Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A World Without Guernica

Guernica after the bombing.

In consideration of President Trumps recent attacks on Syria, the on-going depredations of the Israelis against the civilian population of Gaza, the proxy war against Yemen, and saber rattling this week by the U.S. and France against Iran, it is time to recall again one of the first mass bombings of a civilian population center with little or no military significance in history.  German and Italian war planes bombed the market town of Guernica, a Basque village in northern Spain on April 26, 1937.  The atrocity, an episode of the Spanish Civil War which was a dress rehearsal for World War II, outraged world opinion at the time.

The dead in Guernica.
Within weeks Spanish expatriate painter Pablo Picasso in Paris was commissioned by the Republican Government for a display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne at the 1937 World’s Fair in The City of Light.  Picasso’s huge, dramatic monochromatic black, gray and white painting became an international sensation and anti-fascist icon.  It toured the world and survived the Blitz in London.
When the United Nations opened its new headquarters in New York City, a full-size tapestry reproduction was hung on a wall outside the entrance to the Security Council Chambers to remind the delegates and diplomats that their mission was to make a world where atrocities like Guernica are impossible.

Pablo Picasso's Guernica perhaps the most important painting of the 20th Century and certainly the most representative of that blood drenched age.
On February 4, 2003 United States Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the Security Council laying out America’s case for going to war against Iraq.  A press conference followed outside the chambers.  When reporters assembled they found the famous Guernica tapestry covered by blue curtains.  Officially the United Nations claimed it was in preparation for painting and renovation.  Some reporters were told that TV news crews had complained that the stark images distracted from the speakers in front of them.
No one honestly believed either story.  The picture had been masked to avoid embarrassing Powell and the Bush Administration which was preparing to launch their announced campaign of shock and awe which would include bombing Baghdad and inevitably cause civilian casualties.

Painting representing Guernica  being covered for Colin Powell's United Nations press conference.
That is the moment that New York born poet Gregg Mosson captured in his piece A World Without Picasso’s Guernica which was included in the 2007 anthology Poems Against War: Bending Toward Justice.
Mosson was a former reporter and commentator whose work has appeared In The Cincinnati Review, The Baltimore Sun, The Oregonian, The Baltimore Review, and The Futurist. His poetry has appeared in many small-press journals. He earned his MA from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, where he was a teaching fellow and lecturer. He has authored two books of poetry, Season of Flowers and Dust in 2007 and Questions of Fire in 2009.  Mosson currently was a contributing poetry editor at The Baltimore Review.

The Poems Against the War anthology in which Mosson's poem appeared.

A World Without Picasso’s Guernica
February 5, 2003

At the United Nations, blue drapes sheath
a tapestry rendition of Guernica, so speakers can paint
blitzkrieging dreams, burying screams affixed and aired;
killing machines can work again.
Who expunged Guernica from the U.N.,
and then did U.N. walls tremor
down to their foundation
in the “war to end all wars”
and covetous twentieth century?
Yesterday, today, or tomorrow
bombs drop and discombobulated body parts
hurl through the air, and brown limbs
burst from horses
and spin past a still-standing bystander
as infernos smoke and buildings crumble.

—Gregg Mosson

Sheena Blackhall

Scottish poet Sheena Blackhall captured the horror of the bombing itself.  Blackhall as born in Aberdeen in 1947 and is a poet, novelist, short story writer, illustrator, traditional story teller, and singer.  She has written over 100 poetry pamphletschapbooks we call them this side of the Pond12 short story collections, 4 novels and 2 televised plays for children.

Most of the men off fighting in Civil War
Our women and children haggling over bargains.
And then three hours bombardment from the skies
Like a place of card, our town, stamped on by giants

Those who hid in the fields were soon machine gunned.
The wooden walls of our homes, a red inferno

Wives wailed over the dead, blown up by shrapnel
Horses and bulls lay crushed by masonry.

Doves flew in all directions, panic-stricken.
I ran wildly ahead towards a bomb hole
Dived inside the churned up, muddy crater.

Bullets ricocheted, and cars exploded
Riddled corpses leaked blood on the streets

Children huddled round a parish priest
Too shocked to speak. In tatters, every one

The Plaza was a wall of living flame,
All that was left, a church, a tree, a factory

Charred bodies will forever haunt my dreams.
And this was how war came to Guernica 

—Sheena Blackhall

No comments:

Post a Comment