Should hit men get medals?

26 Jan

Author Gay Talese

Mafioso Bill Bonanno

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many Americans, and certainly many Italian-Americans, I have a mild fascination with the Mafia. So when I came across an old copy of Gay Talese’s “Honor Thy Father,” I started reading it. Talese was an early and very successful practitioner of something called The New Journalism. Now it’s just called writing, but it caused a big stir in the ‘70s.

The book was one of the first to take a human look at Mafioso, specifically Bill Bonanno, whose father was a New York don. Talese provides a somewhat sympathetic look at the Mafia. Talese says this about Bill:

When he went to ROTC camp, and later into military service with the Army Reserves, he was trained in the technique of legal killing. He learned how to use a bayonet, how to fire an M-1 rifle, how to adjust the range finder of a cannon in a Patton tank. He memorized the United States military code, which in principle was not dissimilar from the Mafia’s, emphasizing honor, obedience, and silence if captured. And if he had gone into combat and had killed several North Koreans or Chinese Communists he might have become a hero. But if he killed one of his father’s enemies in a Mafia war, where buried in the issues was the same mixture of greed and self-righteousness found in all the wars of great nations, he could be charged with murder.

In the post-Soprano age, I’m curious how people might react to such a statement. Please comment. Was Talese accurate in his analysis, or was he trying to sell a revisionist image of beastly men?

By the way, if you would like to sample a shorter-form piece by Gay Talese, I suggest: “Frank Sinatra has a cold,” said to be the best piece of non-fiction ever published in Esquire magazine.

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