From Guernica to Baghdad

April 26, 2007 by susan

Have we learned anything?

by susan
Today is the 70th anniversary of the fire-bombing of the Spanish market town of Guernica, which killed 1600 people, injured 800 more, and left standing only a tiny fringe of buildings around the perimeter of the small Basque village.
It was at the peak of the Spanish Civil War, and although Guernica was not on the front lines, Franco and his Nationalists wanted to deal a blow to the morale of the Basques and the Republican army. More.

Franco called on his facist pals, Hitler and Mussolini to do the job. Although both Germany and Italy had signed non-intervention pacts, they were known to have been supplying arms to Franco's troops. The Luftwaffe, led by General VonRichtofen, and the Italy's Aviazione Legionaria, launched low-flying attacks and created a firestorm that burned most of the people alive.

According to an article in The Independent, from which this post is cribbed, (hat tip Bvance) "The attack was the first use of what came to be known as total war. This put civilians, not just soldiers, in the front line; targets who were as legitimate as armed combatants. It has come to be an integral part of war since." One small step for Franco, a giant step for humankind.

The attacks were not only a military failure, they managed to turn world opinion against Franco, as well as Italy and Germany, even though they denied any role in the bombing, with Franco even saying it never happened, that it was Republican propaganda.

The Independent continues:

"George Steer, a British journalist who worked for The Times, revealed to the world proof the Nazi regime had led the raids,
breaking the non-intervention pact. He discovered three small bomb cases stamped with the German imperial eagle; it was proof enough to condemn Nazi Germany and cause Franco's Nationalists huge embarrassment around the world."

What? He didn't take Franco at his word?

In his report, published in The Times and later in The New York Times, two days after the bombings, Steer wrote: "Guernica was not a military objective ... the object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralisation of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race." Why is this all sounding sickeningly familiar?

Picasso, living in Paris, was outraged by the massacre and changed the canvas he was working for the Paris Exhibition to the monumental depiction of the bombing that we now know as Guernica.

Where is the outrage today?

Posted in


barbara aka babs (not verified) | April 27, 2007 - 9:42am

I was struck by the concept of "total war," as opposed to "'partial war" or "mini-war" or something like that. So, like, once the civilian population is being decimated, it's a real war, eh? That being the case, I imagine BushCo is immensely pleased that it will not be noted in history as an administration that waged a sissy war. No. Not even close. Bring on the bunker busters and flame-throwers (or whatever is the current-time equivalent of same). Fry flesh! Murder babies! Leave no child behind! You go, cowboys!


susan | April 27, 2007 - 11:17am

What struck me about Guernica, the painting, is how effectively it tarred Franco and his bomber-buddies for the murderers they were. This was before TV and instant images, of course, so between the dilligence of the Times reporter and the passion of Picasso, that's how the word got out, and the world reacted with horror and outrage.
So today are we just over-saturated with gruesome images, so other than a few out-spoken performers such as Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and the Dixie Chicks, and writers like Kurt Vonnegut (RIP), Sam Hamill and Sharon Olds, no one paints the modern equivalent of Guernica? Or are we all too busy watching American Idol to notice? Hmmm, funny concept for a popular show, when you think about it, to create instant "idols" out of teenagers when we're so clearly lacking in the adult variety. Talk about the circus to distract the masses.