New Analysis: Controversies over Confederate monuments reflect entanglement between history, reality

Source: Xinhua| 2017-09-04 15:59:13|Editor: ying
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CHICAGO/WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- 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.