Violence and the Subversive

Terrorism has been a plague for Western democracies over the past decade, but in France and Britain it has not been a fatal disease. Other countries have not been so lucky. The Tupamaros of Uruguay took a country that, with all its problems of inflation and corruption, enjoyed 90 percent literacy, low infant mortality, and the oldest social security system outside of Sweden and in two years, from 1970-72, drove the National Assembly to hand over the state to a brutal but effective military dictatorship. (The Tupamaros' first triumph was the murder of US advisor Dan Mitrione, an act glorified in Costa-Gavras's movie State of Siege.)

In the 1970's many people believed that the Red Brigades and their extraparliamentary allies were going to have, the same success in Italy. Vittorfranco Pisano surveys the carnage wrought in Italy from 1969 to 1986 in a clearly organized and detailed book which is supplemented by appendices outlining the major terrorist acts, grouped to clarify their social and political intent. This is an excellent textbook for anyone studying one of the most impressive attempts in recent history to overthrow a democracy. Pisano never makes it clear to me, however, why the Red Brigades did not succeed. With all his accuracy and clarity of presentation, a picture of the dynamics of Italian terrorism as promised in the title is precisely what I find lacking in his account.

One significant...

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