March 7, 2005
The most striking image in the tragic death of Italian security agent Nicola Calipari, killed by U.S. troops on the road to the airport with freed hostage/journalist Giuliana Sgrena, is simple and striking: national mourning. Americans avoid it. Our leaders avoid it. Our trained seal national media avoids it. Have you paused to watch a national prayer service for our dead in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two bloody years? No, because it hasn’t happened. Do you recall that national day of mourning for the 1,500 killed in the Iraq incursion? No, because President Bush has never named one. Yeah, we have local stories about "our heroes" killed in Fallujah, Baghdad, and Mosul—local funerals, local ceremonies of grief, local newspaper stories about the high school athlete or the volunteer fireman who went to war and never came home. Nothing national. Nothing American. All of Italy is mourning Calipari’s death. His body is lying in state at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome, where visitors have been paying their respects, and a state funeral was planned for Monday. President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said he would award Calipari, a married father of two, the gold medal of valor for his heroism. In war zones, horrendous mistakes among jittery, scared, and heavily-armed troops will always lead to mistaken death and injury. It is part of the cost of war that our society has decided to accept, following the path laid out by our national leadership. What we don’t have to accept is the national silence that greets the dead from an administration that doesn’t want photographs taken of the coffins arriving Stateside. Why don’t we mourn as a nation? The reason is simple and shocking and damning: because our leaders don’t care.And Anna Feruglio dal Dan on Calipari’s funeral, today:
One thing that Nicola Calipari got was a state funeral.UPDATE: Jeanne D’Arc reports on Edward Luttwak’s contribution to international understanding. [07:33 PM]
When his coffin came back there was the President of the Republic, who kept his raised hands on the coffin for the full two minutes the silence rang out, the Prime Minister, the Speakers of the two Houses, the Chiefs of the Police and the Military Intelligence, all in their neat blue coats and uniforms, and the director of the Communist daily Giuliana Sgrena writes for, with his editors and journalists, and Sgrena’s partner, with their parkas and drooping mustaches. Six men in different uniforms—Army, Navy, Airforce, Police, Carabinieri and Finance Guard—took the coffin, wrapped in an unpleasantly shiny Italian flag, and carried it a bit crookedly away. The honor picket was the police honor picket, and didn’t move in perfect synch.
There is something deeply comforting in realizing that one lives in a country whose soldiers can’t properly march in lockstep. Where funerals are rare enough that the protocol is a bit uncertain.
Yesterday morning the coffin was brought to what the Romans call “the Typewriter”—the huge white marble monument to the Unknown Soldier built in 1921 for the dead of the Great War. The writing on the Vittoriano says Patriae Unitati on one side, and Civium Libertati on the other. For the unity of the nation and the freedom of its citizens.
People started coming under a chilly drizzle. Some were carrying Italian flags, some were carrying the rainbow flag of peace, some of them were carrying flowers, lots of them were carrying umbrellas. They started filing in front of the body lain in state, some of them crossing themselves, some of them crying, some of them shouting thank you, some of them raising a clenched fist. The room was supposed to close at sunfall but the people kept coming and so it was left open through the night. When the body was taken away for the funeral something like 100,000 of them had passed.
10,000 showed up for the funeral. Lots of them had Il Manifesto under one arm. The Communist daily’s special edition had a photograph of Calipari, the secret agent, with a small smile and somebody’s hand on the shoulder, and the headline said simply: With you. The blond widow sat through it with her head occasionally falling, occasionally nodding, never leaving her daughter’s hand or the head of the Military Intelligence chief. Sgrena’s brother was sitting in the second row, weeping.
Italians are weepy people, it’s well known. Calipari’s direct superior spoke from the pulpit, and though he didn’t weep it was a close thing. He said “He was a man. A good man, an honest man, a loyal man, an intelligent man, a prudent man, a determined man.” Sgrena’s partner, who had said “As soon as I met him I knew he would bring her back home to me,” and the stern militants from the Manifesto wept quietly. Berlusconi sniffled.
His brother the priest did not cry. He thanked people: people who had not left them alone, people who had written to the family from abroad, people who had lost a loved one in Kosovo or Afghanistan or Nassirya, to comfort them.
Then he said quietly: there is probably nobody here who does not wish for a world without war, death, strife. But a better world can only be built if we accept the necessity of giving ourselves in gift. Only people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others can change the world.
In his quiet way, and in a way he certainly did not wish, Nicola Calipari left a legacy. He had policemen and old Communists weeping together. People looked across the aisle and had to admit that there were others with the same grief, who had the same respect for the dead man. Everybody for a moment grudgingly acknowledged that across the ideological divide there were decent, even good human beings.
Not a small thing to achieve with one’s life, all in all. Not enough to comfort people who grieve, but not a bad way to change the world for somebody who had spent his life unassumingly serving his country.
What Nicola Calipari got was a state funeral, and a chance for his death to matter. It is not the least shame of this war that so many American dead were denied this chance.