delanceyplace.com 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's article. 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."


author:

Paul Preston

title:

"No Simple Purveyors of News: George Steer and Guernica"

publisher:

History Today

date:

May 2007

pages:

12-16
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