Wednesday, March 17, 2010 3/17/10 - guernica

In today's excerpt - the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica, made more astonishing
because it was not a strategic military target, was for most the terrible dawn of
the age of aerial bombardment, and was the inspiration for Pablo Picasso's most
famous painting:
Click here to view Picasso's Guernica []
"The bombing of the sleepy Basque market town on April 26th, 1937 has probably provoked
more savage polemic than any single act of war since and much of that has revolved
around the reporting of London Times journalist George Steer. This is partly because
what happened at Guernica was perceived as the first time that aerial bombardment
wiped out an undefended civilian target in Europe. In fact, the bombing of innocent
civilians was a well-established practice in the colonies of the Western powers
and had most recently and most thoroughly been carried out by the Italians in Abyssinia.
Even in Spain, the bombing of Guernica had been preceded by the destruction of nearby
Durango by German bombers at the end of March 1937. As the special envoy of The
Times with the Republican forces in Bilbao, George Steer, who had witnessed the
horrors of bombing in Abyssinia, described what was done at Durango as 'the most
terrible bombardment of a civil population in the history of the world up to March
31st, 1937'. However, with the aid of Picasso's searing painting, it is Guernica
that is now remembered as the place where the new and horrific modern warfare came
of age. ...
"Steer's report, which appeared on April 28th in The Times and the New York Times,
subdued and unsensational in tone, managed to incorporate a vivid sense of both
the scale of the atrocity and of the extent to which it represented a new kind of
warfare. ...
"The article stimulated compassion for the plight of the victims but also indignation
about the wider implications of what had taken place. In the form of its execution
and the scale of the destruction it wrought, no less than in the selection of its
objective, the raid on Guernica is unparalleled in military history. Guernica was
not a military objective. A factory producing war material lay outside the town
and was untouched. So were two barracks some distance from the town. The town lay
far behind the lines. The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization
of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race.
"Steer did not know that the attack had been planned by Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen
who would later mastermind the Blitzkrieg attacks on Poland and France. Nevertheless,
his prophetic view of this new kind of warfare ensured that his dispatch would have
a more disturbing impact than those of his colleagues....
"On April 29th Steer's report was reprinted in the French Communist daily, L'Humanité
where it was read by Pablo Picasso. At the time, he was working on a commission
by the Spanish Republican government to provide a mural for the great Paris Exhibition
for the summer of 1937. On May 1st, 1937, he abandoned his original scheme, and
began work on what would become his most famous painting.
"The [Spanish] Nationalists immediately denied that Guernica had happened."
Paul Preston, "No Simple Purveyors of News: George Steer and Guernica," History
Today, May 2007, pp. 12-16.


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