In the absence of any visual image, and for the purpose of this blog, I am going to turn to the online PBS verbal narrative of what happened to the people of Guernica on that day in April, 1937, when children, women, and men went excitedly to visit with each other, socializing innocently in the town's market place.
It was market day when the church bells of Santa Maria sounded the alarm
that afternoon in 1937. People from the surrounding hillside crowded the
town square. "Every Monday was a fair in Guernica," says Jose Monastery,
eyewitness to the bombing. "They attacked when there were a lot of people
there. And they knew when their bombing would kill the most. When there
are more people, more people would die."
For over three hours, twenty-five or more of Germany's best-equipped
bombers, accompanied by at least twenty more Messerschmitt and Fiat fighters,
dumped one hundred thousand pounds of high-explosive incendiary bombs on the
village, slowly and systematically pounding it to rubble.
We were hiding in the shelters and praying. I only thought of running away. I
was so scared. I didn't think about my parents, mother, house, nothing.
Just escape. Because during those three and one-half hours, I thought I was
going to die." (eyewitness Luis Aurtonetrea)
Those trying to escape were cut down by the strafing machine guns of fighter
planes. "They keep going back and forth, sometimes in a long line, sometimes
in close formation. It was as if they were practicing new moves. They must
have fired thousands of bullets." (eyewitness Juan Guezureya) The fires that
engulfed the city burned for three days. Seventy percent of the city was
destroyed. Sixteen hundred civilians -- one third of the population -- were
killed or wounded.
This would not be the last city in WWII when cities were destroyed and civilians were murdered. Dresden comes to mind when between 35,000 and 135,000 people died during the Allied bombing, February 13-14, 1945. Also coming to mind are Hiroshima with the loss of 90,000 to 146,000 and Nagasaki with 39,000 to 80,000 during bombings of August 6 and 9, 1945.
But, to return to Guernica, it was Picasso's painting that brings home to us the continued terrifying images of animals (the bull, the horse and the dove), and people (the devastated woman cradling in her arms a lifeless child, the dismembered soldier) and objects (the horseshoe, the strangely appearing lamp, tongues shaped like knives, and the disturbingly chilling image of an eye or light bulb that looks down on the macabre devastation.)
In addition, there is something further that disturbs us about the slaughtering of people and a village like Guernica. It is this. Guernica had no strategic value as a military target! (See the PBS conclusion on the matter as well.) In other words, innocent people died, animals were brutalized, a town was devastated by military tactics that served only as a practice run to perfect the technique of attacking civilian populations in order to terrorize the world and further the military goals of Franco, Hitler, Mussolini, and others in the war machine of the so-called Axis powers.
Observe how three forces came together in planning and executing the attack on Guernica. These forces were: (1) A fascination with technology, and in particular the technology that could be applied to warfare; (2) the obsession with power and the danger of being taken over or possessed with a power complex, personal or collective; and (3) how this fascination with technology in the hands of a despotic ruler and nation with no conscious moral center may explode in a frenzy of nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and the hubris of disregard for boundaries and the well-being of neighbors.
Sound familiar? It should. And the most frightening prospect is that this may occur so slowly, so far removed from the basic concerns of our everyday life that the danger is obscured until it is too late to head it off. Like an infection in the body that must be diagnosed at its early onset, so do we need to be attentive to the interpretation given for events in our social and political life.
For example, are we oblivious to the fact that children may be separated from their parents at our borders? That children may be placed in cages without proper clothes and hygiene for indefinite periods of time? That a father and his daughter risked their lives crossing a river where they drowned seeking hope in a world where hope has long been out of reach for thousands of people?
Considering our political controversies on the topic of immigration, is the problem that we need to erect walls and barriers to prevent people from crossing our borders? Or might it be the case that we are not understanding and addressing the causes that lead people to risk everything, even their lives, to find safety, security, and a possible promising future for themselves and their children?
Are we oblivious to these considerations? I think not. But, returning now to the memory of Guernica, as I mentioned earlier, the three forces that intersected leading to the attack on that village were conditions that are capable of appearing in our time: (1) a fascination with technology and its application for making war; (2) a drive for power with such an obsession that it became a power complex driving the corrupting governments of General Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini, leaders of the Axial powers; and (3) the absence of consciousness of a moral center within those individuals whose leadership made possible the monstrous attack on Guernica.
Whether or not the tragic episode of history repeats itself depends upon our consciousness and our intention to see that Guernica does not occur while we placidly stroll through the market place of our high tech village, fascinated with our iPhone, enjoying a bull market that could become the bull of Picasso's "Guernica."