, 2001)

The United States and "Psychological Warfare" in Italy, 1948-1955 by Mario Del Pero (The Journal of American History, 2001)

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Source: http://www.academicroom.com/article/united-states-and-psychological-warfare-italy-1948-1955

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The United States and Psychological Warfare in Italy,
Mario Del Pero
This article examines the covert and unofficial intervention by the United States in Italian domestic politics from 1948 to the mid-1950s, which was often referred to as psychological warfare (or psywar ). Conventionally, the difference between regular and psychological warfare should correspond to that between the body and the mind of human beings. While normal warfare aims at defeating the enemy through physical damage, psywar aims to con- quer the minds and hearts of the people in the symbolic conflict that always com- plements the military one. In the first years of the Cold 'War, there was a strong fascination in the ~hited tates with the idea of psychological warfare. The pedaI gogic belief that it was possible to influence and condition political allegiances, pri- vate and public behaviors, and even individual and collective identities was largely a product of the time. As the State Department official Albert
Toner recalled, Psy- chological was a fashionable word in those early fifties. You heard for the first time, or more than previously, about psychological warfare or strategy or whatever. The Korean War popularized the Orwellian notion of brainwashing, which ended up exercising a wide attraction in American public opinion. It also stimulated the belief that the diabolical techniques of mind control allegedly developed by Communism could be virtuously reversed to promote and propagate Western democratic values.' At the same time, the particular nature of the bipolar clash between the United States and the Soviet Union further legitimized psychological warfare as a necessary tool of American foreign policy. The Cold War was a total and absolute conflict between two antagonistic, but equally universalistic, models that did not acknowl-
Mario Del Pero is a research fellow at the Forli Center of the University of Bologna. This essay received the David Thelen Prize for 2000. I wish to thank the Commissione del Premio Aquarone of Rome, the Lois Roth Endowment of Washington, D.C., the Gramsci Foundation of Rome, and the Gramsci Institute of Bologna for their generous financial sup- port. I am greatly indebted to Federico Romero, Anders Stephanson, and Giovanni Gozzini for their valuable comments and suggestions and to the staff of the Truman and Eisenhower libraries for their help and patience. Obviously, the responsibility for the final form of the article is mine alone. Readers may reach Del Pero at
Toner interview by Maclyn
Burg, Nov. 19, 1974, transcript, p. 48, Eisenhower Library Oral His- tory Project (Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kans.). On perceptions of brainwashing, see Abbot Glea- son,
Totalitarianism The Inner Histo of the Cold War
(New York, 1995), 89- 107.
The Journal of American
13 5
he United States and Psychological Warfare in Italy
edge each other as legitimate enemies, as
justi hostes
The totality and absoluteness of the war conflicted nonetheless with the impossibility of solving it by military means. Psychological warfare, therefore, rapidly became a surrogate for a war that could not be fought-at least in the traditional way-and came to occupy a preponderant role in the United States anticommunist arsenal2 But the absolute nature of the bipolar conflict combined also with the substantial opaqueness and ambiguity of the concept of psychological warfare in transforming it into a sort of catchall formula. Since anything could have psychological repercus- sions, and since in a tmal war any act is automatically an act of war, any measure promoted by the United States could be ascribed to the potentially infinite panoply of psywar. We can reach our objective not solely, not even chiefly, by means of mil- itary force, maintained an internal document of the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) of November 1951, so, our intention is to use all other conceivable means to reach our objective; means that are lumped together under the general heading of 'Psychological Operations.'
In the early Cold War the United States goals in Italy were to prevent a Commu- nist takeover and, possibly, to reduce the appeal and electoral strength of the Italian Communist party (PCI, Partito Comunista Italiano). Most of the actions under- taken to those objectives were unofficial, since they involved intervention in the internal affairs of another sovereign country. The so-called psywar plans for Italy elaborated in the early 1950s were consequently characterized by their emphasis on the necessity for resorting to unorthodox and clandestine instruments: on specific actions, as it was explicitly stated, rather than propaganda themes. * Psychological warfare was therefore most of the time understood as synonymous with co;ert operations. But the measures provided for in these plans also considered several other aspects, reflecting the catchall nature of the vague notion of psywar. Italian economic problems, the reform of the electoral law, and Italy's trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries were just a few of the many issues
See Anders Stephanson, Fourteen Points on the Very Concept of the Cold War, in
Rethinking Geopolitics,
ed. Geardid
Thuatail and Simon Dalby (New York, 1998), 62-85; and Federico Romero, Indivisibilit2, della guerra fredda: La guerra totale simbolica (Indivisibility of the Cold War: The symbolic total war),
Studi Storici
(Rome), 38 (0ct.-Dec. 1997), 935-50. On the
justus hostis
versus the absolute enemy, see Carl Schmitt, Der Begriff des Politischen (The concept of the political),
Archivfiir Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik
(Tiibingen), 58 (1927), 1-33; and Carl Schmitt, Der Begriff der Piraterie (The concept of piracy),
Volkerbund und Volker- recht
(1937), 351-54. Psychological Strategy Board (PSB), Notes on a Grand Strategy for Psychological Operation, Oct. 1, 195 1, box 23, Staff Member and Office Files, Psychological Strategy Board Files (Harry S. Truman Library, Indepen- dence, Mo.). Established in April 1951 by a presidential directive, the Psychological Strategy Board had the task of indicating the principal objectives of United States psychological warfare abroad, defining guidelines, and coor- dinating the activities of the departments and agencies engaged in the field of psychological warfare.
statutory members were its director, the undersecretary of state, the deputy secretary of defense, and the director of the
(Central Intelligence Agency). The presidential order creating the
is in
Foreign Relations of the United States,
(10 vols., Washington, 1979), I, 58-60. See also John Prados,
Presidents Secret Wars:
and Pentagon Covert Operationsfrom World War IIthrough the Persian
Gulf(Chicag0, 1996), 84-87; and Rhodry Jeffreys-Jones,
andAmerican Democracy
(New Haven, 1998), 69-85. 4Psychological Strategy Board, Terms of Reference for ad hoc Panel C, Sept. 26, 1951, box 2,
Working File 1951-53, Records relating to the Psychological Strategy Board (Lot File 62D333), General Records of the Department of State, RG 59 (National Archives, Washington, D.C.).
The Journal of merican History March
addressed by those plans. With little discrimination between what could and could not be attributed to the category of psywar, the plans were just United States foreign policy in scale: expressions of a more general process they often simply (and pas- sively) reproduced.
The Phase of Economic Determinism
195 1
The Italian elections of April 1948 are considered a crucial turning point of the early Cold War. The pro-Soviet Left was severely defeated at the polls, while the main Italian anticommunist party-the Christian Democrats (Democrazia Cristiana,
gained an absolute majority in the new parliament. But those elections were also rel- evant insofar as they constituted an important precedent for United States foreign policy. During the electoral campaign, Washington had provided covert aid to dem- ocratic anticommunist parties: the Christian Democrats, the Republican party (Partito Repubblicano Italiano, PRI), and the Social Democratic party (Partito Socialdemocratico dei Lavoratori Italiani, PSLI). The electoral results were read in Washington as proof of America's ability to influence the domestic affairs of other nations through the use of unconventional instruments: according to the American historian James Miller, The results of the April 1948 elections created a general confidence in Washington that the United States had the right tools and the right strategy to effectively deal with the left. 5 This confidence intersected with a fascination for the unorthodox tools of power politics, which struck a number of important figures in the Truman administration, including George Kennan, at the time head of the State Department's Policy Plan- ning Staff. The ability to promote a whole range of measures short of open war seemed to offer what was needed in a Cold War: instruments between total military intervention and passive lack of a~tion.~ Nevertheless, no comprehensive plan of what would soon be called psychologi- cal warfare was activated in Italy after April 1948. The strength of Italian Com- munism was interpreted by Washington in a double and ambivalent way: as the inevitable product of Italy's poverty and social backwardness, on the one hand, and as a subversive and mainly political phenomenon directed by Moscow, on the other. In the late 1940s the first interpretation was clearly predominant: most
James Miller, Roughhouse Diplomacy: The United States Confronts Italian Communism, 1945-1958,
Storia delle Relazioni Internazionali
(Florence), 5 (no. 2, 1989), 295; see also James Miller, Taking Off the Gloves: The United States and the Italian Elections of 1948,
Diplomatic History,
7 (Winter 1983), 35-56. Three National Security Council analyses of the Italian situation were elaborated before the elections:
Foreign Relations of the Unitedstates,
(9 vols., Washington, 1972-1976), 111, 724-26;
775-79. The completely declassified versions are available in the Records of the National Security Council, RG 273 (National Archives). The best recent study on the foreign policy of the
(Christian Demo- crats) has convincingly shown the crucial role played by internal factors in determining the outcome of the elec- tions and the limited impact of international problems in their campaign: Guido Formigoni,
La Democrazia Cristiana e l alleanza occidentale
(The Christian Democracy and the western alliance) (Bologna, 1996). Giles D. Harlow and George C. Maerz, eds.,
Measures Short of War: The George
Kennan Lectures at the National War College
(Washington, 1991). See also Anders Stephanson,
Kennan and the Art of Foreign Policy
(Cambridge, 1989), 308- 10.

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