BALBO'S THEME

Posted in Rants on August 17th, 2017 by Ed

I was waiting to see which one they would pick.

With Confederate monuments being taken down all around the South, northern cities are on the sidelines watching. There are no Confederate monuments here for obvious reasons. But since pulling down statues is obviously very Hot right now, I knew someone would pore over the list of Chicago monuments until we found one to pull down so we can be part of the fun too.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that a monument must be Confederate to be inappropriate. Plenty of monuments celebrating American military victories in Indian conflicts, for example, are prime candidates for removal. Columbus statues too. But it certainly feels like a bit of a reach for Chicago aldermen and activists to target a really obscure monument dedicated to Italo Balbo.

Yeah.

Balbo is a very minor figure in the history of aviation. When aviation was a subject of intense public fascination in the 1920s, Balbo was briefly a recognized figure in the US When Chicago hosted the World's Fair in 1933, almost every nation on the planet left the city with some kind of gift (a convenient way to avoid having to ship home part of its exhibition). Italy, which was of course led by Mussolini at the time, left a 2000 year-old Roman column atop a small pedestal, a combination historical artifact and monument. It was named after Balbo, probably because he was one of the few Italian "celebrities" known in the US at the time who was not on the outs with the Italian regime.

It's just a gift. "Thanks for the World's Fair hosting, brah." The city did nothing special to acquire or install it. It didn't ask for it or sponsor it. And most importantly, I'm pretty goddamn sure that literally no one has walked past it and thought "Oh my god why is that offensive monstrosity here." 99% of this city couldn't even tell you who Mussolini or Balbo are.

I have a feeling the monument will end up coming down, which honestly is fine with me as long as the 2000 year-old artifact is not destroyed as part of the process. Go ahead and put it in a museum. Fine. It does feel an awful lot like this is a solution in search of a problem, though. Balbo Drive being renamed makes sense, only because changing the name of streets to honor different people happens all the time. The street has no connection of any kind to Balbo, so it might as well or might as well not be named for him. The monument, though, was a gift from a country and until now it has entirely avoided any kind of notoriety.

If it makes people feel better it should be removed. The odd part about this is that for 80 years it hasn't made anyone feel anything, and suddenly it's a beacon radiating offense and the support of fascism. Confederate monuments exalt a very specific part of American history that is deeply horrible for a large part of the population. I suppose if America received a gift from Hitler it would have been taken down by now, and an argument can be made that Mussolini should be treated similarly. That's why ultimately I don't care if this comes down or is moved. It doesn't feel like a general community push for change, though, since it's only coming up now. It feels a lot like trying to hop on board with a trend that we as a city aren't really involved with. If this monument is actually offending people with its presence, why didn't we pull it down ten years ago? Go ahead and do it, but let's not kid ourselves about the motive and the timing.