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 to say.
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 wound.
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.)