80 years ago, on Monday, 26 April 1937, Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed by warplanes of the Nazi German Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria, acting in support of Franco. Next day’s article by George Steer for The Times still sounds chilling:
At 2 am today when I visited the town the whole of it was a horrible sight, flaming from end to end.
Monday was the customary market day in Guernica for the country round. At 4.30 pm, when the market was full and peasants were still coming in, the church bell rang the alarm for approaching aeroplanes
Five minutes later a single German bomber appeared, circled over the town at a low altitude, and then dropped six heavy bombs.
In another five minutes came a second bomber, which threw the same number of bombs into the middle of the town. About a quarter of an hour later three Junkers arrived to continue the work of demolition, and thenceforward the bombing grew in intensity and was continuous, ceasing only with the approach of dusk at 7.45.
The whole town of 7,000 inhabitants, plus 3,000 refugees, was slowly and systematically pounded to pieces.
The attack was one of the first aerial saturation (carpet) bombing of a civilian population, a cold-blooded training mission designed to test a new bombing tactic to intimidate and terrorise people, which quickly became the symbol of senseless destruction and Nazi brutality (emphasis added):
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. Every fact bears out this appreciation, beginning with the day when the deed was done.
The news appeared in the Paris newspaper Ce Soir, and the French communist daily, L’Humanite, on Wednesday, 28 April 1937, where Pablo Picasso likely read about the massacre. (News travelled slowly in those days.) He was living in Paris and working on a painting commissioned by the Spanish Republican government that would be exhibited at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition.
Picasso was able to portray like no other his outrage against war with an enormous mural-sized painting, which became a twentieth century’s icon against war:
In the panel on which I am working, which I call Guernica, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain into an ocean of pain and death.
Sadly, when I think about today’s equally brutal and senseless wars and conflicts spreading over the world, I find it somewhat difficult to believe in progress… It is only a moment of weakness. 80 year hardly reckon!