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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 May 31 - June 6  > 80 years on, what does Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ mean for us today?
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2017 May 31 - June 6 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

80 years on, what does Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ mean for us today?

June 5, 2017
Akahata ‘current’ column

The famed artist Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica” was completed around this time of the year 80 years ago. Shortly before that, during the Spanish Civl War, Nazi Germany conducted strategic bombing operations on the town of Guernica in support of the rebel army led by General Francisco Franco. Picasso finished the work in a burst of anger.

The painting depicts a crying woman holding her dead baby, a horse neighing in fright, and a dying soldier with a broken sword. On a large canvas measuring 350 centimeters by 780 centimeters, a hell on earth is portrayed in greyscale. Viewers of the painting will plainly see Picasso’s anger against war and fascism as well as his strong hope for peace.

The 1937 Guernica air raid is regarded as the first-ever indiscriminate bombing in which a large number of incendiary bombs were dropped on a civilian populace. It is also thought to be the earliest air strike aimed at destroying the opponent’s fighting spirit. A year later, the wartime Japanese military started its carpet bombing campaign on Chongqing in China.

During the seven years from 1938 to 1945, Japan carried out air strikes on the city more than 200 times and killed or injured tens of thousands of people there. In China, June 5 is remembered in connection with a tragedy in 1941 in which around 1,000 Chongqing residents were suffocated or crushed to death in air-raid shelters amid Japan’s air campaign.

A few years after Japan started to bomb Chongqing indiscriminately, the U.S. military began conducting similar operations on Japan. These air attacks included the 1945 Great Tokyo Air Raid which killed more than 100,000 people in a single night as well as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Military journalist Maeda Tetsuo points out that phrase of a “massacre from the sky” is still remembered.

“Anmaku no Guernica” (Guernica Undercover) is a much-discussed novel which deals with both the present day and the late 1930s when Picasso painted “Guernica”. Author Harada Maha in the Akahata Sunday edition said that in creating the work, Picasso not only condemned human stupidity but also hoped the world would change for the better. She added that with the world situation becoming ever more dangerous, she wants many people to think again about the message “Guernica” has for the world today.
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