Guernica and Total War
By Ian Patterson
Harvard University Press, 2007, 208 pp.
The German bombing of the Basque city of Guernica in 1937 raised the same sort of fears of universal vulnerability to complete destruction that nuclear weapons did during the Cold War and mass-casualty terrorism does now. Patterson examines the evidence on what happened at Guernica and how this was reported and caught up in the propaganda battles surrounding the Spanish Civil War. He then locates this episode in the ongoing discussions of the impact of air warfare in a future world war, noting correctly that these debates tended to exaggerate the strategic effectiveness of attacking civilians. The book loses its way in recounting the familiar British debates on airpower, albeit while including some telling quotes from poets and novelists (and some trite observations on contemporary U.S. strategy). In the end, the greatest horrors of war, from Spain to the present day, even taking into account the terrible air raids and the atomic bombs, were not inflicted indirectly from the air but directly on the ground.