All my life I ve always wanted to be a gangster
This line by Henry Hill tells us about his fascination and respect for that organization of honorable men known as the mob or the Mafia. Objectively speaking, he cannot be blamed for such a sentiment. A lot of people share in this respect and fascination. Books such as The Godfather and The Last Mafioso, as well as movies like Casino and Goodfellas give people a realistic view of Mafia life and the struggles that a Mafioso experiences.
During the ninth century, Sicily was occupied by Arab forces. The native Sicilians were oppressed and took refuge in the surrounding hills. They then formed a secret society to unite the natives against the Arab and Norman invaders. This secret society was called Mafia after the Arabic word for refuge. In the 1900 s Mafia only referred to the rich American-Sicilians living in the United States who provided financial aid and protection to their less fortunate countrymen also residing in their areas. The society's intentions were to create a sense of family based on ancestry and Sicilian heritage.
Although the world labels the Mafia as ruthless, destructive, corrupt and evil criminals, they do have their honorable side. What we should admire in these people are their code of honor and vow of silence (the Omerta), and the way they value friendship, camaraderie, loyalty, respect and trust.
Statement of the Problem
In the early part of the 20th century, gambling was very much illegal and therefore the Mafia held most of its operations in the US, especially in the areas of New Jersey, New York and Chicago. It was not legalized until Bugsy Siegel founded Las Vegas after the First World War. This was the first criminal activity that the Mafia was known to have, along with the murders and assassinations of people that got in their way. Since then the police and the FBI have been trying to pin down all the Mafia families.
Our society nowadays, upon hearing the term Mafia immediately thinks of a gang of ruthless criminals that kill people out of a slight anger, bribe the police and politicians, all for the pursuit of making themselves richer. They are branded as evil, heartless, corrupt and greedy. Donald Cressey, in his book Theft of the Nation: The Structure and Operations of Organized Crime in America (1969), says that organized crime is the most sinister kind of crime in America. This is because the Mafia chiefs practically have the entire community in their pockets: they have a number of the police and politicians in their payrolls, and these people blindly do as the Mafia commands, for fear of an untimely death. They are forced to manipulate and corrupt the laws that they themselves have sworn to protect. Society therefore, becomes a puppet of these greedy and selfish monsters.
But this is just not the case. On contrary to common belief, the Mafia is not merely a band of ruthless criminals after personal wealth, but a group of honorable people who uphold values and work together in order to survive. This paper discusses how the mob s distinct moral values make them more honorable and higher than most of the members of society and how the criminal acts they execute are committed only when absolutely necessary.
Definition of Terms
The term Mafia came from the Arabic word for refuge. Nowadays this word is used to refer to a secret criminal organization composed of a Don, the head of the Family, and his members. Another reference to the Mafia would be the Italian phrase La Cosa Nostra , literally translated as this thing of ours or our affair.
The code of Omerta is the vow of silence sworn by a Sicilian, the highest form of oath that one takes when he enters a particular family. The simple rule would be not to inform anyone about the affairs of the Family. After having sworn life and loyalty to his Don, the man is said to be made or he is said to have made his bones, referring to the new, higher form of life he has chosen to take. Only then can he be called a Mafioso or a member of his Mafia Family.
The structure of a Family is as follows: the Don is the boss or the chief of operations. He makes all the decisions in the Family, and these decisions are always final and unquestioned. Every Don must have an advisor or a consiglieri, someone who acts like a lawyer and a secretary. There is even an old adage that the affinity between the Don and his consiglieri is stronger than that of the Don and his wife! Next in command are the caporegimes, or captains, who acts as commanding officers and leaders of a group of Mafiosi (plural of Mafioso ) who are part of the same Family and serve loyalty to the same Don. Each caporegime commands a small band of henchmen,
called soldati or buttons. These soldati are the ones who do most of the dirty work, such as killing people and setting establishments on fire. An associate is someone who is being paid by the Don for his services, but is not part of that Family. Associates can include politicians, judges, policemen or even just ordinary people who cannot be made because they are not of Sicilian descent. The Mafia believes that only Sicilians can only be a part of La Cosa Nostra because only they are able to uphold the law of Omerta, and that is a very important part of the deal.
Significance of the Study
This principal aim of this paper is to try to change the people s view on the Mafia. They have been branded as animals who kill and steal, but there is really more to a Mafioso than that. This paper presents the lighter side of the organized crime, so that people in general, upon reading this, would think twice about the Mafia. Hopefully they would start seeing them as powerful people with reason, honor and integrity instead of cold-blooded criminals.
Scope and Limitations
The paper only touches on the American-Sicilian Mafia, particularly those living in the United States. The rules and generalizations that were formulated may not accurately apply to the Japanese Yakuza, Chinese Triad nor Russian Mafia. The statements are based on facts and insights taken from foreign books and movies, such as Jimmy Fratianno s The Last Mafioso and the films of the Godfather trilogy by Francis Ford Coppola.
Reasons Why They Are Seen As Bad People
Upon the mention of Mafia, the first criminal activity that one could think of would be murder and assassination. The Don merely has to nod and a person is ordered to be killed. And as can be seen in various movies, an order to have someone killed is always given with so much casualness that it seemed as if the Don was not even bothered about ordering a murder. In some circumstances, he would even specify if the job was to be a confession (meaning that the body would be found) or a communion (saying that it would not be found). How cold-blooded can they be?!
The second reason would be because they engage in other illegal operations such as gambling, extortion, usury, bribery, kidnapping and the distribution of narcotics and untaxed liquor. These are very serious offenses against the society and most of the crimes mentioned are even punishable by death penalty. The Mafiosi control almost all the illegitimate gambling operations that take away most of the people s money by playing with their vice. Bribery is also a big thing because the Mafia puts the politicians, judges and policemen in their pockets and more or less coerce them into doing illegitimate acts, when in fact they are supposed to be the ones who should protect and uphold the laws of the state. Also, the soldati at times kidnap people when they are to beat information out of that guy. And the distribution of drugs and untaxed liquor is no joke either. Organized as they are, the Mafia have all the means and resources they need to efficiently traffic these things, and are even protected with the immunity provided by those policemen and judges in their payrolls.
With these things, people cannot help but to look at them as criminals, and people fear criminals. Can they be blamed?
Reasons Why They Should NOT Be Seen As Bad People
The most widely-used phrase employed by Mario Puzo in his book, The Godfather (1969) is it s business, not personal. But it is really more than a famous phrase, it is a principle of the Mafia. Included in the rules of La Cosa Nostra is never kill a made man without just cause. (Fratianno, p. 62). And throughout The Godfather (Puzo, 1969), it was made clear that those who are ordinary civilians not part of the businesses of the Mafia are not to be harmed in any way. In the same book Don Corleone, in numerous situations, tries to reason with people who interfere with his operations twice or thrice before ordering such appropriate measures to be carried out (Puzo, 1969). Therefore it can be concluded that the Mafia do not really murder people cold-bloodedly. These murders are the last resort, and are done only when necessary, when the target is causing harm or when, in spite of patiently and exhaustively trying to reason with him, insists on obstructing the path to a greater good. Moreover, people who have nothing to do with the business are left out of the conflicts and affairs. Hence they will not be harmed in any way even if they are the wife and children of the Don.
Their operations do not in any way harm anyone; they only increase the profit of many people. Gambling and prostitution, for example, are morally wrong, but nobody is forced to get into them. The choice is still the consumer s. Why should they be labeled as evil for providing for the vices of the people? Why do the government officials persecute the Mafia for their gambling operations and yet allow licensed establishments such as casinos and hotels to do the same thing? Could it be just because the Mafia Families refuse to pay an enormous, unreasonable part of the profit to the government? If that is what makes gambling legitimate, then maybe it is the government that should be arrested for swindling! And why can they not provide prostitution, if a number of states in the US have legalized abortion, divorce and homosexual relationships? Clearly morality has nothing to do with it anymore.
The trafficking of narcotics is a more complex situation. Books about the history of the Mafia tells us that in the 1930 s, most of the Families in the United States had meetings in New York to discuss the issue on drugs (Cressey, 1969). Narcotics, despite the immense profits that came along with it, were initially rejected by the Dons. In fact, it was originally against the laws of Cosa Nostra to get involved into narcotics (Fratianno, p. 87). But eventually, in the Council of Tattaglias in 1937, they decided to get into the business for two reasons/intentions: first, drugs are the coming thing. If they do not get into it, somebody else will. They might as well take hold of these operations rather than let it be distributed uncontrollably in the streets. Secondly, they did not want any of these things reaching the children. They wanted to keep these narcotics away from schools and away from children as much as possible. Unfortunately, as time went by, the drugs industry became bigger and bigger, until not even the Mafia was not able to control it anymore.
The bribery of judges and police officials are merely for the protection of the gambling businesses and those involved in it. There is nothing morally wrong; they take a stab at the law, but nobody is really harmed. These government officials do not become a direct acquaintance or part of the Mafia s operations; they just receive money for the services they do for the Don.
Men with Dignity
There are a number of reasons to uphold the Mafiosi as honorable men with dignity. First, they live up to their principles, especially the Omerta, better than most men follow their religion. Their loyalty to the Don is unquestioned, unconditional, and based on love and respect. This loyalty cannot be out of fear of death, because it is clear that they are even willing to die for the Don. Their principles are noble and selfless, and an example would be the Rhode Island Family s Laws for La Cosa Nostra:
1. Never break the vow of silence.
2. Never tell anyone about the existence and operations of Cosa Nostra.
3. Never covet a made man s wife, nor even his daughter if your intentions are not pure.
4. Never kill a made man without just cause (Fratianno, pp. 61-62)
The Don takes care of his people and their families. When at some unfortunate circumstance a soldato is caught and jailed, the Don would work on the hastened freeing of that person, and in his absence the Don will provide and take care of the family for him. Much more of this care will be given to that family if that henchman died, either in the line of duty or by natural causes. The Don also provides protection and financial aid and support to the less fortunate who ask for his help. He become godfather to these people and help them at any time of need.
Although the Dons are practically not afraid of anything, their wills can be bent and their minds can be changed by reasoning out with them. Powerful as they are, they are flexible, reasonable and modest. Mario Puzo points out that these are the most powerful men in the United States, who will never bend down to anything except God and the soundest use of reason (The Godfather, 1969).
Finally, as part of their integrity, nothing can stop them from doing what is right. In Francis Ford Coppola s film, The Godfather II, Michael Corleone orders the execution of his own brother, Frederico, because of the harm he was causing the Family and their business operations. Here we can see that not even blood relations can stand in the way of the Mafioso s iron will and integrity, something that should be respected and admired.
The Mafia are powerful. They can do almost anything they want, that much is obvious. But whatever they do, they do it for a reason. The violence and bloodshed is not intended, but a price they have to pay for the better life they want to provide themselves and others who are not as fortunate. Their main operations do directly harm anyone. Harm only comes when there are inevitable complications. But even these they try so hard to avoid. Turmoil and bloodshed would be their last resort. They are honorable men with principles, powerful men with gentle hearts, and reasonable men with the pursuit of nothing else but the good life for those who depend on them.
As stated earlier, the Mafia are criminals because of their illegitimate operations. And people fear those who are branded as criminals, even if there is really no harm coming to them from these criminals. And naturally, as men, they hate what they fear, and persecute them continuously until they are held behind bars or strapped to an electric chair.
The Mafia should not be scorned for the wrong actions they are forced to take at times, but instead they should be praised for the noble deeds they seek to do each and every day.
Cressey, D. (1969)
Theft of the Nation: The Structure and Operations of Organized Crime in America
New York: Harper and Row, Publishers Inc.
Puzo, M. (1969)
United States of America: American Book-Stratford Press, Inc.
Fratianno, J. (1974)
The Last Mafioso
New York: Bantam Books, Inc.
Francis Ford Coppola (1984)
Godfather II (movie)
Universal Pictures, Inc.