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One of the last acts of Don Corleone as Godfather is to bring back the peace by calling for a meeting of the five families. You can watch the scene here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtYjdEwa8GA

Corleone makes the case for why narcotics are something he wants to stay out of. Then another guy stands up and makes the case for narcotics. Corleone says he came there to reason and find the peace, and Barzini declares that the narcotics trade will commence despite what Corleone wants, and that Corleone will give up a lot of his power. Corleone gives a monologue where he doesn't seem to say much, and then just like that it's over.

Why did he give in so easily? He didn't even seem to put up a fight or to argue his case. I don't understand why he felt it was necessary to give Barzini and Tattaglia and his other enemies exactly what they wanted just to keep the peace. Surely they all wanted peace as well. Yet it seems like Don Corleone just got slapped in the face at the meeting.

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4 Answers 4

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For Don Corleone, there were certain red lines you don't cross, and poisoning the people of your neighborhood with drugs was one of those red lines. It also didn't help that Sonny spoke up at the meeting the way he did. Essentially, Don Corleone realized that he had no leverage left among the other dons - they knew not only what his position was, but also who they could potentially exploit to get around that.

Spoiler ahead for further explanation:

Had Carlo not had Sonny killed in the tollbooth, it's entirely possible Sonny would have been convinced to go along with dealing drugs, even after the attempt on Don Corleone's life. Michael was the one wild card none of the other families knew what to make of him; as far as they were concerned, he was either weak like Fredo or just a simple civilian. That was what allowed them to think they could fool him into sitting down with a meeting with Barzini at the end of the film - they just didn't know that Don Corleone had warned him about that possibility before he died.

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This didn't really help to answer my question. The last sentence before the spoiler is relative, but you need to elaborate. –  Andrew Latham Feb 8 '12 at 13:49
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The problem is that there's only so much he could have done at that kind of meeting. The meeting was there as a sort of rubber-stamping to allow drugs to be sold in their neighborhoods. Don Corleone was the only one who objected to it, and even that was undermined by Sonny opening his mouth. When the families get together like that, it's generally understood that they're eventually all going to come to an agreement on a topic. Don Corleone had tried to persuade the others that drugs were no good, but was overruled - even by his own son, showing the others they'd eventually get their way. –  Barry Hammer Feb 8 '12 at 14:49
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I think this is made clearer in the book than in the movie. Vito Corleone is a very patient and calculating man. He is willing to wait and slowly manipulate things, unlike his angry and rash son Santino.

At the time of Santino's (Sonny) death Vito realizes that an all out war is costing him too much (the death of his son). He decides to stop the killing by meeting with all the families and agreeing to the drug trafficing. He also learns that the Barzini house is ultimately behind a plot to destroy his family.

In the book (where you can see into the minds of the characters) it is obvious that Vito Corleone doesn't forget or forgive insults. It may take him years, but he eventually enacts his revenge. He likely saw his time was over, given his failing health, and so decided to invest what time he had left into training Michael to take over (and ultimately get revenge). Santino was the oldest and the natural successor, even though he didn't have the temperment to be a good leader. Fredo was weak willed and less intelligent, particularly after the attack on his father (before that attack he was seen to be very tough). Michael was the only son that had the calculating mind of his father and the patience to wait for opportune moments.

In book and the movie Michael Corleone kills the heads of the houses and their co-conspirators (such as Moe Greene). The book concludes with the Corleone family once again ascerting themselves as the most powerful family in New York. The movies take a different turn, with Michael attempting to legitimize the business and get away from crime. Neither the book or the movie is clear about whether drug traffficing continued after Michael destroyed all his enemies. It is possible he reversed that position once he was the only one left standing.

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PERFECT ANSWER ! –  howler Feb 12 at 11:42
    
In Godfather II this becomes clear when Vito waits 20-something years to avenge his father's death. –  Johnny Bones Jun 19 at 0:23
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Don Corleone's first priority was his family's safety especially Michaels. By signing peace treaty with others he ensured no one harmed Michael in any way and interfere with his homecoming. But he was never weak as at the same time he warned others that he would not leave anyone who would try to harm his family-

"But I'm a superstitious man. And if some unlucky accident should befall him - If he should get shot in the head by a police officer, or if he should hang himself in his jail cell - or if he's struck by a bolt of lightning, them I'm going to blame some of the people in this room, and that I do not forgive. But, that aside, let me say that I swear, on the souls of my grandchildren, that I will not be the one to break the peace we've made here today."

Also he knew that he alone cannot go against Tattagallia and Barzini as they may seek support of other Dons. And none of the Dons at that time wanted an all out open war, so they may choose the stronger side which was apparantly not of Don Corleone at that time.

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Vito had his own agenda. Allowing other families to fight over the drug revenues would occupy their resources and weaken their ranks. He got the assurances he sought. He bought Michael the time and opportunity to go after Las Vegas gambling, rackets, prostitution etc. This also afforded the time to see how the other families reacted to the drug free-for-all. In the end, the other 4 families lost sight of the big picture. Michael took out the heads of the other four and Moe Green. Checkmate!

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