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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 3-4

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Special Issue

Italy and the Cold War
General Introduction

Leopoldo Nuti

In March 1998 the Center for American Studies in Rome, together with the Universities of Florence and Romà Tre organized an international conference on the fiftieth anniversary of the implementation of the Marshall Plan. The purpose of the conference was to reassess the evolution of U.S.- Italian relations during the Cold War, focusing on the political dimensions of the relationship but also delving into broader economic, cultural, and social topics. Participants were asked to investigate the impact and consequences of the sudden growth of U.S. influence in Italy in the aftermath of the Second World War, particularly after the inception of the Marshall Plan and the intensification of the Cold War.

The conference also intended to inject new life into a research field— U.S.-Italian relations during the Cold War—that has gone through different phases, and that, after a somewhat promising start in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has recently been somewhat neglected. Scholarly analyses of the topic have become more sporadic and have been carried out almost entirely by Italian or European historians, with only limited contributions from their American counterparts, despite the important role played by Italy in several critical stages of the Cold War. We hoped, therefore, that the conference would somehow rekindle interest in this subject among international historians. To take this a step further, we selected some of the conference papers for publication in the Journal of Cold War Studies. As one of the organizers of that meeting I want to express my deep gratitude—as well as that of my coorganizers, Daniele Fiorentino and Ennio Di Nolfo—to the journal's editor, Mark Kramer, for his willingness to cooperate and for his (and his staff's) patience while the contributors undertook the necessary revisions.

The papers presented at the conference encompassed a wide range of topics, ranging from the activities of "exiled" American filmmakers who came to [End Page 3] Italy during the McCarthy era to the growth of U.S. financial investment in Italy. For this special issue of the Journal of Cold War Studies we selected three papers from the "political" section of the conference. We supplemented these with Stephen Gundle's essay from the social-cultural panel to give a better flavor of the conference's overall approach.

Although the articles cover different periods and themes, they all stress the close interaction between the influence of U.S. initiatives and policies and the reactions they generated in the Italian polity and society. Far from being a passive recipient of U.S. proposals, the Italian government often solicited them and adopted only the elements that best suited the interests of Italian society. In this respect Gundle's essay underscores Italy's capacity to assimilate and reinterpret the influence of the models proposed by the United States—even when those models seemed to be extremely distant from the cultural discourse of the time. At the same time, the articles collectively portray the United States as a very peculiar hegemonic power, one that strove to assert its influence but achieved only limited results and was often incapable of restraining the initiatives of its ally.

All of the articles thus fit into the growing body of literature that stresses the complexity of the relationship between Western Europe and the United States in the post-1945 period. Even as scholars take advantage of the opening of the former East-bloc archives, they should not overlook the crucial sources that have recently become available in Western Europe, including Italy. Ideally, the articles in this special issue will prompt other researchers to explore some of the unresolved questions regarding the role of Western Europe in the Cold War.


Leopoldo Nuti is a professor of the history of international relations in the Department of Political Science at the Universita Romà Tre.