This is Guernica, my favorite painting of Pablo Picasso. Guernica is one of the most influential and powerful anti-war paintings ever created; a cacophony of sights that invoked the almost inhuman bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the height of the Spanish Civil War.
In Basque culture the town of Guernica is one of the central cultural and historical centers. While it was the center of Basque culture it was far from a key military target. Instead it was a symbol of resistance; the only military installation was on the outskirts of the town. The only reason, the sole reason, for bombing Guernica was to intimidate the Basques; to cut out their heart in other words. It was shock, awe, and destroy. The bombing of Guernica was militarily meaningless except as a form of intimidation, a warning to all who dare stand up against the aspirations of Generalissimo Franco.
Rudolf Anheim wrote: "The women and children make Guernica the image of innocent, defenseless humanity victimized. Also, women and children have often been presented by Picasso as the very perfection of mankind. An assault on women and children is, in Picasso’s view, directed at the core of mankind."
While George Steer, a journalist, described the devastation: “Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders. The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of aeroplanes consisting of three types of German types, Junkers and Heinkel bombers, did not cease unloading on the town bombs weighing from 1,000 lbs. downwards and, it is calculated, more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminium incendiary projectiles. The fighters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machinegun those of the civilian population who had taken refuge in the fields.”
Picasso was a Basque, at least he was on his mother’s side. So while he had been commissioned by the Spanish government to create a mural, instead he created the single most significant anti-war piece of his generation. A testament to the horror and devastation wrought by indiscriminate warmongering.
Picasso was a man of infinite creative vision. But what makes an artist endure is the timelessness of his work. Today, Guernica remains as potent as it was in 1937. Not only worldwide, but here today, right now in the Philippines we have elements in our government and civil society advocating for Filipinos to wage war on Filipinos. For no other reason other than it is the simplest solution to a complex problem. A shortsighted solution that will do nothing more than breed further anger, fuel more anti-Filipino sentiments, and ultimately result in further damaging the fabric of our nationhood.
Women and children will bear the brunt of such rash action, they always do. It is the civilians, the innocents and the powerless, that testify to the utter brutality of ‘all out’ war. In the act of trying to carve out a life of some means, they inevitably end up the cannon fodder for warmongers. Families torn apart, children driven by ‘revenge’ and hopelessness into insurgent groups, only then to end up bullet riddled fertilizer in some distant jungle.
Today is Pablo Picasso’s birthday. In 1937 the destruction of Guernica in his homeland drove him to craft one of the world’s most powerful paintings. He was railing against the horrors of war; he was drawing attention to the incalculable damage done. Amidst all the beauty he created, he also left a challenging and timeless warning.
The impact of any war is writ large in Guernica.