Italy's courageous crackdown

There has never been anything quite like it -- certainly not in modern Italian history. But the trial of 474 alleged top Cosa Nostra officials that began this week in Palermo, Sicily, underscores the determination of the Italian government to make inroads against the type of brash criminal activity that has for too long flourished within the industrial West.

Among the defendants: a man reputed to be the head of all organized crime in Sicily.

The decisiveness and courage of the Italian government -- as well as the many members of the Italian and Sicilian legal and law enforcement agencies participating in this particular trial -- warrant the support and commendation of the world community.

The trial follows an extensive four-year investigation into organized crime in Sicily, an inquiry that has already led to legal steps that are believed to have crimped the ability of crime leaders to carry on their activities. The logistics of the trial are incredible. A special courthouse had to built for security purposes. A backup legal panel has had to be created to ensure that the trial is not stopped because of intimidation.

Organized crime, unfortunately, is no stranger to most nations, or to many ethnic groups. But the cost to society from such activities runs into the billions of dollars -- not to mention the tragic loss of lives and the injuries that accompany organized crime. What the government of Italy is now showing is that such illicit activities need not be accepted as either inevitable or permissible in the 20th-century context.

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