The Duty of History | Italo Balbo in Montreal or the smile of the fascist

Once a month, The duty challenges history buffs to decipher a current issue by comparing it to a historical event or figure.

1um In July 1933, a squadron of 25 seaplanes took off from Orbetello, Italy, for the World’s Fair in Chicago. Under the leadership of the fascist government’s aviation minister, General Italo Balbo, it crossed the Atlantic in several stages. The aviators flew over Longueuil on July 14, where they were greeted by more than 50,000 people. The next day Italo Balbo traveled to the American metropolis after meeting dignitaries and a number of Italian-Canadian citizens in Montreal.

Balbo’s expedition represents propaganda strategies in a world of constant communication between authority figures and citizens. The conquest is not only that of the air, it is also that of the spirits.

To captivate an audience invited to participate in the show, symbols are mobilized that glorify superiority and promote domination: that of technology over space and time, that of the male and decisive leader over the masses, that of the fascist regime over the parliamentary democracies. Nevertheless, this strategy of conquest is met with resistance, which manifests itself in a variety of ways.

The age of speed

The First World War proved it: the world became narrower due to the shrinking of borders and the upheaval of the political order. The interwar period represents the era of speed, this movement that increases space and shortens time.

Speed ​​manifests itself everywhere. It favors the temporary resumption of large international migration movements thanks to liners and locomotives. With the democratization of the automobile, it is becoming accessible to as many people as possible. Aviation stands above all for the technology of speed.

As the most recent invention, the aircraft showed its potential during the world conflict. In the years that followed, numerous air expeditions captured the imagination: Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic; Jean Mermoz, the Andes mountain range; Amelia Earhart, The Pacific, from Hawaii to California.

At the head of a squadron of 14 seaplanes, Italo Balbo flew across the South Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro in the winter of 1930-1931. At the time, these ventures were rare and dangerous; They are a feat of heroism and mechanical skill.

The speed is also that of communication. Thanks to numerous innovations, the media is experiencing phenomenal growth. This is obvious: the popular press is widespread, reporting relies on the extensive use of photography, and modern advertising and marketing techniques make it possible to target specific segments of the public and get the message across to them.

The saga of the seaplane flight sparked a huge advertising effort that began intensive coverage of the event – from April 1stum From July to August 12, 1933, French-Quebec newspapers mentioned it 458 times – and the subsequent publication of memoirs, including the lyrical ones by Italo Balbo.

The same goes for another popular medium, radio, which creates an immediate intimacy between sender and receiver. The live broadcast of the event provided by CFCF still causes some oddities. Faced with the carelessness of a boater landing seaplanes on the St. Lawrence, Balbo encounters “unparliamentary” insults broadcast by a radio operator who raised the microphone to better capture the speech.

Finally, the publicists of LUCE, a film company founded by Benito Mussolini in 1924, like those of British Pathé and Universal Studios, filmed the most important moments of the expedition, which were then projected on the big screen. Aviation and Balbo are the big stars at the center of these current films.

The smiling face of fascism

At the center of the scene is the symbol of the leader. That of Italo Balbo crosses two ideas: young and adventurous masculinity, Italian fascism. Photogenic and affable, with a certain presence and a finely trimmed beard, Italo Balbo evokes the model of the modern adventurer, who attracts attention and enchants crowds.

“Always smiling,” emphasizes the Canadian-born journalist, “the Italian minister and the airman spoke only in French” to the press gathered in the hairdressing salon of the Mont Royal Hotel. But “from the cheeky tone” of his voice, “everyone suspected it was the master.” Macho, Balbo plays with his masculinity.

When another journalist asked him about his preference for women, he replied ironically: “You want me to like men? » On the pages of horn, exclaims a powerless Bianca: “How much I admired this man for his courage and energy!” His calm yet energetic face betrayed the trust that he had to convey to his subordinates. »

The pilot’s friendly face is also that of a real fascist. The journalist Italo Balbo is firmly committed to Duce Benito Mussolini. At 26 years old, he is the youngest quadrumviri who led the march to Rome in 1922. Violently and voluntarily, the Ras of Ferrara led the thugs who acted against socialist sympathizers: he was suspected of having instigated the murder of Father Giovanni Minzoni, an anti-fascist priest. His organizational skills are recognized; Better yet, they’ll be on display for everyone to see, in press reports or in news films of him coordinating the smallest details of the expedition.

Beyond the black shirt, Balbo proves himself to be an effective ambassador for the Mussolini regime, a regime seeking recognition and legitimacy within and outside Italy.

In his memoirs, the Italian aviator makes no secret of his propagandistic intention: “We are in America and have to give in to the innocent advertising madness.” » According to the historian Michel Pratt, “Balbo’s theft is a marketing theft”, the theft of the Italian’s success Fascism. There Crociera Aerea del DecennaleThe air cruise of the decade is intended to commemorate the ten years since Mussolini came to power.

Like the Mussolini ceremonies, the Montreal event is part of a theatrical liturgy in which each stop along the crossing represents a step toward the final apotheosis, the celebration of the Chicago World’s Fair. The century of progress “.

The 25 silver-hulled Savoia-Marchetti S.55A seaplanes land with the 100 members of the squadron. Greeted with outstretched arms by a cordon of 500 Blackshirts, Balbo nimbly charges down at the front. He met well-known personalities, including the Federal Minister of the Navy, Alfred Duranleau, and conveyed the wishes of the mayors of 19 Italian cities.

Balbo then addresses the audience and media representatives. He stands at attention in front of them and talks to the Duce on the phone. To the journalist from The press, he concludes with a tirade: “In Italy we have two great loves: God and Mussolini. » As artistic director, Consul Massimo Zanotti-Bianco ensures that the piece runs smoothly. The political spectacle translates the typical aesthetic of Italian Futurism, adopted by fascism, with its symbols glorifying vitality, energy, masculinity, movement and brutality.

An ambiguous feeling

To be successful, a propaganda strategy must receive unanimous support. Certainly, on this summer Saturday, 50,000 people are milling about on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The spectators are joined by fascist sympathizers, including Gentile Dieni, for whom the event is “a great celebration” and spreads “patriotic feelings” widely. Press coverage is generally favorable. At the end of the expedition Golf progress exclaims emphatically: “Here is a masterpiece of boldness and virtuosity, combined with cold method and strict discipline, completed with complete success.” »

If the squadron’s technical performance generates consensus, the promotion of the Mussolini regime elicits more muted reactions. While his counterpart from New Brunswick, Samuel Leonard Tilley, greeted Italo Balbo with great fanfare in Shediac, Prime Minister Louis-Alexandre Taschenreau did not bother to introduce himself, contenting himself with a brief welcome message in Italian.

Because he prefers the beaches of Old Orchard, Montreal Mayor Fernand Rinfret is absent. Other citizens are actively resisting. In a speech in the auditorium on June 27, reported The home country, Terzo Boschi mobilizes labor activists against fascist propaganda in Canada. Antonino Spada thinks he is “trash” and does everything he can to stop Balbo from signing the city’s guest book.

The Matteoti Circle distributes 15,000 photos of Father Minzoni. In front of the Popular University, on the corner of Sainte-Catherine and Montcalm streets, a police officer arrests an unemployed man, Joseph-Antonio Desrosiers, who is distributing these hostile leaflets to Ras de Ferrara. All in all, fascist propaganda is not entirely convincing. As historian Jean-François Nadeau notes, French Canadians had an “ambiguous feeling” toward Balbo.

The Force strikes down those who, like Icarus approaching the sun, come too close to it. Near Tobruk on June 28, 1940, friendly fire shot down Italo Balbo’s plane in mid-flight. If we look up at the fresco of the Madonna della Difensa in the Montreal church, we see the aviator working with the Duce. The propaganda now fixes it in the heavens of memory.

To suggest a text or make comments and suggestions, write to Dave Noël at [email protected].

To watch in the video

Jillian Snider

Extreme problem solver. Professional web practitioner. Devoted pop culture enthusiast. Evil tv fan.

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