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Controversies over Confederate monuments reflect entanglement between history, reality


 

 

 

 

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 — Confederate monuments have caused
a clamor in August when Americans forced their eyes wider open to review
whether longstanding monuments and statues in memory of confederate past
are historically correct or in tune with modern values.

The debate was triggered by deadly clashes between white supremacists and
opposition protesters on Aug. 12 in the historic college town of
Charlottesville in the eastern U.S. state of Virginia, a day after
far-rightists, including neo-Nazis, held a torch-lit rally against the
removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a city park.
Illinois, a midwestern free state, has almost little traces of pro-slavery
southern states of the Confederacy. On a hill of Grant Park in downtown
Chicago stands a horse-riding statue of General John A. Logan of the Union
Army in the American Civil War, a popular site where there is no lack of
visitors. About 2 km south along the bank-side of the Michigan Lake from
the Logan statue is Balbo Monument, a stone column that has unexpectedly
been caught in controversies in the wake of the Charlottesville events. <
The monument, which features a 2,000-year-old Roman pillar placed atop a
stone base, was given to Chicago to be showcased at the Italian Pavilion at
the Century of Progress World’s Fair, held from 1933 to 1934. It was sent
by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as a tribute to the first
transatlantic crossing flight of 24 11-ton seaplanes from Rome to Chicago
led by Italo Balbo, an Italian air force marshal that helped bring
Mussolini and other fascists to power in 1922.

What’s more controversial is the faded inscription at the base to the
Balbo monument, which reads in part, “Fascist Italy with the sponsorship of
Benito Mussolini presents to Chicago”, in commemoration of a flight by
Balbo “in the 11th year of the Fascist Era.” An online petition claimed
that the monument is “an enduring symbol of white supremacy and racism.” A
right-hand of fascist Mussolini, Balbo oversaw “the brutal occupation and
destruction” of North Africa during World War II. On that ground, the
petition urged the Chicago mayor to immediately remove the Balbo monument,
which stands in the city’s Burnham Park, and the re-naming of a street
whose namesake was also the former governor-general of the Italian colony
of Libya. But some argued that the monument should not be removed as it was
erected in honor of the aeronautic achievement at the height of the Great
Depression and the arrival of Balbo and his squadron were warmly welcome by
the United States at that time.Then-U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, who
could hardly be considered a Nazi sympathizer, invited Balbo to the White
House and presented him with the Distinguished Flying Cross. The marshal of
the Italian air force later featured on the cover of a Time magazine.Others
took aim at U.S. statues of Italian navigator Christopher Columbus who
sailed for Spain and discovered America, arguing that Columbus stood for
European colonialism, not worth commemoration.

While denouncing a resurgence of dregs of white supremacism, Nazism, and
Ku Klux Klan, historians believe it is an opportunity for Americans to
learn about history and suggested statues and monuments should not be torn
down on an abrupt basis. “I think rational people can debate whether
removing a statue of a Confederate leader is in the best interests of a
community, or of society as a whole,” Amy S. Greenberg, professor of
American History and Women’s Studies at the Pennsylvania State University,
wrote in an article. “It’s possible to argue that obliterating evidence of
‘bad’ historical events or ‘offensive’ people might in the end be
counterproductive, allowing a collective amnesia that the bad events ever
happened,” she added.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association,
said some political figures in the country failed to recognize the
difference between history and memory. When you alter monuments, “you’re
not changing history,” he said. “You’re changing how we remember history.”
In late August, a piece of extremist graffiti that reads “diversity is
white genocide” was found spray-painted on the ground in a community in
north Chicago. Hundreds of Chicagoans of various races gathered in protest
against the message of hatred, with some of them writing down on the ground
“diversity is what makes Chicago beautiful.” As U.S. political turmoil
continues and social divide widens, the controversies on Confederate
monuments are a reflection of Americans’ entanglement between history and
reality. – XINHUA