This is an exciting find!
“New discoveries at the archaeological site of Kalkriese in Germany point to where many Roman legionaries were massacred. Sarah Bond and ancient historian Adrian Murdoch explore the discovery.”
This is an interesting article with an important message about how we conduct war: A Real War Story, in Drawings – The New York Times
“Before guided missiles, humans had few ways to attack their enemies remotely, so they tried using animals. The Chinese were enthusiastic practitioners of this art.”
This is an interesting blog post on using animals as weapons: Tonio Andrade: Animals as Weaponry
Art is at its best when it sends a powerful message, and this is exactly what Picasso’s famous Guernica painting does. The painting shocks and disturbs us, even when we don’t know the story behind it. It conveys a message of death, destruction, and a world gone mad. What horrible event could have provoked Picasso to paint such a disturbing scene?
The year was 1937. The Spanish Civil War was in full swing and General Franco, leader of the Nationalist forces, had powerful allies: Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. The war proved useful to the Nazis. It provided them with an opportunity to test new technologies and strategies of warfare. It was in pursuit of this goal that the Luftwaffe bombed the Basque town of Guernica. The goal was to break the morale of the people. It was psychological warfare against civilian populations.
Morale bombing was the brain child of the Italian General Giulio Douhet, whose influential The Command of the Air (1921) argued in favor of targeting civilian populations who were assumed to be weak and would therefore if bombed would press their leaders to end the war, thus saving lives.
The strategy was based on a flawed assumption (civil populations are weak) and never lived up to its promise (an experiment that cost the lives of millions of civilians). But in 1937, Hitler was so enamored by its “successful” implementation in Guernica that he recommended its use on Poland two years later. This strategy was implemented not just by the Nazis in the Spanish Civil War, but also by the Allies during WWII.
While Picasso’s painting is about a single event in Guernica, it has since taken on a much more significant role as an indictment of all war crimes and atrocities. For this reason, a replica of it is prominently placed at the UN headquarters outside the Security Council chambers. Here it finds itself frequently the backdrop for press statements. As a result, it had to be covered up during a press conference in 2003. Collen Powell was set to speak about the war in Iraq. The message was inconvenient!
Read Richardson’s review of Gernika, 1937: The Market Day Massacre by Xabier Irujo here: A Different Guernica by John Richardson | The New York Review of Books
We all say we want peace, but at the same time we unwittingly engage in behaviors that perpetuate violence. As philosopher Simon Critchley notes, “we are all players on history’s bloody stage.” Human nature is in large part to blame. However, biology is not destiny. The purpose of civilization is to tame our wilder side. Yet, we still have not been able to end the violence.
Critchley offers an important insight into this intractable problem: “We live in a world framed by violence, where justice seems to be endlessly divided between claim and counterclaim, right and left, freedom fighter and terrorist, believer and nonbeliever, and so on. Each side appears to believe unswervingly in the rightness of its position and the wrongness, or indeed ‘evil,’ of the opposition. Such belief legitimates violence and unleashes counterviolence in return. We seem to be trapped in deep historical cycles of violence where justice is usually simply understood as vengeance or revenge.”
This is not a new insight, but it one that is difficult to sell. If we were reflective enough, we would see this trap we’ve set for ourselves. This insight also requires a broad and deep knowledge of history. It is much easier to offer simple solutions that satisfy our egos and our intuitions. The good vs. evil narrative is simple and it lets us off the hook for any wrongdoing. Savvy politicians know this and use it to their benefit.
Is there any hope then? Critchley offers art, and music in particular, as a solution. But I don’t think this is enough. It will take a much broader effort to convince enough people that we are in fact part of the problem. We also need leaders willing to take up the cause and inspire a new generation to see the world and our place in it differently.
Paul Jankowski ‘s answer: “To a historian 100 years later, Verdun does yield a meaning, in a way a darkly ironic one. Neither Erich von Falkenhayn, the chief of the German General Staff, nor his French counterpart, Joseph Joffre, had ever envisaged a climactic, decisive battle at Verdun. They had attacked and defended with their eyes elsewhere on the front, and had thought of the fight initially as secondary, as ancillary to their wider strategic goals. And then it became a primary affair, self-sustaining and endless. They had aspired to control it. Instead it had controlled them. In that sense Verdun truly was iconic, the symbolic battle of the Great War of 1914-18.”
I don’t disagree with that, but I think the commemoration of Verdun offers an opportunity for all of us (not just historians) to contemplate war itself. Too often war is glorified, Verdun should be a reminder of the horrors of war. It should make us think deeply about how, when, and why we fight wars.
To read Jankowski’s entire article go here: World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle – The New York Times
Rarely does a book come around that so profoundly confronts us with what should be obvious and as a result challenges us to rethink the status quo. But this is what David Shield’s new book (War is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict) has done. He has examined front page photos of war in The New York Times from 1991 to 2013. What he found were romanticized versions of war that were strikingly beautiful. In the photos, he notes, “[t]here’s no war there. There’s no attempt to document reality. It’s basically the war as screen saver, as wallpaper—a very distant aesthetic experience. Certainly, part of that is not to show the American dead except in a posture of composed relief. It seems the grief is kept out of frame in any true sense of agony or viscera or blood.”
While Shield is correct to call The New York Times out for its responsibility for glamorizing war, I think we all bear some responsibility. We don’t want to see the horror. We don’t want to think about the consequences of war. It is much easier to ignore it and carry on as usual. Shield is doing a great service by shocking all of us out of our comfort zones.
I highly recommend reading Robin Lindley’s interview with Shield: History News Network | Does Even the New York Times Glamorize Modern Armed Conflict?
Rick Shinkman has an interesting proposal to deal with our natural lack of empathy for those we consider outsiders:
The historian Timothy Snyder, with his usual insight, challenges us to re-think our assumptions about the Holocaust: “Seeing the Holocaust as an encounter of general anti-Semitism and local statelessness helps us to make sense of the two great geopolitical disasters of our century: the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014. In part because Americans misunderstood the Holocaust as the oppression of a minority by an authoritarian state within its own boundaries, they could believe in 2003 that regime change by force of arms in Iraq would automatically bring positive consequences. By the early 21st century, we had convinced ourselves that the Holocaust was caused by an authoritarian regime acting against a minority within its own borders, which in the main it wasn’t, and that we acted to stop it, which with a few minor exceptions we didn’t. The Holocaust was the mass murder of Jews beyond the borders of prewar Germany, in a zone from which conventional political institutions had been removed, and the Holocaust was largely over by the time Americans soldiers landed on Normandy. American troops liberated none of the major killing sites of the Holocaust, and saw none of the thousands of death pits in the East. The American trials at concentration camps reattributed prewar citizenship to the Jewish victims, helping us overlook that the eliminations of citizenship—usually by the destruction of states of which Jews had been citizens—were what permitted mass murder. A large body of scholarship on ethnic cleansing and genocide concludes that mass killing generally takes place during civil wars or regime changes. Nazi Germany deliberately destroyed states and then steered the consequences toward Jews. Destroying states without such malign intentions creates the space for the kind of disaster that continues to unfold in the Middle East: in its civil wars, religious totalitarianism, and refugee crisis.”
Read his entire essay here: Holocaust history misunderstood: It has provided moral cover for the wars in Iraq and Ukraine.