Authored by: Jolyon P. Mitchell

The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture

Print publication date:  March  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415638661
eBook ISBN: 9781315724478
Adobe ISBN: 9781317531067


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On 26 April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, 1 a small town in the Basque Region was subjected to over three hours of aerial bombardment. More than 40 German and Italian bombers, with the encouragement of Franco’s Nationalist forces, dropped high explosive and incendiary devices on the town below. It was market day in Gernika (the Basque spelling of Guernica) and many hundreds of civilian women, children, and men were instantaneously killed. Though the precise numbers of casualties are still debated, it is estimated that as many as 1,000 people died. On the days that followed, newspapers around the world ran stories about the bombing. News film reels showed shell-shocked survivors clearing rubble and making their way through the remains of devastated buildings. The story spread rapidly around Europe and beyond. For example, on the following afternoon the Evening News in London led with the headline: “The most appalling air raid ever known.” News of this atrocity caused shock, outrage, and consternation, as this attack appeared to be directed against defenseless “innocents.” It was later believed that the Nazi Air Command combined saturation bombing and machine-gun strafing both as a way to test new technologies of war and as an experiment on how to crush a civilian population. Here was a foretaste, a rehearsal, of even worse atrocities against civilians that were still to come in the Second World War.

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