127. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Gen. Giovanni De Lorenzo, Chief of Staff, Italian Army
  • William N. Fraleigh, Counselor of Embassy


  • General’s Views on Italian internal and foreign affairs

At a small dinner on March 15 I had an opportunity to talk at some length with General De Lorenzo, whom I have met a number of times before. The following were his main comments on Italian internal and foreign affairs.

Internal Affairs

The General was outspokenly critical of the Italian Socialist Party and of the Minister of Defense, Tremelloni. He was less directly critical of President Saragat, perhaps out of respect for the President’s high office, but it was obvious that he was also not very happy about the President’s attitude towards the Italian Army.

(It should be recalled that the General, who has a strong personality and has played a leading role in organizing such key anti-subversive elements in Italy’s armed forces as the Carabinieri and the [Page 262] Armed Forces Intelligence Service (formerly called SIFAR, now SID) has a Monarchist background and, while not politically active in recent years, supported the Monarchy as an institution in 1945/46, and in early Fascist years. This undoubtedly profoundly affects his attitude towards Socialists, including the present Socialist President of the Republic. But the main burden of his remarks were directed at an alleged lack of understanding of the Army and its problems by Tremelloni, in particular, and the allegedly poor effects of Tremelloni’s leadership at the Ministry of Defense upon the morale of the Armed Forces. This view is apparently widely shared in the Armed Forces.)

The General said that Tremelloni, having no experience in such matters, simply does not understand the job of running the Defense Ministry. Tremelloni approaches it primarily as an economist. His emphasis is constantly upon reducing expenses, without due regard for morale and quality. For example, army salaries are not high enough, and nothing is being done about raising them. As a consequence the quality of younger officers is rapidly going down. The ablest no longer desire to make the Army their permanent career. (Throughout the conversation the General referred specifically only to the Army, but by implication he was also thinking of the Air Force and Navy.) To add to the feeling of frustration in the forces, while Tremelloni turned a deaf ear to complaints about inappropriate economies in the Armed Forces, the government continued to increase the expenditures and allotments of many other Ministries.

The General said that while Saragat takes some direct interest in the Armed Forces, his interest is limited to “special areas” (undefined) and not in the Armed Forces as a whole. The General did not elaborate upon this, but perhaps was referring here to the recent controversy over personal files allegedly missing from SID archives. As De Lorenzo formerly headed this organization, he has been involved in the controversy.2 His only direct reference to this matter with me, however, was to say that this was a tempest in a teapot. In any case this led him to draw an invidious comparison between President Saragat and former President Segni. Segni, he said, took a much broader and more genuine anterest in the Armed Forces. (This led to a brief discussion of Segni’s health which the General said was still stationary. Since his stroke, which resulted in his resignation from the Presidency, Segni has been living very quietly near Rome. He is still unable to talk and moves about very little because of his partial paralysis.)

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My net impression of the General’s remarks was that he has reached the point of having little patience not only with Saragat and Tremelloni but with the Italian Government as a whole. I referred once to Moro’s unusually long tenure as Prime Minister, by Italian standards, and to Giulio Andreotti’s long service as Minister of Defense. But this brought forth only grunts, and no praise from the General for either of them. He did say, however, that while General De Gaulle had suffered a setback in the recent French elections, it was a noteworthy fact that despite this, Gaullism had retained an absolute majority in Parliament. This was, the General said, thanks to the fact that the French had succeeded in working out an electoral system which made such absolute majority governments possible, whereas Italy had not succeeded in doing this and therefore had to suffer constantly with unstable coalitions.

The General, who is not yet 60 and still apparently in vigorous health, strongly implied that he would not be adverse after retiring to giving his support to, and perhaps even participating in, a movement in Italy for a stronger form of central government, if conditions should occur that might give such a movement reasonable chances of success. I do not think the General would himself go so far as to try to become an Italian De Gaulle. He seems too realistic about himself and Italian politics to attempt that. But he might lend his support very vigorously to someone else who had aspirations and possibilities of becoming a strong President, if he believed him to be the right man for the job.

Foreign Affairs

On foreign affairs the General’s main comments were on NPT and Germany.

As for NPT he said there was of course great merit in the idea of trying to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons. But the proposed treaty, he said, seemed unfair to Italy and to other nuclear have-not nations. He used many of the same arguments to support this that Italian government leaders have voiced, and I sought to answer them in the usual way. He said he had been asked recently, but did not say by whom, what younger officers in the Italian Army thought about this subject. He said he had answered that he did not think they were much interested.

As for Germany he said he felt there was a very real danger of a strong revival of a Nazi-type Party. Many Germans remembered bitterly the bad treatment they received in 1945 and 1946, he said. This feeling was especially strong among the millions of German refugees from East Germany. This and the continued lack of progress towards reunification was in danger of stirring up the same stubborn and ruthless German spirit which had caused two world wars and could if we are not careful cause a third. He remarked that some Germans were [Page 264] involved in the constant acts of terrorism in Italy’s Alto Adige and that the Italian Government had not been able to get the German Government to crack down on these people.

With particular reference to this last subject, but by inference also to other things he had been saying, General De Lorenzo remarked that the Chief of Staff of the Italian Air Force, General Aldo Remondino, shares his views.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 6-1 IT. Confidential. Drafted by Fraleigh. Transmitted to the Department of State as an enclosure to airgram A-854, March 20.
  2. An internal probe of this issue, launched by Tremelloni, had become public, and on February 18 the Procurator General of Rome began a judicial inquiry. Subsequently, the Italian Parliament took up an investigation. In April the Moro government relieved De Lorenzo of command.