*5. [Be as precise and as wide-ranging as you can, giving balanced coverage to the 'own knowledge' and 'these sources' aspects. You will need to place Guernica in the wider Spanish Civil War context for an effective answer.]
The bombing of Guernica, lying to the north-east of Bilbao and twenty kilometres from the military front, was the first destruction by carpet bombing of an undefended civilian town. Being the ancient capital of the Basque Country, Guernica was rooted deep in the Basque psyche. Source A refers to the parliament building (Casa de Juntas), home of Basque democracy. At the nearby Sacred Tree, Spanish monarchs swore to respect Basque laws.
On market day, 26 April 1937, over fifty German and Italian aircraft, at the bidding of Franco's High Command, carried out a deliberate act of terror designed to break Basque morale at this historic point of their identity. Source A describes a brutally logical scheme of attack with which to cause maximum death and destruction; the Star correspondent cited in Source C saw three hours of high-explosive and incendiary bombing, low and high level respectively, according to the eyewitness in Source D. Three thousand incendiaries fell on Guernica, Source D adding that they were used so that the Nationalists could pretend arson by the town's inhabitants. By their onslaught on Guernica, the Condor Legion could, without risk of counter-attack, perfect the use of new combat aircraft. George Steer (Source A), who arrived soon after the bombing and so could not give a conclusive figure, said deaths 'may well run into hundreds', and he noted the large number of non-combatants killed; Source D also refers to the machine-gunning of defenceless civilians and to incredulous survivors of the raid. Altogether there were perhaps 1,600 deaths and 900 wounded, one-third of the town's population. Sir
Arnold Wilson in Source B is contemptuous of the evidence of 'panic-stricken refugees', but why should their evidence be ipso facto unreliable? Source E, in contrast, accepts guilt. 'Hardly any planes' suggests that the town was defenceless, while demolishing the feasibility of a deliberately self-inflicted Republican attack. In 1997 the Basques received an official apology from the German state for 'the most terrible atrocities' committed by German aircraft against their spiritual capital. Source C describes Guernica as a 'holocaust' with a 'tremendous effect' on world opinion. Devout Catholic Basques had been murdered in the name of self-professed defenders of the Roman Catholic Church. Many churchmen, Catholic and Protestant, condemned the atrocity, and for weeks there were high-profile reports in the international press. The subsequent evacuation of 13,000 Basque children, along with Picasso's painting of the Guernica outrage, contributed much to the heightened awareness of this war without pity. Picasso's monochrome masterpiece, unveiled in July 1937 at the Paris World Fair, since reproduced in countless publications and prominently exhibited, first in New York and now Madrid, has become a defining reference point for posterity.
Abductions by killer squads and the murder of 6,800 clergy notwithstanding, there was no comparable equivalent of Guernica inflicted by the Republic. In terms of numbers killed, there were worse atrocities committed by the Nationalists and their fascist associates. Seville in July 1936, for example, witnessed the slaughter by Nationalist troops of as many as 9,000 workers; in March 1938 Italian bombing raids on Barcelona accounted for 3,000 deaths. Guernica, however, tapped a particular vein of outrage, as a massacre of the innocents in unparalleled circumstances. In the bleakest terms of human tragedy, and made indelible by the power of art, the unique place of Guernica in the collective memory is assured.
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