It exists. You probably won’t see it if you visit Sicily. You probably won’t see any of its effects, either, unless you look very closely. But considering it’s profound influence on Sicilian life, no twentieth-century history book on Sicily would be accurate without mentioning the most famous Sicilian fraternity.
“The word ‘Mafia’ was formally recorded by the prefect of Palermo in 1865, after the unification of Italy (57 Robb).” It wasn’t until 1982 that it was added to the Italian penal code. Until the end of World War II, the Mafia was a force that the landowners and state of Sicily found useful to maintain power and property. In the nineteen seventies The Oxford English Dictionary was still listing the Mafia as
Often erroneously supposed to constitute an organized secret society existing for criminal purposes.
When the New Shorter came out in 1993, the first five words had been dropped from the definition.
Cosa Nostra (literally translated means “this thing that is ours”), or the Sicilian Mafia, had the perfect social setting for their concealed rise to power. Between the clannish nature of Sicilians, their almost instinctive dislike for inconsistent law enforcement, and a repressed hereditary aristocracy created a favorable cultural petri dish for the Mafia. “And it’s no secret that the criminal justice system does not function very well in Italy. And where there is no law, there is no sin (www.bestofsicily.com).”
In the 1930’s, when the Fascists rose to power in Italy, Mussolini had most of Cosa Nostra thrown in jail. This gave way to the Mafia’s sympathy to the American cause, or at least their hostility to the fascist one. “In reality, the relationship between the Fascists and the Mafia was that of one group of criminals pitted against another–-two wolves fighting over the same chicken coop (www.bestofsicily.com).” Cosa Nostra became politically active, and extremely anti-fascist. In fact, the United States had reason to believe that the Mafia wanted the Axis forces off the island so that they could return to the level of power that they once held. In turn, they solicited the help of the capo di tutti capi, the boss of bosses of the United States branch of Cosa Nostra, the presently jailed Salvatore “Lucky” Luciano. He agreed to help, and pre-arranged the support of the Sicilian Mafia.
“The vanguards of the invading Americans carried flags and foulards of yellow silk, embroidered with the letter L (Robb 52).” One had been dropped by a lowflying U.S. reconnaissance plane on the hill town of Villalba, at the doorstep of the local priest who was brother of Don Calogero Vizzini. Don Calo was about to be made an honorary colonel in the U.S. army. He was already capo di tutti capi of the Sicilian Mafia, and was heavily into black market business when the U.S. dropped the flag. As the Americans were moving into Palermo, two thirds of Italian troops deserted. The L was for Lucky Luciano, who was said to...