Shock and Awe: Guernica Revisited
By Gar Smith
February 7, 2003

A copy of Pablo Picasso's famous painting, "Guernica," hangs near the entrace to the Security Council chambers in the United Nations Building in New York. On January 27, UN officials covered the painting with a large blue curtain. The UN said the curtain would be a more "appropriate background for the cameras" but an outraged diplomat told Art Daily ( that the United States felt it would be inappropriate for UN Ambassador John Negroponte or Secretary of State Colin Powell to be photographed making war-talk infront of a painting that showed "women, children and animals shouting with horror and showing the suffering of the bombings." This reproduction of Guernica has hung in the UN "uncovered" since 1985
Forget Osama. Forget Saddam. The Pentagon's newest target is the city of Baghdad.

US military strategists have announced a plan to pummel the Iraqi capital with as many as 800 cruise missiles in the space of two days. If George W. Bush gets the war he wants, Baghdad could become the 21st Century's Guernica.

On April 26, 1937, 25 Nazi bombers dropped 100,000 pounds of bombs and incendiaries on the peaceful Basque village. Seventy percent of the town was destroyed and 1,500 people, a third of the population, were killed.

The Pentagon now predicts that its Baghdad blitzkrieg could approximate the devastation of a nuclear explosion. "The sheer size of this has never been... contemplated before," one Pentagon strategist boasted to CBS News. "There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," a city of 5 million people.

Since a single two-ton cruise missile can carry 1,000 pounds of high explosives. A two-day salvo of 800 cruise missiles would subject the population of Baghdad to a devastating new detonation every four minutes. And, there is little comfort in the statement that these missiles are "smart" weapons that strike their targets with pin-point accuracy for, as Captain Ryan Henry, a Senior Fellow with the Center for Strategic & International Studies observes: "Cruise missiles run normally 80% accuracy. Four our of five usually explode on target."

In a bizarre combination of horror and admiration, the Pentagon has dubbed its cold-blooded attack plan "Shock and Awe." Shock and Awe was the title of a 1996 strategy book published by the Pentagon's national Defense University. It was Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the report, who revealed the Pentagon's plan for "Rapid Dominance" to CBS News correspondent David Martin.

S&A is not a new technique. It was employed extensively in Afghanistan, particularly during Operation Anaconda, which involved massive aerial bombing with thermobaric superbombs and conventional bombs weighing as much as 10,000 pounds.

When the UN-backed coalition (lead by the US and Britain) attacked Iraq in 1991, the first volley included the launching of 100 cruise missiles in the first 24 hours. As Christopher Hellman of the Washington-based, Center for Defense Information noted, most of these missiles fell "in and around Baghdad." The new attack plan would be even more deadly.

Ullman told CBS News that the effect of the planned attack would be "rather like the nuclear weapons [sic] at Hiroshima." According to Ullman, this airborne apocalypse would instantly vaporize "30 [Iraqi] division headquarters." As a bonus, he added, "You also take the city down."

Shocking and Awful

During the 1991 Gulf War, US reporters were kept far from the fighting. Photographer Perer Turnley managed to reach the front and captured horrific images of "The Unseen Gulf War."
In the book that he co-authored with James P. Wade, Ullman noted with ghoulish appreciation, the effect that "total war" can have on the human psyche. "One recalls from old photographs and movie or television screens, the comatose and glazed expressions of survivors of the great bombardments of World War I and the attendant horrors and death of trench warfare. These images and expressions of shock transcend race, culture and history."

Shock and Awe tactics are intended to become "sufficiently intimidating and compelling factors to force or otherwise convince an adversary to accept out will," Ullman wrote. "Intimidation and compliance are the outputs we seek to obtain by the threat of use or by the actual application of our alternative force package." The "alternative force package" is a Pandora's box that also contains cluster bombs, chemical weapons and nuclear explosives.

Shock and Awe may include the use of new experimental "electromagnetic" weapons. In an article in the Economic Times, Ullman called for the use of "Super tools and weapons - information-age equivalents of the atomic bomb." Ullman specifically advocated the use of electromagnetic blasts to destroy power and communications systems and permit the US invasion force to disrupt human neurological systems, thereby allowing US forces "to control the will and perception of adversariesĀc. It is about effecting behavior."

The human impact of the Pentagon's proposed "Hiroshima effect" was estimated in a confidential document prepared by the UN World Health Organization, which projected that "as many as 500,000 people could require treatment as a result of direct and indirect injuries." Since half the population of Baghdad is under the age of 14, it would be fair to say that the US is prepared to murder and maim as many as a quarter million children.

'Total War' Equals Total Immorality

Shock and awe were the very emotions that Americans experienced on Sept. 11, 2001. Now, like the 9/11 terrorists, Bush and Co. are planning a similar act of almost unparalleled ferocity - a devastating premeditated attack on a civilian urban population.

Bush seems determined to follow in the footsteps of Hulagu Khan and Tamerlane, the Mongol warlords who lay bloody waste to Baghdad in 1258 and 1401.

But destroying Baghdad will not uncover hidden chemical, biological or nuclear weapons (if, in fact, any exist). Destroying Baghdad will not capture, topple or kill Saddam Hussein. According to Ullman. The goal of the Shock and Awe attack is to destroy the Iraqi people "physically, emotionally and psychologically."

Ironically, this was also the goal of the Nazi strategists who destroyed Guernica. The town had no strategic value as a military target, but - like Baghdad - it was a cultural and religious center. Guernica was devastated to terrorize the population and break the spirit of the Basque resistance.

Surely cruise missiles have been programmed to demolish the Baath Party Headquarters, presidential palaces and Republican Guard compounds. But have missiles also been preset to obliterate the al-Qadiriya Shrine, the Tomb of Imam al-A'dham and the Mosque of Sheik Abdul Qadir al-Ghailani?

We now know that there was no military need to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The detonations were intended to demonstrate to the world - and to the Soviet Union, especially - that the US had a functioning super-weapon. Having sole possession of "The Bomb" gave Washington the power to dominate post-war world politics.

Similarly, the destruction of Baghdad seems designed to underscore Bush's belligerent warning to the rest of the world: "You're either with us or you're against us."

Washington's new National Security Strategy describes an America dominating the world militarily, politically and economically.

In a report published a month before the US presidential elections, the conservative Project for the New American Century insisted on instituting a "global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests."

This ringing endorsement of hyper-imperialism was co-authored by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby and Jeb Bush - none of whom (except for Rumsfeld) ever volunteered for military service.

Crimes against Humanity

It is a violation of international law for any country to mount an attack on another country that has not attacked it first. It is a violation of international law to wage ware on civilians. Shock and Awe is, by admission, an illegal strategy that puts the US in violation of signed treaty obligations under the United Nations. An attack on Iraq with civilian deaths counted in the tens (and possibly) hundreds of thousands would constitute a "crime against humanity."

Today, thousands of citizen volunteers from around the world are converging in Iraq to stand as nonviolent "human shields" in hopes of forestalling a US assault. The brave men and women in this international "Peace Army" include Muslims from South Africa, legislators from Italy, musicians from Germany and scholars from America. Volunteers have come from Britain, Turkey, Ireland, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Spain, and Denmark. Some have traveled from as far as New Zealand. Activist in Jordan expect to field a force of 100,000 human shields.

They include Muslims from South Africa, legislators from Italy, musicians from Germany and scholars from America. The American volunteers include anti-war activists, religious witnesses, retirees, US military veterans and members of families who lost loved ones in the September 11 attack.

The US groups that have sent human shields to Iraq include Conscience International, Voices in the Wilderness and Peaceful Tomorrow. The Washington Post explained that their goal is to "act as human shields, hunkering down in hospitals, water-treatment plants and other civilian installations to dissuade US commanders from targeting those facilities."

Mr. Bush repeatedly complains that Saddam Hussein deserves to be removed from office because "he killed his own people."

If Mr. Bush fails to promptly court martial the officials who came up with the Shock and Awe atrocity, he may soon find himself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Mr. Hussein and facing history's judgement as another ruthless leader who "killed his own people" in a mad bid for power.

This is an expanded version of an essay that appeared on the AlterNet ( syndication service on January 27, 2003.

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