Expose Our Guernicas

“I know I am going to have terrible problems with this painting, but I am determined to do it….” Picasso to Dora Maar in anticipation of creating his now world famous mural-sized oil painting, one of the most moving anti-war artworks in history… not well-received initially, and not appreciated in many quarters for a very long time.

In 1962 John Richardson organized a nine-gallery Picasso exhibition in New York. I remember being blown away by it, but wondering when I walked along the city’s streets afterwards whether or not any of the well-educated museum-goers were tuning into what President Kennedy was doing at the time in Southeast Asia. My impression was that none of them knew much about our U.S. abominations… being, as they were, all caught up with the Camelot myth.

In the intellectual community something happened a few years later, when — all of a sudden — it turned out that everybody had been a long-time opponent of the Vietnam war. Kennedy memorists (like Arthur Schlesinger, Ted Sorenson and many others) re-wrote their histories after the assassination of JFK, inventing the fairy tale that Kennedy was trying to get out of the war. It was a total fairy tale. There was not a particle of evidence for it, but it served their immediate purposes.

Atrocities were committed by U.S. troops — planned by the military powers that be — and unprecedented risks taken, threatening nuclear holocaust at home… while violating international law abroad, all with the imprimatur of JFK. And there wasn’t so much as a peep to be heard about that midst the museum grounds. I actually took the initiative of talking to about a dozen strangers, and none of them seemed to know anything at all about what we were doing in Vietnam.

Slightly over eighty years ago, someone who was as much of a warmonger as Kennedy brought about horror in Spain, and Picasso caught some of it on canvas with his Gernika. Guernica — the historic Basque town utterly destroyed by the Nazis — was a target set up as an April 20th birthday gift for Hitler. Its destruction, carried out partly at the behest of Franco (another warmongering soul), was easy to pull off, as the parliamentary seat of Biscay province had not yet been dragged into the Spanish Civil War and was without defenses. Logistical problems, however, delayed Goring‘s master plan, and — as a result — Hitler’s birthday present had to be postponed until April 26th.

Guernica photo
Photo by ahisgett cc

Besides celebrating the Fuhrer’s birthday and supporting Franco, the attack on Guernica served as a tactical military and aeronautical experiment to test the Luftwaffe’s ability to annihilate an entire city and crush the morale of its people.The Condor Legion’s chief of staff, Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, painstakingly devised the operation to maximize human casualties, above all… deaths.

A brief initial bombing at 4:30 PM drove much of the population into air-raid shelters. When Guernica’s citizens emerged from those shelters to rescue the wounded, a second, longer wave of bombing began, trapping them in the town center from which there was no escape. Low-flying planes strafed the streets with machine-gun fire. Those who managed to survive were incinerated b the flames or asphyxiated by the lack of oxygen. Three hours of coordinated air strikes leveled the city and killed over 1,500 civilians.

In his war diary, Richthofen described the operation as “absolutely fabulous!… a complete technical success.” The Fuhrer was so thrilled that, two years later, he ordered Richthofen to employ the same bombing techniques, on an infinitely greater scale, to lay waste to Warsaw, thereby setting off World War II.

As I write, counterparts to the above are being carried out by the U.S. military forces, but to an infinitely greater degree. Worldwide, without hardly anyone knowing or wanting to know about American atrocities.

I started off 2018 by conducting an informal poll interacting with seventy-five U.S. citizens. Not a one knew more than a handful of countries in which we were responsible for abominations. Most knew of none. But everyone praised Kennedy as one of our better presidents.

It’s important to encourage people to self-educate, for they’re not likely to learn about the past or what’s happening at the moment in schools, or courtesy of our mainstream media outlets.

Like Picasso did.

Valleria Ruselli is a member of the Oxman Collective. She can be reached at [email protected].


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