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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.2 (2002) 141-143

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Book Review

Gli Stati Uniti e l'apertura a sinistra.
Importanza e limiti della presenza americana in Italia

Leopoldo Nuti, Gli Stati Uniti e l'apertura a sinistra. Importanza e limiti della presenza americana in Italia. Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1999. xxi 1 729 pp. Lire 90,000.

This is a landmark study. It examines U.S. policy toward Italy during the administrations of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. Although Leopoldo Nuti touches on all aspects of U.S.-Italian relations, the major theme of the book is the change in U.S. attitudes toward the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) as it slowly distanced itself from the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and moved closer to (and ultimately joined) the anti-Communist governing coalition. Nuti deals only briefly with U.S. policy during Eisenhower's first few years, when the formidable Claire Booth Luce presided over the American embassy in Rome. The book gathers pace when discussing 1956, the year in which Nikita Khrushchev delivered a secret speech denouncing the crimes of Josif Stalin and Soviet troops invaded Hungary. These events produced the first major cracks in the political alliance between Italy's Socialists and Communists. The month of October 1963 provides a convenient endpoint for the book. A month later Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. As news of his death reached Rome, Italian politicians were negotiating the formation of the first government since 1947 that would include PSI ministers.

Nuti's book has two conspicuous virtues. First, its author has meticulously reconstructed the course of Italian-American relations on the basis of primary-source material, including mountains of unpublished documents from at least two dozen archives in the United States, Italy, Britain, France, and the Netherlands, as well as numerous interviews. Nuti has made extensive use of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act to obtain the declassification of documents. Indeed, it is striking how often he cites the unexpurgated versions of documents that have been published in abridged form in the official Foreign Relations of the United States series put out by the U.S. Department of State.

The second conspicuous virtue is that Nuti emulates his mentor, Ennio DiNolfo, in his considered and dispassionate judgment. As the subtitle indicates, thebook seeks neither to exaggerate nor to underestimate the influence of the UnitedStates on Italy's domestic politics during the era of the high Cold War. Nuti has a good sense for the complexities of both Italian and American politics and a certain detachment from, and skepticism about, both. The result is far and away the [End Page 141] most reliable account of the events in question that we are likely to have for some time.

Nuti lays to rest the wilder conspiracy theories that have surfaced about the U.S. role in Italy during this period. For example, he shows that the United States never seriously contemplated military intervention in Italy to thwart the formation of a center-left government, despite what Vernon Walters, the military attaché in Rome, may or may not have said at a meeting held at the embassy in November 1961. Nuti is highly skeptical of allegations that the U.S. government was involved in a plot to kill Enrico Mattei, the eccentric and ambitious head of the Italian ENI state energy company. When Mattei's private jet crashed in October 1962, Nuti points out, U.S. government officials were actively working to patch up relations between Mattei and the major American and British oil companies in order to provide Italy with a cheap alternative to Soviet energy. They were optimistic that their efforts would succeed and they would therefore have had no motive to get rid of him. Nuti also convincingly rejects the hypothesis that General Giovanni Di Lorenzo's "Piano Sole" for a coup d'état in July 1964 was backed by elements within the U.S. government. He meticulously demonstrates that the center-left government in power at...