Tuesday, February 04, 2003

The Spanish civil war of the 1930s was like a laboratory of horror --- featuring such curiosities as the use of modern art in the design of torture chambers. In one of the more successful experiments, the city of Guernica was destroyed by aerial bombardment by the Luftwaffe. This was the prototype of bombardments used in several later attacks during World War II, as part of tactics designed to shock and overwhelm the enemy, and break their will to resist. The Germans called it "blitzkreig", or "lightning war"; propaganda was in a separate ministry from the army, or they might have called it "shock and awe".

The bombardment was the inspiration for one of Picasso's great masterpieces, depicting the death of the city. The painting itself is now in Spain, moved there after the Fascist government withered away, as directed in Picasso's will. But there is a full-sized reproduction outside the doors of the Security Council chamber in the UN, as a reminder of what that institution is supposed to be about.

It seems some folks don't like to be reminded. The mural has been covered with a blue curtain, a la John Ashcroft, just in time for the war mongering regarding Iraq. (That's the literal truth; a fishmonger sells fish, and Powell is going in there to sell a war). But so far, they've only been in place when the council was discussing Iraq, and taken down when the topic was, say, the western Sahara. A UN spokesman explains:

"It's only temporary. We're only doing this until the cameras leave," said Abdellatif Kabbaj, the organization's media liaison. He noted that the diplomats' microphone, which usually stands in front of a Security Council sign, had to be moved to accommodate the crowd of camera crews and reporters. With the Picasso as a backdrop, Mr. Kabbaj said, no one would know they were looking at the United Nations.

Which is nonsense. The pictures on CNN say "live from the UN" in perfectly legible print. And indeed, Art Daily quotes an unidentified "diplomat" as saying that "it would not be an appropriate background if the ambassador of the United States at the U.N. John Negroponte, or Powell, talk about war surrounded with women, children and animals shouting with horror and showing the suffering of the bombings."

The worry isn't that people won't know what they're looking at; the worry is that they will.

Yet another item where I've lost track of my source, but the Art Daily quote, a late addition, comes via Unqualified Offerings. Sigh...


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