Bicycle Diaries: Guernika

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Tomorrow, on 26 April 1937, a small number of German aircraft from the notorious Condor Legion bombed the small Basque town. Almost overnight it became a symbol of military barbarism that still ranks alongside Dresden and Hiroshima in the catalog of modern war horrors.

The fate of Guernika, obliterated by firebombing in three hours, matters because it is the epitome of a ruthless total war which was widely expected shortly to be the fate of all Europe. Bombing above all - apocalyptic, unstoppable - heralded for many the downfall of a fragile, indulgent civilization.

In Spain no mourning was allowed. The town was slowly reconstructed in Franco's unattractive fascist modern style. Only after another 40 years could the truth even be spoken about in Spain. This, at least, sets Guernika apart from Dresden and Hiroshima, which became almost at once in the two Germanies and in Japan symbols of the crass victimization of modern war.

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