Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Babylonian Waters of Guernica

In I my wanderings I found this. 

By the Waters of Babylon (A pdf copy)
By Stephen Vincent Benét
Published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1937.  Topping out variously at anywhere from 49 to 38 pages depending on formatting. You could call it a longish short story, or a short novella.  It is a post apocalyptic tale inspired by the destruction of Guernica by German bombers during the Spanish Civil War just prior to the Second World War.  Guernica was a very very famous incident at the time, and is still not completely foregotten.
This short story is considered a classic, with a wiki page of its own.  Of course it helps that the author wrote some other great works in his very short lifetime- including the Pulitzer winning poem, “John Brown’s Body”, and the short story, “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”

It is almost a post atomic war story, except that it was written before the potential of an atomic explosion was understood.  The presumption here is that "the bombers would get through" and level the cities with conventional weapons and poison gas.  Not a completely foolish presumption.  That nerve gas was not used during WW2 is very much a matter of luck.  The Germans had it, but were sure that the British did as well.  Possibly Hitler being gassed in World War 1 (he was a messenger in the trenches) made him reluctant to use the weapon.  It would be a rare bit of empathy from him.

Guernica after the bombing

Picasso's Guernica

Both from here.

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