Baghdad and Guernica: Blanket Bombing Civilians

by Keiler Hook

Dissident Voice
February 12, 2003



“Painting is not done to decorate apartments.  It is an instrument of war.”

                                                             -- Pablo Picasso



Pablo Picasso, the greatest and most prolific 20th century artist, probably would add that painting is an instrument of war AGAINST war. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to the United Nations Security Council, February 5, 2003 on the Iraqi war crisis. He was there to convince the Security Council that the United Nations should approve military action against Iraq. Outside the offices of the Security Council hangs a reproduction of Picasso’s controversial testament against war, Guernica. UN officials decided to cover up this 20th century masterpiece while General Powell was visiting, because it may have sent mixed messages.  


Conversely, New York Newsday reported that “Diplomats at the United Nations, speaking on condition they not be named, have been quoted in recent days telling journalists that they believe the United States leaned on UN officials to cover the tapestry, rather than have it in the background while Powell or other US diplomats argued for war on Iraq.”


There is no mixed message in this powerful antiwar statement made by Picasso.  Its tortured images speak of the terror of bombardment; the futility of safety; and the despair of the decimated. I did not realize until this week that the bombing of Guernica, by the German Luftwaffe at the request of Generalissmo Francisco Franco, was the first international non-military target in modern aerial warfare.  


Guernica is a small hamlet in Northern Spain and served as a cultural center for Spain’s Basque population. Franco and his cohorts, the Nazis, targeted Guernica to teach the Basque opposition a lesson for opposing the government of Spain.


There are some similarities between 1930s Guernica and modern Baghdad. The Germans blanket bombed Guernica; that is what the US plans to do in Baghdad.  Seventy per cent of the town was destroyed and the town burned for 3 days.  It was the first time in modern warfare that blanket bombing a civilian population was used to demoralize the enemy.  That is what will happen in Iraq also. Bombing Baghdad will demoralize the Iraqis. Bombing Iraq will demoralize all of us.  If we aren’t the ones bleeding we will have blood on our hands.  Is America ready for the bloodbath that will occur in Iraq and engulf its innocent citizens?                                                                                                                                      


Guernica was bombed for about 3½ hours.  Twenty-five of Germany’s best-equipped bombers dropped 100,000 pounds of high explosives and reduced the village to rubble.  Reports say that the United States will bomb Baghdad for 48 hours straight with 63 precision-guided missiles and bombs launched per hour.  Is Fox television going to show us the carnage on their nightly news program?  Is ABC going to show Disney commercials during its nightly newscast that is showing the butchery going on in the streets of Baghdad?  When war breaks out it is expected that it will take Baghdad residents two to five days to become “physically, emotionally, and psychologically exhausted.”  We can all tune in to watch this in gory detail.  “We are about to do something that will ignite a fuse in this region that we will rue the day we ever started.” quotes General Anthony Zinni, former head of the US Central Command.


The Pentagon has disclosed its plan to maintain peace by carrying out an opening blitzkrieg on Iraq of more than 3,000 bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours. This plan is titled "Shock and Awe" by the administration. 300 to 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles will rip through Iraq on the first day of a U.S. assault, which is more than the number that were launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War. On the second day, another 300 to 400 cruise missiles will be sent. "There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," said one Pentagon official. "The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before." One of the authors of the Shock and Awe plan stated the intent is, "So that you have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes." (CBS News January 27, 2003, New York Times, February 2, 2003)


Guernica has been used as an antiwar symbolic image; by Communists for sure; by international peace organizations; by Basque separatists, and yes, by survivors of 9/l1. It resonates today, louder and more passionately than ever. Yet as the US Secretary of State faced the Security Council giving reasons for our country to yet again slaughter and decimate a nonmilitary target, the painting was shielded from the eyes of he who would benefit most from viewing the painting and its searing antiwar message.                                  


Summarizing the lessons of Vietnam, here is what General Powell says about war in his memoirs: “War should be the politics of last resort. And when we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support.” Instead of following his conscience and the good sense of his own words Colin Powell is just following orders, he’s a good soldier. Somewhat like the Germans bombing Guernica, they were just following orders. 


The Secretary mentioned torture and human rights as another reason to attack Iraq.  Has anyone taken a gander at the human rights violations taking place in China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey? Not one of these countries, all allies of the United States, has stopped abusing human rights and we are not bombing them. If human rights violations are justification for bombing Iraq, there is justification for bombing China, for bombing Russia and for bombing a dozen other countries that have no human rights protection for their people. 


The human rights abuses Powell mentioned took place 15 years ago, why didn’t we do something about them then? Just like with the allies mentioned above with their pathetic human rights records, we did not protest because Iraq was then a collaborator of ours. Brings to mind that line, “but he’s our son of a bitch.”      


This war-bound administration is so obviously “wagging the dog.” The economy is in the dumps; there are millions of people without adequate health insurance, and the job market is disastrous. ''In contrast to clear danger from terrorist activities, there is no imminent threat from Iraq,'' William Nordhaus, a Yale economist, wrote in a report published by the Academy of Arts and Science last fall. ''A war in Iraq threatens to claim the scarce resources and attention of the United States for many years. A stagnant economy, fiscal deficits, a persistent crisis of corporate governance, growing health-care problems and trouble spots in the rest of the world - all these would take a back seat if the United States gets bogged down in issues of war and peace in Iraq.”                  


Bush thinks he’ll be a more popular president if he is a war-time president, and therefore win the 2004 election.  Is this not cynicism at its lowest level? 


 “After September the 11th, the doctrine of containment just doesn't hold any water, as far as I'm concerned," Mr. Bush said. September 11 was not caused by our containment policy in Iraq, only a fool would make that connection.  Robert  Scheer of the LA. Times says this is “the most outrageous Big Lie of the Bush administration: that delaying an invasion to wait for the U.N. to complete inspections would endanger the U.S. The fact is that for more than a decade the military containment of Iraq has effectively neutered Hussein, and there is no reason to believe that can't continue.”    


The United States is planning a unilateral (except for Britain) attack against a sovereign nation that has not threatened anyone in ten years.  Why are we using up our good will to go after a very small, non-threatening nation?  We are doing this despite what people here and people everywhere else say. No one wants a body count of their young people. All over the country people are amassing against this war; never has there been so many protests from so many people BEFORE a war broke out.            


In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last week thousands of people protested the war on Iraq. Working people and students, professionals and professors met in Southside and Oakland to march, protest and voice their opinion.   Angela, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, attacked Bush as well as the role of the media in supporting the war. “Bush is a typical charlatan,” she said. “He makes vague statements and stages events to get people moving without thinking. The mainstream media is pumping people with lies. They repeat everything the government says without challenging a single piece of information.”  


Vice President Cheney said before the Conservative Political Conference “We will not permit a brutal dictator with ties to terror and a record of reckless aggression to dominate the Middle East and threaten the United States of America. Confronting the threat posed by Iraq is not a distraction from the war on terror it is absolutely crucial to winning the war on terror."   Mr. Cheney, when did Saddam Hussein start dominating the Middle East? When did he become the major player so as to be crucial to winning the war on terror?  Mr. Hussein is not connected with al Qaida, the government simply cannot find any connection (they can’t find Osama Bin Laden either). On the very day of Mr. Powell’s speech British intelligence released a report again showing no evidence of a relationship between Hussein and Bin Laden. 


Here is what Mr. Bush said at the National Prayer Breakfast: 


"In this hour of our country's history, we stand in the need of prayer." He went on to say, “We pray for wisdom to know and do what is right and we pray for God's peace in the affairs of men.”


God’s peace in the affairs of men, Mr. Bush, listens to your own words. Those words could be used to find meaning in diplomacy and persuasive dialogue; the very tools of a civilized society. Mr. Bush, why can’t the United States be the peacemaker instead of the war maker? 


On February 15, 2003, New York City will be host to probably a million protesters.  On May l, 1937, four days after the Guernica tragedy, a million people marched in Paris protesting what had happened. Looking back, of course, that Parisian demonstration did little to prevent World War II.  In New York City, hopefully, we can stop the government’s drive toward war through the sheer will and force of the protest.


In New York City and other world capitals on that February day, Mr. Bush will see millions protesting his armed march into Baghdad.  Let us hope that his advisors do not cover up this picture; these protesters are going to stop World War III, if we, as a people, listen to them.    


Little wonder they hid Guernica from General Powell. Why make him uncomfortable while he is planning the deaths of so many innocent people?


Keiler Hook "is a woman, a mother, an activist, and a journalist" from the Deep South in the United States, who writes pieces mostly concerning the "War on Terror" and the "War on Drugs"; both subjects capturing her passion and her talent. She is a columnist with Email: