On March 16, 1978, Aldo Moro–a key figure of Italy’s ruling Christian Democracy–was captured in Rome in broad daylight by the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse, hence the initials B.R.). Fifty-five days later, the government having refused any negotiation with the kidnappers, he was executed. Mario Moretti, the mastermind of this operation and one of the historic leaders of the B.R., is now 47 and serving the thirteenth year of a life sentence. He is the author of a recent Italian best seller, Mario Moretti: Brigate Rosse. Una storia italiana (Anabasi, 259 pp., 25,000 lire). Or, to be more accurate, this book is a lengthy interview with Moretti by Carla Mosca, a journalist on Italy’s public radio, and–last but not least–by Rossana Rossanda, who also wrote the preface.
Rossanda, once in charge of culture for the Italian Communist Party, was kicked out of that organization as one of the founders of the Il Manifesto group, which criticized the Soviet Union at the time of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Il Manifesto still exists as a daily paper, and Rossanda is viewed by many as the voice of conscience of the Italian left. Neither she nor her journal had any sympathy for the vanguard violence preached and practiced by the B.R. On the other hand, she is aware that their story is a political, not a criminal, one and, in a tragic way, a part of the history of the left as a whole. Thus Moretti’s interviewers show a great deal of understanding but no indulgence, and this inner tension contributes to the value of this document.
The Moro episode takes up less than a third of the book. Moretti describes in detail the preparations, the action, the talks with Moro while they were waiting for the official response. He takes full responsibility for everything, including the execution. He hotly denies that the Red Brigades were terrorists: They never bombed blindly and always attacked specific targets. The death of Moro’s guards was part of “the war with the state”; the guards took the same risks as he and his comrades. The striking feature in this description of the drama is the astonishment of the protagonists: Moretti’s strange surprise on discovering that the C.P. is backing the government to the hilt and Moro’s terrible realization that his closest colleagues are unwilling to make a gesture–the liberation of a few prisoners–to save his life. There is also the horrible admission, hinted at by Moretti, that killing a stranger is one thing, but killing a man with whom you have lived and talked for fifty-five days is something quite different.
Was it absolutely necessary to kill the former prime minister? The interviewers admit that the kidnapping–which showed the underground movement’s ability to challenge the state–was popular in some quarters, but insist that the execution was not. Releasing Moro, they argue, would have gained much approval for the B.R. and raised real problems for the establishment. Moretti rejects such analysis with passion. “For an organization of guerrillas which had carried out such an extraordinary operation…to have let Moro go without an exchange,” he maintains, would have been to admit that “the revolutionary policy is on the defensive and the state is invincible. This was unacceptable.” This strange view was apparently almost unanimous among his comrades, which suggests that a guerrilla movement driven underground develops a logic of its own.