FOR much of this century, the public has shown ambivalence about the role of organized crime in America. Films, from ``Little Caesar'' in the early 1930s to ``The Godfather'' in more recent years, have gained large audiences. Accounts of crime incidents -- such as this week's shooting of mob chieftain Paul C. Castellano in New York -- are given prominence on television and in newspapers. It would be unfortunate, however, if the fascination -- one might almost say the perverse fascination -- that some people may unwittingly have with the sense of ``order'' based on criminal activity and intimidation were to overshadow the genuine gains that have been made against organized crime in the United States and the world community.
Indeed, if the written record of the war against crime says anything at all about what is now happening, it is that significant players within the international community are bringing organized-crime figures to the bar of justice in a systematic -- and relentless -- way. These international efforts deserve the continued support of the world community.
In the US, federal, state, and local anticrime task forces have won indictments or convictions against the top hierarchy of every major organized-crime family. Equally important, the prosecutors and law enforcement officers who are targeting these crime families, such as the FBI and Rudolph Giuliani, the United States attorney in Manhattan, have built up a considerable case log of knowledge about the way organized crime operates within the business sector.
In Europe, officials in such nations as Italy and France have stepped up their assaults on crime networks. Italy's performance has been especially important. Recently, for example, magistrates indicted 475 Mafia suspects in Sicily.
Much more remains to be done. Curbing criminal groups that have a cultural basis for their existence, such as La Cosa Nostra or the Japanese Yakuza and Chinese Triads, will not be easy. Organized crime, after all, operates in a larger public setting. It is especially important that the new groups now attempting to gain a foothold in the US, the Asian and South American groups, for example, be quickly brought to justice.
The key factor is that organized crime cannot exist without the help of others -- including, in far too many instances, the inadvertent complicity of the public itself. Organized crime costs Americans hundreds of millions of dollars. In some communities it has links to construction work, garbage collection, and food service companies, as well as labor unions.
Could organized crime endure if the public were to take a strong moral stand against activities that allow criminals to flourish -- gambling, loan sharking, prostitution, drugs? It is essential that government agencies continue their increasingly successful assaults on organized crime. At the same time, as individuals gain a clearer sense of integrity in society, they will be fostering a moral climate that precludes the inroads of crime.