The Death of Aldo Moro
In the late 1960s, the old conflict between Fascists and anti-Fascists had been reignited in Italy with an escalation of attacks by more or less covert neo-Fascist terror groups and the Red Brigades. The first bomb exploded on 12th December 1969, in a bank on Piazza Fontana in Milan. The bomber was arrested, but ‘accidentally’ fell to his death from a high window. The killers were never located, but most evidence pointed to neo-Fascists and right-wing elements within the Italian intelligence. The funeral of the victims turned into a huge demonstration. By the late 1970s, each year saw an average of more than 2,000 terrorist attacks, and rumors of a right-wing coup by the Italian Army.
Throughout these turmoil, which ultimately claimed more than 400 victims, the Italian government maintained the stance, “The state must not bend” even when its head the Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by a militant communist group, the Red Brigades, which demanded the release of several imprisoned terrorists. Under the gloom cast by a general trade-unions strike, the government raided hundreds of apartments in major cities futilely looking for Moro. Despite the pleas by Pope Paul VI (who offered himself in exchange for the Prime Minister), Aldo Moro was murdered 54 days after his kidnapping.
Thus ended one of the most gruesome episodes in Italian history. From his kidnapping on March 16, 1978 where his five escort agents were killed to his emotional letters from captivity to the final photo of his dead body stuffed into the back of a Renault 4, the saga unfolded right in front of the media, and wielded a great evocative influence on the political landscape. It was the modern Italy’s JFK moment; the five time premier of Italy was so popular, and his demise was so sudden and inexplicable that many conspiracy theories appeared; many of them pointed an accusing finger at the cadre of western superpowers and NATO, mainly because Moro was an idealist who include the Communist party in the government of Italy jointly with the Christian Democrats who had been the main political party in government since WW2. In that respect, even the place where the body was found — Via Michelangelo Caetani, a site equidistant between the Christian Democratic Party and the Communist Party headquarters — suggests a silent symbol.
The photo below, which was featured on the cover of the Time magazine’s Europe edition was captured by Gianni Giansanti who would later become official photographer for Pope John Paul II. (See his entire coverage of Moro Affair here). Marie-Monique Robin describes Giansanti’s day in her book The Hundred Photos of the Century:
When Gianni Giansanti turned into via Michelangelo Caetani that day … he had no idea what was in store. He was 22 years old, and full of the fire and enthusiasm of a young man setting out on his professional path. … He climbed up to a balcony from which he had a bird’s eye view of a red Renault 4 around which police officers were teeming; explosives experts were about to blow off the locks of the car door. Camera at the ready, when the boot flew open, Giansanti started shooting. “At a time like that you don’t really feel anything, you just cope with the technical problems. All I could think of was that I had to guard my photos with my life, and get them to the AP agency. I had an incredible scoop on my hands.”