Wartime

The American government formed an alliance with the Mafia during World War II. They prevailed upon the jailed American gangster Lucky Luciano to use his connections with the Sicilian Mafia to monitor German troop movements as the Allied forces prepared for the invasion of Sicily. Other mobsters joined in to help, namely Vito Genovese. The Allies took control of the island, and this led to the fall of Italy and the end of Benito Mussolini's reign. Italy switched sides and joined the Allies, and Mussolini was assassinated.

Sicilian Allies

The American forces released the Mafiosi from the prisons and put them in charge of reorganizing the social and political structure of the country. To give the United States the benefit of the doubt, one can say that the military was not aware of the criminal tendencies of these men. If they were looking at the situation in straightforward terms of black and white, they may have assumed that anyone who was clearly not a “common” criminal that was imprisoned by Mussolini must be there because he was a political prisoner and part of an organized opposition of freedom fighters.

Did any mobsters fight in World War II?

There were a few mobsters who fought for their country in the war. Tampa mobster Henry Trafficante served in 1943. Tampa mob associate Jimmy Donofrio also served, as did the “Cracker Mob” boss Harlan Blackburn, who used his wartime experience to deal in stolen ration stamps and run gambling operations behind the lines.

Given the fact that the Americans helped Nazi scientists escape from the clutches of the Russians in the days right before the end of and immediately after World War II, one could make the case that the American leadership may have known that these prisoners were Mafiosi. The Nazi scientists helped America in the Cold War and during the space race to the moon in the 1960s, so it is not out of character for the American government to work with unsavory characters to further its goals. In either case, the Mafia benefited from the Allied liberation of Sicily and returned to prominence in Sicilian society.

One hoodlum who benefited from Allied assistance was Calogero Vizzini. The Allies made him the mayor of his community. He and other Mafia men were given political offices because they were known in the communities and clearly commanded respect. But this was actually more fear than respect. The citizenry knew them well as Mafiosi and would not dare oppose them. Vizzini ultimately became the “Boss of Bosses” of the Sicilian Mafia. The whole Mafia made out like Sicilian bandits during the post–World War II era. They became more powerful than ever and solidified their stranglehold on the island.

When Vizzini died in 1954, the Mafia went through a metamorphosis. Gone were even the pretensions of Old-World civility and honor. The younger generation were called “gangsters,” a common and generic term in America. In Sicily, however, the dignified, albeit deadly, Mafia had disdain for this low-class criminal element and its coarse manners and tactics.

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