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  • The United States, Italy and the Origins of the Cold War: Waging Political Warfare, 1945–1950 by Kaeten Mistry
  • Roy Domenico
Kaeten Mistry, The United States, Italy and the Origins of the Cold War: Waging Political Warfare, 1945–1950. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 296pp. $99.00.

Kaeten Mistry’s ably researched and argued book is based on the premise that Italy’s elections of April 1948 had “profound ramifications” (p. 2) for both the country itself and the United States. Of the two, Mistry emphasizes Washington’s story more than Rome’s. He asks how Italy, despite its status as a “peripheral concern” (p. 4–5) for the United States, assumed central importance in Washington’s postwar struggle with Moscow and how the United States drew lessons from the Italian case. Mistry’s book is not a history of the April 1948 vote and should not be directly compared to Robert Ventresca’s excellent study of that election, From Fascism to Democracy: Culture and Politics in the Italian Elections of 1948 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004). Although Mistry makes effective use of Italy’s Central State Archives and Foreign Ministry Archives, most of his sources are found in the United States, and his work focuses on U.S. officials and labor union leaders—those in Washington such as George F. Kennan, James Forrestal, and George Marshall; those at the Rome embassy, particularly Ambassador James Dunn; and labor figures such as Irving Brown and Jay Lovestone—and on their bureaucratic battles. Mistry describes these skirmishes within the larger Cold War struggles, providing the reader with a sometimes bewildering clash of alphabet soup agencies—AUSA, ECA, OPC, SANACC, and so forth—the kind of acronyms that enthrall bureaucrats.

The U.S. government’s heavy-handedness has long marred U.S.-Italian relations, and Mistry shows that here, too, most U.S. policymakers viewed the Italians as, at best, “feminine and infantile” (p. 17) and political children who needed Uncle Sam’s strong guiding hand, and that for U.S. officials “indigenous factors were of secondary concern” (p. 178). Such condescension has frequently led to blithe ignorance. Ambassador Dunn and the embassy’s Treasury Department attaché, Henry Tasca, stood out among U.S. officials in actually understanding the Italian situation and wanting to take account of local factors. Mistry calls attention to the Italians—Luigi Gedda and his Civic Committees, Alcide De Gasperi with the Christian Democrats, and Pope Pius XII—although they are relegated to secondary roles. As one might imagine, Italians remember the events of 1948 differently. In 1988, for instance, a Catholic writer, Federico Orlando, published a study of the election under the title 18 Aprile: Così ci salvammo [18 April: How We Saved Ourselves] (Rome: Cinque Lune, 1988), a title that George Marshall would have found preposterous. The U.S. secretary of state and most of [End Page 178] his colleagues preferred a secular, more pliant, and more America-friendly alternative to the Catholics and, as Mistry shows, avidly searched for one. Their hunt turned up the lackluster Social Democrat Giuseppe Saragat and some non-Marxist labor combinations. The quest was doomed from the start, and sooner or later Washington reluctantly realized that only Catholic muscle could eliminate the Stalinist threat in Italy. U.S. officials expressed a grudging respect for Gedda’s dogged determination and effectiveness in the fight, although, as Mistry states, “Catholic influence in Italy was posing dilemmas for American officials” (p. 162).

Although Mistry acknowledges the role played by indigenous actors in postwar Italy, he directs much of his attention to broader U.S. Cold War politics. He maintains that “while there may not have been a deus ex machina in Italy ... the election was nonetheless a signifier in American decision-making” (p. 179). The April 1948 election experience spurred the United States to give ever-greater emphasis to covert measures short of war, relying on “clandestine activities ... in new and dangerous areas” (p. 178). But by failing to accord credence or value to the actors on the ground, U.S. officials assumed that the April 1948 vote was simply a defeat, or at least a check, of Communism, that...


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pp. 178-179
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