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.


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.

50 thoughts on “BALBO'S THEME”

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    Yep. I'm totally down with removing a gift from Mussolini and putting it in a history museum. I can't imagine a time in my life when I wouldn't have been. It obviously has historical and monetary value, so I'm not OK with destroying it either. I'm pretty sure more than 1% of Chicagoans could tell you at least something about Mussolini (that he was a dictator, a fascist, or a fan of Hitler, perhaps), but a lot couldn't. And until five minutes ago, I'd never heard of Italo Balbo, and I'm more than 30% Italian and fairly well educated (BA in Poli Sci, minors in history and philosopy, UC San Diego).

  • Chicagojon2016 says:

    Fascinating. It never would have occurred to me to me that ppl would seek something/anything out but it makes sense

  • Agreed.

    Quiz for everyone here: what are the original names in this quote?
    (Name] justifies the destruction of cultural heritage sites…. While it is often assumed that the group's actions are mindless acts of vandalism, there is an ideological underpinning to the destruction. [Name] views its actions in sites like [Name] as being in accordance with [Name] However, it is valuable to point out that no [name] worship cultural heritage sites, and such were historically almost untouched by the [name] rulers in countries such as……

    Beyond the ideological aspects of the destruction, there are other, more practical, reasons behind [Name]'s destruction of historic sites. Grabbing the world's attention is easily done through the destruction of such sites, given the extensive media coverage and international condemnation that comes afterwards. Destroying historic [Name] also allows [Name] to wipe the slate clean and to start afresh, leaving no traces of any previous culture or civilization, while also providing an ideal platform for the group to establish its own identity and leave its mark on history…….

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    We all know it's ISIL. If you can't see the difference, there may be no fixing you. I am all for monuments to glorious southern heritage. Why don't we erect one to the brave Tennessee Volunteers who not only deserted the Confederate Army, but joined the Union Army when they realized the Union cause is just.

  • I can see the difference, although I doubt you can. The point is not to erect new monuments but to preserve those already up, even if you disagree with them.

    what point of "wipe the slate clean and to start afresh" do you not want?

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    @diana: You just compared priceless cultural artifacts to statues that amount to nothing more than stone and steel "nigger be gone" signs. The fact that a single one of these monuments stood for a single minute is repulsive and unbecoming a great nation. I'm done with you.

  • There wasn't slavery in the ancient world?

    Weren't all the monumental buildings in the ancient world build (most likely) by slaves?

    If no monument to those who fought an evil war is allowed to stand in any nation (and as for great nation, you're welcome to make America great again with tRump, I'm not having it), what would be still standing in any nation from any previous era?

    If you're done with me because you can't explain your point of view, that's one thing, but if you can, please keep talking.

  • Andrew Laurence:
    It's also worth pointing out that many of the statues are high up on pedestals and plinths so any "artistic" value they have is moot since the average viewer can barely see them.

    The only role the monuments play is to promote white supremacy. They are statues of white supremacists who risked their lives for white supremacy and erected by white supremacists. Now (STILL) white supremacists are killing to keep white supremacy in the public square.

    And it is worth pointing out, that white supremacy and violence ARE Confederate and Southern heritage. The Neo-Confederates like to downplay that stuff and pretend it wasn't a big deal, but it was CENTRAL to Southern identity. The Confederacy was FORMED to instigate a war, a war for mass torture and mass rape. It ONLY has a heritage of violence.

    There is a reason why "Southern Heritage" groups do not honor Martin Luther King or Malcolm X and it is the same reason they haven't chased the Klan and Nazis out of the debates. It is because "Southern Heritage" is tightly wrapped up with white identity, The Nazis and Klan do the dirty work that "Southern Heritage" types don't want to do but do want done.

    Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans have issued soft rejections of hate groups, but haven't done much more than a slap on the wrist. They likely won't do more because actually opposing the Klan and Nazis would hurt their pocket books and membership numbers..

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    @diana: I can explain, and have explained, my point of view multiple times. It's YOURS that seems incoherent. And by "great" nation I meant large, powerful and important, not "good." Sorry for the confusion. Yes, there was slavery in the ancient world, and yes, many monuments were built by slaves. But that was a long time ago, and by and large, humankind has made great social progress, not all of it in a linear upward fashion, of course.

    If you cheered when Russians tore down statues of Stalin, or when Iraqis tore down statues of Saddam Hussein, you should also cheer when Americans tear down statues of Robert E. Lee. DBP explains it a LOT better than I ever could.

    Germany has historical monuments to the Holocaust. Apartments that are still standing have plaques that list the names of the Jewish families that lived there before they were taken away and murdered by Hitler's monsters (apologies to Cookie Monster, Grover, and Elmo), not the names of the Nazis who arrested them and put them on trains to the death camps. Sidewalks where such homes once but no longer stood have similar plaques. You really ought to go see them. It's very dignified and helps modern German gentiles remember the atrocities committed by their ancestors, not that they're likely to forget any time soon.

  • Barkus Annointo says:

    Current part-owner of Red Sox wants to change the name of the street which runs by Fenway Park, since it memorializes Tom Yawkey, plutocrat of an earlier era, who managed to keep Red Sox team rosters all white through most of the fifties. I think we should limit this to equestrian statues, myself.

  • Anonymous Prof says:

    You know, when I was a child, back in the 1970's, the local elementary school was named after the founder of the KKK. This was a public school, mind you.

    I vividly remember the day when the KKK was out on main street, in full regalia. They would hold out coffee cans, and the cars would stop, and white people would put money in.

    For a very long time, the governments of the Southern states have been screaming "fuck you" at Black people.

    So now, I have no stomach to argue with people like diana, who seem to think this is some fucking William F. Buckley armchair game where you smirk about ISIS and pretend to be superior to the liberals.

    If you had lived it, you would understand. But you haven't lived it, so you don't want to understand. You can never understand.

    This land is sacred to a lot of people, and was sacred before the White people showed up. I'm sick of hearing a lot of whining and oh-noes about the pwetty widdle statues when Trump wants to destroy sacred lands. Diana, if you have ever in the past spoken up about the Keystone pipeline, feel free to let us know. Otherwise, you have zero credibility, so goodbye.

  • Thanks. AP. And Craig!! Turns out the closest traitor statue to me (PARDON ME HEROIC HERO OF THE WAR OF NORTHERN AGGRESSION (sarc i assure you)) is the Jefferson Davis statue downtown. Not too damn far away from the Lorraine Hotel I might add. Anyway, it was erected (heh) in 1964. Gee, what was happening in 1964 that might have prompted them putting up a statue of the President of the Confederacy?

    What I don't think most people realize about most of these Confederate statues (and I know a lot of you here DO know it, but it bears repeating) is that they were largely put up during the early part of the 20th century (think Jim Crow and "Birth of a Nation") or during the '60s Civil Rights movement era.

    If they'd been put up immediately after the War, I might buy a little of the "OH NOES THEY'RE LIKE TOTALLY HISTORICAL WHADDYA GONNA DO NEXT BURN DOWN MONTICELLO?" arguments, but they weren't. The ones in my city at least are nothing but threats to "uppity" blacks to, y'know, know their place and shut the fuck up.

  • PS AP, I started school the year that my small southern hometown finally desegregated its schools. That was approx. FIFTEEN YEARS after the unpleasantness in Little Rock.

  • "let's not kid ourselves about the motive and the timing"

    This. If a revulsion against fascism and racism were leading to people tearing out its roots in their own minds and their own lives, I'd want to dance in the streets.

    Instead, like Ed, I'm starting to get a strong whiff of performance.

    Yes, I'd much rather have people performing anti-racism than its opposite. But Christ on a vuvuzela, can't we (the whole US) start doing better than than that?

  • Unfortunately people have to die before change can happen. Dylan Root was sufficient for a number of states to get rid of the battle flag. Should his abhorrent actions have been necessary? Clearly not.

  • 'With Confederate monuments being taken down all around the South'

    Well not in NC, as the state R legislators passed a law taking away local control of their court house 'decorations'. Small gov't R's.

    Fuck them. And also folks who defend those statues, with concern trolling.

    Facts: the statues came in two waves, one at the height of the KKK in the teens, the other in the 50's during civil rights unrest. They were not put up to honor anyone, only to repress. Art critics agree that few of them are even very good. For the most part, hack jobs…

  • GunstarGreen says:

    "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."

    I know, right? It's almost like bandwagoning outrage is a thing. Like people feel some strange, sudden need to send some sort of signal… to let people know how virtuous they are.

    The CSA was an incredibly brief 'nation' of traitors, cowards and monsters. The monuments are just hunks of stone and/or metal, I couldn't possibly care less whether they get torn down — hell, they're much more useful as scrap and gravel than they are as monuments.

    But as you say, Ed, let's not kid ourselves here. None of these people gave a shit about these monuments until it was fashionable to do so. If any of them ACTUALLY cared about tearing down symbols of fascism/racism/etc., they'd have fought to tear these things down decades ago.

    And it's the craven showmanship of it that disgusts me. These pretenders, these noble defenders of the downtrodden that couldn't be assed to actually defend the downtrodden until it was safe and easy to do so, until they'd get a bunch of Twitter likes and Reddit upvotes for throwing their hat in the ring.

    Tear 'em down and turn the sites into greenspace, but don't pretend that it's being done for any sort of high-minded reason. It's embarrassing and insulting.

  • 'If any of them ACTUALLY cared about tearing down symbols of fascism/racism/etc., they'd have fought to tear these things down decades ago.'

    Well, maybe it could not have happened til now. You condemn a lot of folks without possibly knowing their inner thoughts on the subject. 'Knowing' someone else's 'motives', much less "ALL" of them is something that can't be done accurately.

    I really don't care why folks are 'on the band wagon' now.
    I am glad they are.

  • We don't have any Confederate statues, but we got plenty Conquistador statues in the state. One, in particular, has been the source of much controversy: that of Don Juan de Onate. Those opposed to having a statue of a murderer and torturer of Native Americans standing in our state took matters into their own hands and sawed one of Don Juan's feet off, leaving a note that said "Fair is fair." Gotta love NM. But that statue still stands, which is pretty goddamned obnoxious, if you ask me.

  • re: Bandwagon –I think it has to do with new awareness and momentum. If being aware is "trendy," then good.

    Some people have been walking past these statues their whole lives but only now are devoting any thought to the meaning behind them. Some people have always been aware (and bothered), but saw no alternative but to live with aggrieved acceptance. Now, suddenly, a critical mass of people are newly aware that 1) these monuments even exist, and 2) that they commemorate traitors who committed treason in defense of slavery. (Hat tip to Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns & Money for that framing. MY awareness of all this started with the internet, and finding/reading such as LGM)

    Have we named any military installations after enemy military leadership to commemorate their outstanding military successes AGAINST U.S. FORCES? There is no U.S. naval base named for Isoroku Yamamoto. No nation does that.

    But as it turns out, yes we have. Fort Hood in Texas is named for a confederate general.

  • I'm struggling with Roger Taney. He, unlike the obvious traitors Lee, Jackson and Forrest, did not join the Confederacy. He merely wrote a terrible Supreme Court decision, Dred Scott. Before becoming an SC justice he was in the Jackson administration and prior to that in Maryland state government. Interestingly, he emancipated his slaves during his lifetime and gave the older ones pensions. So to me he seems closer to the Washington/Jefferson wing (albeit considerably later in our history).
    The statue of his just removed from the state capitol grounds in Annapolis was installed in 1880's, so clearly not a part of the 1920's KKK resurgence or the 1950's/60's response to Brown. Is he morally repugnant? By modern standards, absolutely. But so is Jackson, who graces our $20. If you joined the Confederacy you are a traitor and should have no honor in this country (I'll see you Ft. Hood and raise you Ft. Bragg) but merely being a former slave-holder who wrote a terrible opinion shouldn't be sufficient to have your statue removed.

  • New plaques might help, something like:
    Robert E. Lee, oath-breaker, traitor co-conspirator in treason, responsible for the deaths of thousands Given freedom by a generous nation.

  • In Seattle the mayor is proposing to get rid of the lone Confederate monument, amusingly in the same private cemetery that honors Bruce, not Robert E., Lee. He's also trying to get rid of the statue of Lenin in Fremont, a neighborhood also noted for its troll statue under the highway bridge. We put up civic statues and monuments for a reason, as a way for the community to honor a cause or an event. It's rarely about the individual, but more about what they did or represented in their lifetime, though possibly as re-interpreted by others later. It's not about having enough the frequent citizen points. It's about an alignment of goals and values.

    When those goals and values change, it is time to change our civic furniture. A statue or shrine marking a grave on private land is one thing. We don't dig up our enemy's remains and scatter them to the winds anymore. The dead are dead. The public monuments, however, are fair game. Do we tear down a statue of Columbus because he started the chain of events that destroyed native American society or do we honor him as the founder of the new Spanish-American race or as the man who led the mission that irrevocably united the Americas and Eurasia? That's a tough question. Do we honor Einstein for his scientific and humanitarian work or revile him for opening the door for nuclear weapons and driving a stake through the heart of the philosophy of absolute values as somehow natural? That's another tough question.

    I expect to see some remodeling. The US has been living with racial injustice for so long that we sometimes barely see it. A change in civic architecture might make a small difference.

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    @Kaleberg: I'm pretty sure black people see it fairly clearly, but otherwise I agree with your point.

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    @GunstarGreen: As long as they're torn down, who gives a fuck why? I'm not interested in virtue signaling either. I'm interesting in tearing down monuments to injustice. I was for it yesterday, and always, although I'll freely admit that I have limited bandwidth and have not always thought about it much at all. That's because I'm white. The fact that we did something unjust yesterday is not an excuse to do it again today. In fact, it's the best argument for STOPPING doing it.

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    @Totoro: Howdy neighbor! :-) I agree with you on Taney, but I'd love to see Andrew Jackson replaced with Harriet Tubman on the $20.

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    Maybe rather than considering the color of the subject of the statue, we could focus on whether they were an evil monster by the standard of their day, or of ours.

  • @Totoro; there's a Taneytown, Maryland, named after Taney (and pronounced "Tonny Tahn" by the locals, not sure how Taney pronounced his name). Something I noticed about Maryland, which is technically south since it's under hte Mason-Dixon line but Baltimore and Washington were Union cities: once you get outside the Baltimore-Washington corridor, most of the state thinks the Civil War is still raging and the south is winning. And they're the south, of course. Even the little triangular snippet surrounded by West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which fought with the Union. (Fun fact; was in that western part of PA and saw many a Confederate flag a-flying on houses and cars–WTF?)

    This week I read that the lyrics of Maryland's state song (Maryland, My Maryland, sung to the tune of Oh Tanenbaum) contain southern sympathies.

  • Augmented reality overlays are coming to smartphones, which could be worthwhile, giving additional useful information about confederate monuments such as "Loser!", "Had recaptured slaves flogged and the wounds brined" or "Conspired to commit treason for money".

  • "which fought with the Union. (Fun fact; was in that western part of PA and saw many a Confederate flag a-flying on houses and cars–WTF?)"

    I think they refer to that part of hte state as Pensyltucky.

  • @Demo; you may be right that that's part of Pennsyltucky. I always thought it was the corridor in the middle of the state that we drive through to get to western New York (Buffalo area). We go through a huge section of rural area just north of Harrisburg pretty much to Painted Post, NY, that's nothing but porn shops and confederate flags everywhere. Once we hit Painted Post, we're back in the USA.

  • @Katydid:

    If you continue down I-380 to I-81/US 17 you can always tell which side of the state line you're one by the signs. The ones in NY advertise porn, the ones in PA, cheap cigarettes. Or, maybe it's vice-versa–I can't remember but it doesn't really matter.

    At this moment I'm having a not very polite argument with a couple of unreconstructed apologists for the slavers.

    I am so fucking sick of this shit.

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  • All I ask of the protestors demanding the removal of these statues is that they bring the same energy to voting, in every election between now and forever.

    Because, yeah, the statues of Confederates need to come down. But the way to make real change and shape the country over the long term is to get and stay involved in the actual PROCESS by which things happen.

    Marching in the park is great and adding a rose to your twitter handle is nice, but voting is what actually matters. We'll see how many "activists" we really have in this country in 2018.

  • Ah, the Left. Where you can finally get everyone on the same page to do the correct thing and people will line up to accuse them of "performance-ism", "grandstanding" and "virtue signaling".

    I wonder why we're so fucked as a country?

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    @SeaTea: Exactly. Who cares if it's performance if we're performing the right actions? We know we're not going to end racism overnight, this year, or probably ever, but at least black people won't have to stare down Robert E. Lee every time they want to take their kids to the library.

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    @SeaTea: And I forgot to add, I just finished the book "White Like Me" by Tim Wise. Highly recommended. It really explains what white privilege is and is not, not that any of my friends/acquaintances who think it's not a thing would ever deign to read it. :-)

  • But save the "2,000-year-old antiquity—an ancient Roman pillar—atop (the) stone base"!!!!

    That's worth keeping. Somewhere.

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