It seems like Italo Balbo just became residual shrapnel from the barrage of bullets the rest of the country is firing over what to do with the approximate 1,500 Confederate place names and other symbols in public spaces.
Italian Americans and others throughout Chicagoland are wondering why the memory of Italo Balbo’s remarkable accomplishments is being swept up into the national wave of removing the past.
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Eighty-four years ago, General Balbo’s air armada landed at Chicago’s Century of Progress Exhibit, marking the first mass flight of planes crossing the North Atlantic. The transatlantic crossing was rightly recognized as one of the most important and best executed aeronautical achievements of that time, having made a valuable contribution toward the future realization of routine intercontinental air travel and to technological progress.
The day of Balbo’s arrival on the lakefront was the single most memorable and important day in the history of Chicago’s Italian American community.
President Roosevelt honored him at the White House.
And now Balbo’s name is in question because of misinformation.
We want to be perfectly clear. Italo Balbo was an outspoken opponent of the Mussolini tilt towards Hitler and was not the enemy that many in the Chicago City Council are portraying he was.
Despite being a general under Mussolini, when Balbo saw where Mussolini was going with his pro-German policies, he was horrified. He was one of the only fascists in Mussolini’s regime to openly oppose Italy’s anti-Jewish racial laws and Italy’s alliance with Germany.
Mussolini’s disagreements with Balbo led to Mussolini “exiling” him to serve as the governor of Libya.
History is just that — history. Do not destroy a historical feat of a man of honor just because at one time he was connected to someone who became an adversary. Italo Balbo was never an enemy of the United States. He was an inspiration to Italian Americans and to those in aviation.
Balbo did the right thing: He opposed Mussolini in his darkest time. Why should the City Council bring Chicagoland Italian Americans into a dark corner when our community shines so brightly with all ethnic groups?
President Emeritus of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans
President of the Italian American Human Relations Foundation
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