Fuoco amico is
the Italian term for friendly fire. Those words appeared frequently
in Italian newspapers last week as Rome buried a hero, Nicola
Calipari, the Italian intelligence agent who was shot to death
by American troops at an Iraqi checkpoint after he freed an Italian
hostage earlier this month.
News accounts reported that the tragic death had
increased anger toward America and toward Italian Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi for sending 3,000 troops to Iraq. As I was vacationing
in Rome last week, I decided to go to where Calipari's funeral
was being held. As an American, I wanted to thank Calipari for
his sacrifice, and I wanted to hear for myself what Italians had
As I arrived at the Piazza della Repubblica, I
saw thousands of people who, like me, walked to the square in
silence and alone, then found a place to stand and quietly thank
a man they had never met. There were no chants, no shouts, only
polite applause when the casket arrived, when they saw Calipari's
family and when the entourage drove away.
I experienced the quietest two hours I have ever
spent in a crowd of thousands.
When it was over, I asked an American journalist
what folks in the crowd were telling her. They are really angry
at America, she told me. I was surprised. In the two hours I stood
there, I never once heard Italians muttering about President Bush,
Estati Uniti, Americani. I had not seen one political
sign. In fact, I saw only one sign, written by a woman who saluted
Calipari as nobile and valoroso and placed him
among the angels.
Several times, I overheard Italians use the word
journalista, although my Italian wasn't good enough to
figure out what they said about my profession.
The most relevant journalista wasn't
there. Giuliana Sgrena, who became a hostage in Iraq as she covered
what she called "that dirty war" for the communist daily
Il Manifesto, was in an Italian hospital recovering from a shrapnel
Be it noted, I saw only three copies of Il Manifesto
at the piazza. This was not a gathering of Sgrena groupies --
despite the fact that Sgrena had spent the weekend posturing as
Calipari's champion. She boasted that she told Calipari's widow
she would get to the truth of what happened.
As soon as she returned from Iraq, Sgrena penned
a piece for Il Manifesto on the incident -- La Mia Verita,
or in English, "my truth" -- thus confirming my rule
in life to never trust anyone who claims ownership of The Truth
with a capital T. (Or V.)
Sgrena wrote that her captors warned her to beware
of the Americans, who "don't want you to go back." In
a later interview, Sgrena said she could not rule out that she
was the U.S. troops' real target.
Sgrena also wrote that she spent her early days
in captivity "simply furious" and confronting her kidnappers
because they snatched her even though she opposed the war. "It's
easy to kidnap a weak woman like me. Why don't you try with the
A Department of Defense source later told The
Washington Times: "We had (counter-terrorism) people looking
for her. They were willing to risk their lives, and all you hear
from her is criticism of American troops."
With Calipari's corpse still warm, Sgrena couldn't
find it in herself to criticize the men whose actions triggered
the events that led to Calipari's death -- other than to berate
their choice of hostages and note that "sometimes they made
fun of me." Her Truth takes no notice of the brutality of
Iraq's terrorists, of their many victims. If America isn't to
blame, then it is not an outrage.
Nor did it seem to bother her that her kidnappers
may have emerged millions richer. Eight million dollars, $10 million
or niente, as the Italian government says? -- a nice
reward that can only encourage more kidnappings.
You've heard the reports of how Italians are skeptical
of the initial U.S. version of events. I, too, have trouble believing
that the checkpoint guards gave sufficient warning to the Italians,
who oddly chose to ignore them and speed toward the checkpoint.
Besides, no matter what the details turn out to be, there can
be no satisfactory explanation for fuoco amico.
Italians also are skeptical of Giuliana Sgrena.
Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini dismissed her talk of
being the target of an ambush as "groundless," while
other officials suggested she was mistaken due to the stress of
I think this Eric Hoffer quote sums her up best:
"People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the
boot that kicks them." Worse, when she licked her captors'
boots, she called it Truth.
2005 Creators Syndicate
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