The Gladiators

The Gladiators

In order to perpetuate capitalism as the final stage of history, Washington has less Hegelian means at its disposal than Francis Fukuyama suggested.


In order to perpetuate capitalism as the final stage of history, Washington has less Hegelian means at its disposal than Francis Fukuyama suggested. For almost forty years it has maintained a secret army, a gang of “gladiators,” sponsored by NATO and apparently financed in most cases by the C.I.A., whose function has been to prevent–by cloak and dagger, by hook or by crook–a “communist takeover.m And not just in Guatemala or Iran at the time of Arbenz or Mossadegh but in the heart of European civilization-in Athens, Rome, Paris and beyond.

The veil was lifted accidentally earlier this year. During his investigation of the blowing up of a vehicle full of explosives, a Venetian judge stumbled upon a secret society founded in the early 1950s and code-named Gladio–“the sword.” Some of the Italian gladiators, numbering nearly a thousand, were in the military; others were civilians. They all had money, arms and protection at the highest levels. The secret was so closely held that ministers who belonged to the ruling coalition but were not members of the Christian Democratic Party claim they knew nothing about it. The Christian Democrats alone knew. The investigation quickly reached the very top, and Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti and President of the Republic Francesco Cossiga are now both directly involved.

With the scandal reaching such proportions in Rome, the question obviously came to mind whether Italy was going it alone. It clearly wasn’t. Greece at once reported that it had had a similar gang, which was no longer needed when the colonels took over in 1967 and was not revived under Andreas Papandreou. The French Ministry of Defense claims that its local branch “fell into disuse” under General de Gaulle. In Germany former SS men were involved, with plans–in the event of a Soviet intervention–to eliminate a number of leftist personalities (including Willy Brandt, some reports say). Indeed, there is now proof that the activity of the gladiators extended to such neutral countries as Sweden and Switzerland. And one should not speak about the organization in the past tense, since its executive committee met in Brussels a few weeks ago, allegedly in order to disband or reform the whole thing now that the “communist threat” has vanished.

The establishment is trying to suggest that the operation was designed to organize resistance to a Soviet invasion. But that is clearly untrue, and this is why the Italian case is so significant. There the “threat” of an electoral victory by the Italian Communist Party was real. William Colby, who was a C.I.A. officer in the embassy in Rome at the time, has just told Italian TV that the parliamentary election of 1958 was “one of the most beautiful achievements of our organization.” There is a growing suspicion in Italy that the gladiators were involved in more sinister activities, that they are somehow linked with the “black trail,” with fascist bombings, with the murder of Aldo Moro, with the “strategy of tension” aimed at preventing the Communist Party not only from seizing power but from being elected to government office. The Italian left is indignant as it suddenly discovers the limits of democracy.

All limitations on sovereignty and freedom did not crumble with the Berlin wall. The prospect of a communist victory in Europe looks very distant at the moment. Nevertheless, our cautious rulers prefer to keep safeguards against any future attack on the system–that is to say, on their power and profits. The moment seems propitious on both sides of the Atlantic to take hypocritical democrats at their word and throw the fullest possible light on all hidden obstacles to the expression of the popular will. Let us keep an eye on the gladiators, and history, when the moment comes, will look after itself.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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