Updated: October 29, 2011 12:34AM
It didn’t take long. As soon as Mayor Richard M. Daley left office, a petition signed by academics hit the Internet asking for the renaming of Balbo Drive, a tiny stretch of street off South Michigan Avenue honoring Italo Balbo, the Italian aviator.
Daley — and, for that matter, his father, Richard J. Daley, too — had been adamant that the street name remain, stating (quite correctly) that it honors Balbo’s amazing aeronautical achievements at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, not his political affiliation.
It is clear that the intentions behind the petition are twofold: a) to score some kind of intellectual or journalistic victory for the public good, and b) to lump Balbo and Fascism together with the murderous Third Reich.
But a genuine intellectual or journalistic triumph would be to objectively look at the facts about Balbo, not to use him a billboard to score politically correct points; and the historical evidence is overwhelming that the Fascist regime actively resisted the insanity of Hitler’s Final Solution.
Both Mayor Daleys knew their Chicago history: Balbo’s feat wasn’t just locally appreciated; he was celebrated across the nation. Even the newly elected president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, praised Balbo’s feat.
As for Balbo the man, this allegedly “brutal Fascist” openly opposed Benito Mussolini’s military pact with Adolf Hitler; publicly rebelled against Italy’s aberrant 1938 anti-Semitic laws, and was killed in friendly fire in Libya in 1940, long before the U.S. and Italy became so-called “enemies.”
As for Fascist Italy, this supposedly belligerent regime went out of its way to save over 85 percent of its Jewish population during the Holocaust.
Historians such as Jonah Goldberg (Liberal Fascism) and Susan Zuccotti (Italians and the Holocaust) have documented this amazing, previously untold story.
And in 1993, writing in the Wall Street Journal, author Dorothy Rabinowitz referred to Italy as “an army of Schindlers.”
We repeat: The street name honors Balbo’s historically significant achievement, not any political message. Using the same illogic as that proposed by the anti-Balbo petitioners, Chicago should also rename Jackson Boulevard, a street that salutes a U.S. president who commited ethnic cleansing against the Cherokee Nation.
Censoring a part of Chicago’s history is a bad message to send to all free-thinking men and women.
Bill Dal Cerro,
Italic Institute of America