The Rise And Fall Of La Cosa Nostra in America

Apr 2017
United Kingdom
Last week I bought two books dealing with the same topic- the Mafia in America- the first was the late Frederic Sondern's "Brotherhood Of Evil: The Mafia" (Panther Books, 1965) and Joseph Pistone's "Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in The Mafia"(signet Books, 1989)- the first dealt with La Cosa Nostra("Our Thing" or "Our Tradition" in Italian or its Sicilian dialect- the Klan and the Soviet intelligence services are clearly NOT alone in using "Aesopian language evidently to describe themselves or their activities) during its heyday from the 1920s to the 1960s, and the latter dealt with its in the 1970s and 80s when it began its slow but inexorable decline, assisted not just by vigorous federal prosecution( a young US Attorney, Rudy Giuliani later became Mayor of new York on the strength of his record as a rackets buster) but also due to sociological change in the wider Italo-American community.
Pistone's book (documenting his almost five years as an undercover FBI agent in the Mob) is clearly superior to my mind- most books written about the Mafia are by outsiders(Sondern) or turncoats such as the late Vincent Teresa (My Life In The Mafia, Panther Books, 1973) who have good reason to soft pedal their own criminality. Pistone(under his nom de guerre, "Donnie Brasco") observed the "wiseguys" up close and personal- and as a federal agent sworn to uphold the laws of the US, his honesty is unimpeachable- it had better be, as defence counsels for the mobsters he testified against would have gleefully pounced on any discrepancy in his testimony.
So shaken was the Mob by his puncturing the myth of their invincibility was that they not only put a $500, 000( half a million) bounty on his head(he and his wife and daughters are in hiding even now decades later) but they reinstated an old rule than in order to become a "made man"(fully fledged Mafia member), the prospective recruit must "make his bones" by committing a murder as well that two rather than one Mafia members must vouch for his bona fides, usually having known him for ten or fifteen years, if not from childhood onwards(obviously no law enforcement officer could or would commit murder).
Another reason for the decline in the Mob's fortunes was the 1972 death of longtime FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover who for reasons best known to himself spent most of his time acting or talking as if the Mafia did not exist( If you don't believe me, buy "The FBI Story" by Don Whitehead, which ironically was made into a 1959 film starring James Stewart) and a reorientation of the Bureau's efforts into making quality cases against the mob, continuing suspicion that the Mafia was somehow implicated in the assassination of US President John F.Kennedy( see David Scheim's "Contract On America: The Mafia Murder of President John F.Kennedy" Zebra Books, 1993) as well as those of civil rights leaders Dr Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and presidential candidate to be and former US Attorney General Robert F. (Bobby)Kennedy .
Whilst it is true that the Mob still exists and continues its nefarious activities(gambling, loansharking, prostitution, drug trafficking), it is manifestly a shadow of its former self.