Iraq, and Guernica

Russel Martin, author of Picasso’s War: The Destruction of Guernica and The Masterpiece That Changed the World notes that in 1936 Hitler’s* Luftwaffe* bombed the Spanish town of Guernica, an terrorist attack that shocked the world. Picasso’s masterpiece was covered up when the UN was discussing plans to attack Iraq. And why not? The U.S. is planning just such an attack on Baghdad. U.S. Defense planners call this kind of attack “shock and awe”. Hitler called Blitzkrieg.

Mr. Martin says that Bush may have considered the effect that the attack on Guernica had on the Spanish people; but if so, he misses the point. A retaliatory attack on Germany would have been made in response to the attack on Spain and not on the possibility that he might do so. Mr. Russel continues that the international community would not have sanctioned an attack on Germany had the German forces remained within their borders instead of bombing Guernica. “Yes,” he says, “the Nazis were ammassing sophisticated weaponry at an alarming pace – precisely the charge that Saddam Hussein stands accused of today. But the decision to go to war before one’s enemies do is the thinking of despots, not statesmen.” He says that “free and just peoples are never the first to strike”. I’ve said the same thing on these boards when I said, “The good guys don’t start wars.”

I know that Saddam is ammassing weapons. I know that he might use them outside of his borders. I know that the world would be a safer place without him. But unless he is attacked, he is not likely to use WMD against us. Attacking him would give him the justification to use them.

Had the Allies stopped Hitler before he left his borders, WWII would likely have been averted. Should Hitler have been taken out before he attacked? Or was it right to leave him alone until he actually did something. Taken to an extreme, should a person be arrested because he might commit a crime? (For example – an absurd one – if a guy has a lot of alcohol in his house and he also has a car, should he be arrested for DUI before he decides to leave the house and causes a hazard to other motorists?)

If we attack Saddam now, we may very well prevent a lot of bloodshed in the Middle East and around the world. But it may also trigger a larger war. If we wait, then Saddam will have nuclear weapons with which he could intimidate his neighbours. And he’d probably use them. (Personal opinion, that. I think he’s mentally unstable.)

So. Should we emulate the tactics of Hitler in the name of peace? Or should we take the moral high ground and risk attack?

Link to the audio presentation.

It is? This is just malicious slander, unless you have a cite, Johnny L.A.

How do you know what Saddam would do with his WMDs? He has used chemical weapons against Kurdish Iraqis and IIRC against Iran. Iran didn’t attack Iraq; Iraq started that war.

Give me a break! It’s just silly to compare the likely US attack to the “tactics of Hitler,” with no basis and no cite.

I don’t know why people continually want to equate Sadaam Hussein with Adolf Hitler and/or Iraq with Nazi Germany. The comparison is a joke, Iraq is not a threat. The talk of WMD is propaganda, because we all know that the ultimate WMD is a nuclear bomb and we’ve seen the effects of that during WWII. When a real WMD is involved, the whole nature of the conversation or dialog changes, see North Korea. I would say next in line in the WMD category would be a large air force and ICBM’s that have the capability to launch devasting arial bombardment. Iraqi air force? Iraqi ICBM’s? :D:D:D

All this hub-bub about about chemical and biological weapons that Iraq supposedly posses is sort of brainless banter at this point. This weapons or should I say the chemical and biological agents aren’t a real threat to the US or anyone else not in the immediate geographic region of Iraq. The biological threat is dubious since Anthrax isn’t really much of a mass killer as we’ve clearly seen here with the attacks that we’ve experienced, and biological agents don’t last forever.

Minor nitpick:
The term Blitzkrieg is not correct.
An air bombardement, in order to strike terror, would be called a Terror Angriff.

The concept of Blitzkrieg is to pierce the enemy defensive line at a concentrated spot and pour your fastest troops through the gap. These will then race as deep as possible into the enemy hinterland, bypassing strongpoints, in order to create maximal confusion for the defending planners and gain terrain in depth.
Slower troops, like the infantry, will follow behind and mop up the by-passed strongpoints.

A Terror Angriff could, however, be part of a Blitzkrieg offensive to create additional confusion in the rear areas.

End of nitpick

In 1998, Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s Secretary of State, said

"Should we emulate the tactics of Hitler in the name of peace?

Sorry, Johnny, but I’ve lost your analogy. In what way is anyone emulating Hitler’s tactics in the name of peace?

A more general comment. Personally, I find analogies between Hitler and Saddam Hussein to be fairly unhelpful. Both are nasty men and brutal leaders, I’ll grant you that. But specific historical parallels beyond that are weak indeed.

You quote Martin as saying, "the Nazis were ammassing sophisticated weaponry at an alarming pace – precisely the charge that Saddam Hussein stands accused of today."

What evidence has anyone offered that Saddam is amassing sophisticated weaponry “at an alarming pace”? What evidence there is suggests that Saddam has probably not destroyed the biological weapons that he accumulated in the past (often supplied with the backing of countries such as Britain and the US who supported his war on Iran); also that he has the technology to produce biological agents and perhaps is producing them; also that he may be seeking to arm himself with nuclear weapons. Of all of those charges, the third is the most tenuous. There is in fact more evidence to suggest that the Koreans are arming themselves with nuclear weaponry since they are the ones who have a known capability to do so, and who have been threatening to do so.

Do not mistake me: there are many reasons why it would be best for the world if Saddam Hussein were disarmed and if Iraq had a better government. But the debate between those who favor immediate military intervention and those who prefer, for example, the French alternative of a hardened inspections regime under UN auspices is one between two alternative proposals. Neither alternative constitutes non-action, and still less the “appeasement” that Europe offered to Hitler prior to WWII.

The Iraq of 2002-3 is nothing like Germany in the late 1930s: neither geopolitically, not with respect to acts of aggression. Playing a game of catch me if you can–with the theoretical potential to provide weapons to terrorists, or to attack one’s neighbors–is nothing remotely like bombing Spain or invading Poland, all while launching a genocidal machinery.

I heard Martin on NPR last night, and I think you’re all missing the point to some extent. Martin remarked about them covering up a backdrop of Picasso’s “Guernica” at the UN (I had no idea they had such a thing there – but it’s been years since I visited) so as to avoid comparisons between US actions and those of Hitler.

The bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War shocked the world at the time, since it was held to be the first time that a military action was directed so strongly against civilians, and not against a military target. The action was roundly condemned at the time, and the painting “Guernica” was the most striking and visible display of this protest. During the coming World War, of course, there was a lot of bombing of “open” cities, by both sides. You could say a lot of it was retaliatory. The idea of starting an action by bombing someone else’s civilian population understandably didn’t look like a good move after the end of WWII.

Despite claims that any action is going to try to avoid bombing civilians, in any Iraq action, the talk of “shoch and awe” bombing of Baghdad seems totally at odds with this, and awfully reminiscent of Guernica. You don’t have to draw analogies between any particular country or ruler – it’s a similarity of situation. And it puts the US uncomfortably in the role the Germans played at Guernica. You can say all you wish about Hussein’s lack of compliance and the fitness of the action, but it still looks bad.

I think the analogy with the drunk driver is flawed. A better one would be should we arrest people who are driving drunk or wait for them to get in an accident.
I think a good analogy for the current situation should people convicted of violent felonies be allowed to have guns.

Well, it’s been a lot of years since I studied in Spain, but the attack on Guernica can only be called a terrorist attack by really stretching the definition of “terrorism”. IIRC, the attack was sanctioned-requested by Franco’s Nationalist forces, during Spain’s civil war between the Republicans (communists), and Nationalists (fascists).

The Nationalists and the Germans later claimed that the attack was supposed to be against some nearby bridge to cut off some Republican forces, but it’s universaly agreed that this was not the case. It’s generally agreed, in Spain at least, that the attack was in retaliation for the Basque’s support for the Nationalists, and as a lesson to other groups in Spain.

So, please, call it an attrocity, it was. A crime against humanity, it was. A barbaric act, it was. But a terrorist attack? Please.

Another nice little tidbit re. terror bombing:

Arthur “Bomber” Harris reported after an RAF bombing raid in 1924 in… guess where.

I’m puzzled. What do you think the definition of “terrorist” is? As I understand it, an action is “terrorist” if its direct objective is to attack and terrify noncombatants, rather that to acheive any tactical military objective. By this standard, the bombing of Guernica was terrorist.

Even if we define “terrorist” differently - and please feel free to offer a better definition - I don’t see that the fact that the bombing was “sanctioned” or “requested” by the Nationalist forces has any bearing on the matter. An act is not terrorist or not according to who plans it.

Yup, those Mongols never massacred towns :rolleyes:

Naw, seriously, a military BOMBING, yes, but a military action?

I would suppose the difference lies in who committed the attack.

An act of terror can be commited by the military but you wouldn’t call an RAF pilot (or Luftwaffe) a terrorist. That term is reserved (at least used that way) for civilians who commit an act of terror.

There exists therefore a difference between a terror attack, by military forces, and a terrorist attack, by terrorists.

Thanks Cal, for that attempt to clarify Martin’s point. I learned about the “Guernica” cover-up in one of Maureen Dowd’s columns which, if you’re not familiar with them, are fairly amusing. Her point was that no one wanted to Powell’s silhouette to appear against a backdrop of screaming horses.

I didn’t hear Martin’s comments so I don’t want to refute what may have been a great analysis. But I think that one can know very little about the specific background of “Guernica” and still understand why the painting was–hypocritically, to my mind–covered up on this particular occasion.

What “Guernica” depicts are the horrors of modern warfare, something that the Bush administration is far too prone to forgetting with its sanitized rhetoric of “clean” war and “smart” bombs. The reason the painting hangs in the UN is doubtless because the purpose of that body is allegedly to do everything possible to turn “swords into ploughsares” (to quote the inscription that appears on the building).

Nothing to my mind suggests that the Bush administration is committed to that purpose: although their intentions are not bad ones, the Bush administration wants to forget what “Guernica” so graphically teaches us. To the contrary, they want to urge war as if no other viable options existed; as if the purpose of the UN were mainly to justify such killing; as if “Guernica” and its lessons don’t matter.

No doubt if war proceeds Americans will hear little about “collateral damage” and see almost no human carnage depicted in our newspapers and magazines. The few news organs that do so will be accused of unpatriotic behavior. “Guernica” will continue to be covered up: literally as well as figuratively.
Here, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, is a site with some images of “Guernica”

Nothing to add to the discussion, but I can’t help being struck what this says about the paucity of contemporary art (or our knowlege of it), that we have to go back sixty years to find a painting with any impact on current events.

The countless artists whose works have been placed aside the articles in Harper’s must be eating their hearts out.

First of all, calling terror bombing of civilians “blitzkrieg” is simply 100% wrong. Blitzkrieg is simply the practice of breaking through the enemy lines, exploiting the breakthrough with mobile forces, bypassing and isolating enemy strongpoints, and mopping up the bypassed strongpoints later with less mobile follow on forces. It is not a Nazi tactic, it is standard military doctrine of all countries that have mechanized forces. The only countries that don’t have “blitzkrieg” as standard doctrine are all-infantry armies from third world countries.

Second, the OP is accusing the United States of planning the intentional massacre of civilians to “shock and awe” the Iraqis into surrendering. I find that to be pretty pathetic. Yes, there will be civilian casualties. But are you claiming that the production of massive civilian casualties is an explicit war aim of the United States? Because that is what you just did as far as I am concerned.

Lemur, arguably it was Nazi Germany that developped the strategy and implemented it. Other nations copied it. So, techically, our modern armies are using nazi tactics. hehehe

Plus some other stuff, first used by Nazi Germany, like camouflage uniforms, night vision, guided rockets, assault rifles, hand held anti-aircraft rockets and doesn’t the ‘new’ NATO helmet look remarkably like the german helmet of WWII?

Does all this actually mean anything?

The cite is at the bottom of the OP. You can listen to it yourself.

The CIA released a report that said Saddam is unlikely to use his chemical or biological weapons or give them to terrorists unless Iraq was attacked."

Mr. Martin compares Hitler’s attack on Guernica with Bush’s plan to “shock and awe” Baghdad. The cite is provided at the bottom of the OP.

The evidence, such as it is, was provided by Colin Powell to the UN.

So a terrorist act is not a terrorist act if a government approves of it?

A pilot is a tool of his government. Can’t governments commit terrorist acts?

CalMeacham: Thanks.

Second, the OP is accusing the United States of planning the intentional massacre of civilians to “shock and awe” the Iraqis into surrendering. I find that to be pretty pathetic. Yes, there will be civilian casualties. But are you claiming that the production of massive civilian casualties is an explicit war aim of the United States? Because that is what you just did as far as I am concerned.


I am repeating what Mr. Martin said. But what is the point of a massive bombing of Baghdad, if not to “shock” the people? Do you really thing Saddam will be there? If he’s not there, then what is the use of massive civilian casualties? “Turn over your dictator, or we’ll kill more of you”? Whether or not killing civilians is the aim, there is no doubt that it will happen.

Sorry if I’m terse, but I’m supposed to be working. Let me also make a clarification: While I do not believe we should attack Iraq (yet), I meant for the debate to be over Mr. Martin’s position.

Johnny, if you don’t mind my saying so, it sound as though Martin’s argument is complex and dependent on a number of controversial contentions: Hitler’s motives for bombing Spain, US motives in covering “Guernica,” the likely outcome(s) of war against Saddam, the US’s motives for wishing to wage war against Iraq, the likeness between Saddam and Hitler (or Hitler and Bush). Any one of these topics could involve a lively debate and you yourself don’t seem either to have thoroughly mastered or thoroughly endorsed Martin’s position. Under the circumstances, I think the only way you’re going to get the kind of debate you want is for people to listen to the audio record; speaking for myself, I’m not likely to able to do that anytime today. Unless you can summarize more of his position, my guess is you’re going to mainly end up fielding a lot of the tangential controversy.

The point seems to be that you want to ascribe the term to a government. Probably because ‘terrorist attack’ has a very negative meaning and ‘terror bombing’ is reasonably accepted, after all the allies engaged heavily in it during WWII.

But the point should simply be that targetting civilians is very wrong. Whether it is by torror attack or by terrorist attack.