This semester instead of exploring Catholicism and its effects on politics around the city of Chicago, we’ll be conducting a research project on the topic of our choosing. I have chosen to look into the religious and cultural ties to Chicago’s Balbo Monument and the relationship it had and continues to have, on the Italian Catholic population. The monument stands on the Lakefront Trail, not too far from Soldier Field. The monument is a large column dating back to over 2000 years and came from an ancient port in Rome. The large stature has become a controversial symbol of Fascism as it was a gift from Benito Mussolini to commemorate Italo Balbo’s trans-Atlantic flight to the Century of Progress World’s Fair. The gift had fascist wording placed on the front which was later removed by the recommendation of the post-WWII ambassador to the US from Italy after Mussolini’s death.
Outside of the fascist ties through the wording on the Bablo Monument, Italo Balbo, whom the monument was honoring, was a prominent Italian Blackshirt. The Italian Blackshirts were a paramilitary wing of the National Fascist Party. To some, the monument represents the complicity the American government took place in at the beginning of fascism and Nazism before WWII broke out. Others were supportive of the gift because to them it represented growing relations between Italy and the United States.
In recent years there has been a resurgence of calls to remove the monument altogether, in response to calls for Confederate monuments to be taken down from public areas and placed in museums. Bishop Gregg Greer from Chicago stated “Chicago stands with all the communities around the country, to stay monuments have to go, especially when they represent a racist history of America” in an ABC article from 2017. Recognizing America’s racist past and tendency to be complicit in these actions around the globe have been a hot debate topic. In response, a defender of the monument in it’s standing, Lissa Druss, stated: “When Mussolini went pro-Nazi, Balbo said absolutely no way.”
Due to the new generation’s push to eliminate racist monuments from the past, there’s a growing amount of information on the topic of the Balbo Monument in Chicago’s Burnham Park. For my spring research project, I intend on using the varying research outlets that are offered throughout the city including many universities, institutions, and libraries. As this project progresses I look forward to refining my knowledge of these monuments that were once viewed as a positive relationship between two countries and how we interpret these monuments in the 21st century.