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Dad’s army musters in the Dáil to repel the Russian threat

Rear admiral Gerry Craughwell is all set to swash his buckle and take to the high seas in defence of Mother Ireland.

Who’s with him?

The Independent Senator is no stranger to military manoeuvres. He joined the British army when he was a nipper before returning home to his native Galway to join the Irish Army, serving with the first infantry battalion based in Renmore Barracks before handing in his sergeant’s stripes in 1980.

But you never forget your training. And now, says Gerry, it is time to take the fight to Vladimir Putin by dispatching a crack force from Leinster House to scare the living daylights out of the Russian fleet on its way to play war games next week off the coast of Cork.

He says members of the raiding squad should be drawn from the elite corps known as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, nominally under the command of captain Charlie Flanagan but, presumably, led on this occasion by rear admiral Craughwell for operational purposes.

“In my view, the issue of the Russian fleet being off the southwest coast of this country in the next few weeks carrying out an exercise is something that we must monitor,” he told the Seanad on Thursday.

“We must send a Naval Service vessel to the southwest with members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence observing what’s going on there.”

Hear hear!

If the highly armed flotilla does not leave Ireland’s exclusive economic zone in the Atlantic, rear admiral Craughwell will detonate Simon Coveney and bore them all to kingdom come

Imagine the scene: the rear admiral in his cocked hat, standing on the prow of LE Kildare Street, chest puffed out and gold-buttoned arm aloft, waving his fist at Russia’s gunboats.

And behind him, standing strong and proud, the highly trained and fearless members of the joint committee eyeballing the terrified sailors who fear Craughwell’s elite force is concealing a terrifying secret weapon brought specially from Cork specially for this dangerous mission.

If the highly armed flotilla does not leave Ireland’s exclusive economic zone in the Atlantic, rear admiral Craughwell will detonate Simon Coveney and bore them all to Kingdom come.

This is serious.

The Naval Service must also provide search-and-rescue back-up for the fishermen who are “taking their lives into their hands by sailing their trawlers into a live firing exercise area”, the rear admiral also informed the Seanad.

“I’ve been involved in live firing events myself down through my career and I can tell you that when we start to fire live ammunition, there is no guarantee that there won’t be an accident.”

He said the Minister for Defence (secret weapon Simon Coveney) must be apprised immediately of the situation.

In the meantime, we understand members of the elite joint committee are training in the pond outside Government Buildings. They have been issued with inflatable armbands and camouflage galoshes and are ready to scramble at a moment’s notice.

Should things turn nasty corporal Bernard Durkan, fresh from his famous victory in the Battle of Lotto Balls, will command the troops in the ground offensive. Tactical genius Bernard, who was mentioned in Dáil dispatches on Thursday, will bring all his experience to the role.

Major Jim O’Callaghan of Fianna Fáil asked Coveney to look at the mandatory age of retirement for members of the Defence Forces as some of them leave “because they know they will have to retire between 56 and 60. At that age, many people are just getting into their prime.”

He then looked to his left.

“Deputy Durkan here beside me, could you imagine if there was a requirement in politics that people had to retire between 56 and 60? We’d lose some of the best wisdom we have in the house.”

Sergeant Kieran O’Donnell (FG) agreed. “Bernard still hasn’t reached his prime.”

“Obviously, I entirely agree with my colleague’s remarks,” replied the great campaigner.

Minister for Defence Coveney, clearly wrestling with the image of Bernard (76) in combat fatigues, bayonet fixed and going over the top, tried to address O’Callaghan’s point.

“On the image of deputy Durkan being in the Defence Forces . . . eh, eh, I, em, eh, eh, while absolutely, em, the retirement age issues are something, eh, that we have been considering and . . .”

He decided not to think about it.

RTÉ’s New Year’s Eve turkey

Kerry TD Brendan Griffin had some tough questions for RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes and chairwoman Moya Doherty at this week’s meeting of the Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media.

Why hasn’t RTÉ brought back The Den and why was the New Year’s Eve show so awful this year?

He said the committee complained about last year’s effort and this year “we had an awful debacle of a New Year’s television celebration again. What has RTÉ got against New Year’s Eve?

The one great white hope we had was the return of The Den and for some reason that didn’t come back in 2021… It was one of the most positive developments in RTÉ

“Last year they got the tone wrong and this year they managed to get the time wrong. I mean, you’ve one job, that’s the 10-second countdown, and I’d say CNN were nearly welcoming in the New Year before RTÉ were this year, it was so far behind. Simple things like that really resonate with people.”

Turning to childrens’ programmes, he said: “The one great white hope we had in recent times was the return of The Den and for some reason that didn’t come back in 2021 . . . It was one of the most positive developments in RTÉ across the boards.”

What happened? “I think it was a huge mistake” not just for the children “but for the big kids amongst us who enjoyed it as well”.

Griffin said he was raising the matter because the number of parents who contacted him about The Den not returning “was not insignificant”.

As for New Year’s Eve next time out, “Could ye not just focus this year? You’ve got 11 months to work on it and just get it right for the arrival of 2023, please.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne suggested Griffin had so many scripted one-liners that maybe RTÉ might get him to present the show next year.

Paschal’s Ulysses odyssey

As it is, there are barely enough hours in the day to cram in all the eating, lounging, thinking, telly, tea, whingeing, scratching, scrolling and playing with the dog.

And here’s the Minister for Finance and president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, hosting another literary event between running his department, writing reviews, going to football matches, chairing history symposiums, working through his library of music albums and adding to his extensive bobblehead superhero figurine collection.

Just where does Paschal Donohoe find the time?

You’d be inclined to hate him, if he wasn’t, well, so flippin’ Paschally.

This thought occurred on Monday night when he popped up at the virtual launch of yet another book about the book Ulysses, which is in the news because it was first published 100 years ago. The Minister was in conversation with Dan Mulhall, whose book Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey is hitting the shops just in time for the centenary next week.

Publisher New Island Books says it is “an essential introduction for all readers seeking to navigate Joyce’s notoriously impenetrable masterpiece”.

Dan also happens to be our Ambassador to the US, so it was a transatlantic Q&A, with the Minister in Dublin and the ambassador in Washington.

Paschal said his “great Covid project of 2021” was to read the book (which, naturally, he has).

“I have a copy of Ulysses which has been in my home for at least two decades and I only had, I guess, the courage to pick it up last year and to begin delving into the extraordinary world that is Ulysses and the extraordinary mind and art that Joyce had to offer.”

He wished he had had a copy of Dan Mulhall’s book to guide him through some of the more difficult passages, because he found the opening chapters “tricky enough. I really had to concentrate and persist at it, to build up a little bit of momentum until I met Leopold and Molly.”

The author’s pragmatic advice to people who get bogged down in some of the more puzzling parts is to simply skip on to the next bit and maybe return later.

“I’m approaching this and I’m talking to you here this evening as a very general reader, somebody who is at the very early stages of trying to understand all that Ulysses has to offer,” explained Paschal.

Mulhall was more than delighted to fill him in further, even managing to get in a reference to the last words of the book and their relevance to the Brexit situation today.

Yes,” chirruped Paschal, because he’s read the book.

But no.

Music-head Paschal has had more than one Covid project on the go. In an interview last year he said he had set himself the goal of listening to all of Bob Dylan’s albums

“The last three words are ‘Trieste, Zurich and Paris’,”declared Dan, pointing to the significance of Joyce going to the trouble of writing down that his novel was written in three different European cities at a time of great conflict and change.

Even “the humble reader like myself” can discover the layers and depths in Joyce’s great work, said the president of the Eurogroup, quoting from a “lovely essay” by Anne Enright which he read in the New York Review of Books last year. “Ulysses invites meaning then throws it back at you, multiplied.”

And, as a Ulysses novice, he hailed the veteran diplomat’s book as “a compass to help us on the changing journey that each read offers”.

Mind you, music-head Paschal – a regular reviewer on these pages – has had more than one Covid project on the go. In an interview last year he said he had set himself the goal of listening to all of Bob Dylan’s albums. He must have achieved it because he is now moving on to The Beatles.

Where does he find the time?

A real beaut

Maybe Dan Mulhall’s next literary explainer might be a guide to interpreting and understanding the complex and sometimes baffling world of the parliamentary written reply.

Here’s one from this week in response to a question to the Minister for Finance by Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe, who asked why the beauty industry is subject to a VAT rate of 13.5 per cent while the hairdressing sector pays a 9 per cent rate and if this anomaly can be rectified.

“The VAT rates applying in Ireland are subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. While hairdressing services apply the 9 per cent rate from 1 November 2020, services consisting of the care of the human body, including beauticians, are subject to the 13.5 per cent rate,” it stated.

“This arises from the fact that many of the goods and services to which Ireland applies a reduced rate of VAT, including services related to care of the human body, have their basis under an EU derogation that provides that as Ireland applied a reduced rate to these items on 1 January 1991, we are entitled to continue applying that reduced ate to those items. However, this is conditional on the rate being no less than 12 per cent. These are known as ‘parked’ items, and are provided for under Article 118 of the EU VAT directive. As the services provided by beauticians are part of these parked items, it is not possible for Ireland to apply the rate of 9 per cent to them.”

Parked items?

With this sort of stuff emanating from Paschal’s department, it’s no wonder he was able to finish Ulysses in under a year.


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How Brandy Melville, American teenage girls’ favorite brand, ended up engulfed in a racism and sexual harassment scandal | Culture

In 2014, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch Mike Jeffries resigned from his position. He did so after years of public accusations and lawsuits for racism and discrimination within the brand that glorified the white American heterosexual man. He did it because sales had plummeted. In 2022, the Netflix documentary White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch recalled the story of a brand that now seems to have recovered after issuing a public apology and advocating diversity and sustainability.

Also in 2014 American Apparel managed to “get rid” of its founder, Dov Charney, after several lawsuits for labor violations and sexual harassment of employees. If Abercrombie made a fortune with its muscular, shirtless young blonde men, American Apparel did so with its snapshots of anonymous young girls in openly sexual poses, many of them taken by Terry Richardson, a photographer who fell from grace after harassment complaints. Curiously, or maybe not, today Charney works as a manager at Yeezy, another brand cancelled by public opinion and owned by Kanye West.

That same year, 2014, Bloomberg published a report titled Brandy Melville: Instagram’s First Retail Success, which focused on how quickly the brand had become a favorite among American teenagers. Like American Apparel, Brandy Melville sells basic clothing for young people (tanks, shorts, colored tops) at prices slightly higher than those of other fast fashion brands, meaning that they are accessible but slightly ‘different’ from their competitors.

However, unlike Charney’s brand, its campaigns do not show women in leggings and provocative poses, but rather very young, long-haired Caucasian girls posing casually on the street or in front of the mirror. Its aesthetic is based on Tumblr-addicted teenagers who considered the Coachella festival to be the epitome of aspirational leisure. Although the Italian brand dates back to 2009, since it opened its stores in California in 2013, it has not stopped growing. It has nearly one hundred stores around the world and, according to The Wall Street Journal, it is estimated that it will have a turnover of more than $212 million in 2023.

Brandy Melville courted controversy for its strategy of offering only size S in its stores. Furthermore, taking into account that its clientele is mostly adolescents, the psychological havoc that its business model can wreak is beyond doubt. Later, it was understood that the business model was not always like this. The brand’s Italian owner, Stephan Marsan, decided to give the order to remove sizes larger than small from stores when the stores landed in the United States.

Business Insider journalist Kate Taylor revealed this decision in an extensive report published in 2021. She was the first to expose the very elusive Marsan, about whom hardly any information exists on the internet, and his more than questionable business practices. That article caught the attention of director Eva Orner, who has just released the documentary Brandy Hellville and the Cult of Fast Fashion on HBO: “I’ve done so many films in war zones and with refugees, and when I started this, I was like, what is happening here? I can’t get people to speak. We reached out to hundreds of girls. I think part of [the reticence to speak] is because they’re young girls, they’re scared,” Orner said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

One full body photo a day to send to the boss

Both the documentary and the report offer statements from several former employees and some store managers. The girls who work at Brandy Melville stores, many of them teenagers, are recruited in the store itself for “adhering to the brand’s style.”

In a 2022 report in a California university magazine, two former shop assistants said that, when they were offered the job, they only asked for “full-body photos and the link to their social networks.” Brandy Melville’s Instagram, which is different for each region (in Spain it has 175,000 followers, and in the United States it has more than three million) is based on homemade photos of the brand’s staff or influencers, who are asked to advertise free in exchange for clothes. “Workers are instructed to take full-body pictures of themselves and send them to the manager daily, as well as ask to take pictures of customers who are ‘on trend,’” said a former employee in the 2022 report.

The company only hired thin, white women, according to the various reports and the documentary. If a worker gained weight, those in charge received orders to fire her. “If she was Black, if she was fat… [Marsan] didn’t want them in the store,” said Luca Rotondo, former vice president of the company.

The non-Caucasian girls worked in the warehouse, not facing the public. Rotondo and the directors of the company that owns the Canadian stores (Marsan operates with a series of companies and franchises to avoid responsibility) were themselves fired for refusing to fire their staff.

In addition to accusations of plagiarism from brands such as Forever 21 and Bubblered, Brandy Melville has had complaints of harassment. Marsan’s right-hand woman Jessy Longo has been accused of inappropriate behavior by three former employees; another accused the manager of one of the New York stores of harassment. Apparently, in that same store, one of the brand’s largest, the bosses can see the girls entering from the first floor and use a button to activate a red light to alert the manager that they want to hire her. In the documentary, Kate Taylor tells how the brand’s executives take their favorite employees on lavish trips, which are actually trips to Italian factories so they can choose the clothes they want and document those trips on social media. In these trips, the girls are “treated like queens.”

Antisemitic memes and clandestine factories

During Taylor’s investigation, former directors of Brandy Melville sent her screenshots of the WhatsApp groups they shared with Marsan. Among others, he sent them images of girls taking their breasts out of their shirts (“the shirt is clearly Brandy,” he comments), racist memes that compared a monkey with a Black boy or an image of Hitler congratulating them on the New Year. Marsan distributed Atlas Shrugged among his employees, a book by Ayn Rand that advocates individualism, the virtues of selfishness and extreme capitalism, and which became topical again for being claimed by the ultra-conservative North American right. “I called it the Brandy Melville Bible,” says one of the employees.

As one would expect, Marsan does not want to pay taxes. And for this, a million-dollar business with little traceability has been set up. Its name does not appear in any financial statements and its stores operate through local companies that are different in each country. It is a textile company that has a turnover of more than $200 million annually, but it is impossible to find any statements regarding its sustainability plans. What is detailed on their website is the origin of each product. They are mainly manufactured in China and Italy, where the brand originated. However, the documentary travels to Prato, the Italian area sadly famous for hosting clandestine factories where immigrant workers under exploitative conditions manufacture garments for fast fashion brands. It also travels to Accra, in Ghana, the place where 39,000 tons of clothing end up per year. Yes, Brandy Melville is also available there, although its production volume is less and its prices are somewhat higher than those of certain fast fashion platforms.

A textile dump in Ghana.
A textile dump in Ghana.cortesia de HBO (cortesía de HBO)

You can’t blame teenage girls for wanting to fit in with their high school peers. However, the firm that encourages one-size-fits-all should be blamed. Of course, it is not the wearers’ fault for feeling good about being complimented on their style or for wanting to work for a brand with which they identify, nor was it the fault of the dozens of victims who worked at American Apparel. However, as long as the authorities fail to take forceful measures, it is the customer who has the power to change things. Jeffreys left Abercrombie and Charney left American Apparel when sales had already plummeted and both brands were on the verge of bankruptcy. Firing the big boss is difficult, but not impossible.

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When painting becomes haute couture: The work of John Singer Sargent is also a history of fashion | Culture

He painted aristocrats, industrialists, writers, politicians, and even suffragettes, just as Velázquez and Van Dyck portrayed the royalty of their time. Or perhaps he is more like Frans Hals, the Flemish artist who distanced himself from monarchs to portray a the newly established middle class who ruled during the Baroque period.

In the work of John Singer Sargent (Florence, 1856-London, 1925), the most European of the American painters, there is a collective portrait of Paris and London of the Belle Époque, the two cities where he became one of the most influential people of his time. This was no mean feat in a period with many exuberant characters, the nouveaux riches, unscrupulous careerists ,and ladies forced to change their outfits four times a day to signal their superior social standing.

Sargent was distinguished by his taste for fashion, in which he saw the distinctive sign that allowed him to understand the vicissitudes of the individuals he painted. This is demonstrated by a new exhibition which is one of the highlights of the cultural spring in London. The Tate Britain’s Sargent and Fashion is open to the public until July 7.

The exhibition, which displays around 50 oil paintings along with some of the real dresses that inspired them, reflects the extraordinary attention he paid to his models’ wardrobe. Among them were clients of the haute couture that was then flourishing in the French capital. Firms such as Doucet, Paquin, and especially Worth, which employed 1,200 workers in 1870, supplied silk and velvet garments to young buyers — in many cases American women looking for husbands in Europe. Those dresses were “their social armor,” as Edith Wharton, perhaps the best chronicler of that social stratum, would later write.

'Miss Elsie Palmer' (1889-90) and two Charles Worth dresses from the same period, in the 'Sargent and Fashion' exhibition at London's Tate Britain.
‘Miss Elsie Palmer’ (1889-90) and two Charles Worth dresses from the same period, in the ‘Sargent and Fashion’ exhibition at London’s Tate Britain.Jai Monaghan (Tate)

When choosing these dresses, their wearers had the garments’ pictorial representation in mind. These women wondered what their reflection would be on the canvas, just as today’s stylists are concerned about how photogenic the dresses they choose for their clients will be. Oil painting was the red carpet of the Belle Époque. Renowned for his impressionistic lines and his attention to attire, Sargent was one of the most sought-after portrait painters of his time. His paintings circulated throughout society and attested to the new power acquired by its stars, like the profiles of the Roman emperors on the coins of antiquity.

“I only paint what I see,” said Sargent. Of course, he was lying. The artist, who charged 1,000 guineas per portrait (about $107,000 in today’s dollars), was known for ignoring the preferences of his models, no matter how much they paid him. He not only acted as a painter, but also as an artistic director. He chose the dresses and accessories, sometimes despite the protests of his clients, imposed the most appropriate decoration, and modeled the fabric on their bodies as a dressmaker would do. Lady Sassoon (1907) is a portrait of Aline de Rothschild, heiress to the banking dynasty, dressed in a black taffeta cape lined with pink satin, a garment full of folds and undulations that seem to look better in the painting than in the museum room, where it seems poorly lit and devoid of magic. Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth (1889) is another example of Sargent’s power of transformation: a portrait of the famous actress in a jeweled robe, in shades of green and maroon, more spectacular on canvas than in reality, which always seems aa little more prosaic.

Sargent not only acted as a painter, but also as an artistic director: he chose the dresses and accessories, imposed the most appropriate decoration and modeled the fabric on the body as a dressmaker would do.

Each portrait is a small representation, a function on the identity of its sitter, which Sargent stages with relative simplicity, with an elegant economy of resources. The best example could be Portrait of Madame X, one of his most famous works, on loan from the Metropolitan in New York. It is the haughty profile portrait of Virginie Gautreau, born in New Orleans and living in Paris, which caused an immense scandal when it was presented at the Salon in 1884. Her tight black bodice is fastened with two straps full of precious stones. In the original version, the one on the right had slipped from her shoulder, which sparked a controversy that forced Sargent to go into exile in London and repaint the painting with the two straps in place. In 1916, he donated it to the Metropolitan with a message to its director: “I suppose it is the best thing I have ever done.”

'Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose' (1885-86) at the Tate Britain in London. Its major exhibition dedicated to the great portrait painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) reveals the artist's ground-breaking role as stylist, fashioning the image his sitters presented to the world.
‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’ (1885-86) at the Tate Britain in London. Its major exhibition dedicated to the great portrait painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) reveals the artist’s ground-breaking role as stylist, fashioning the image his sitters presented to the world.Alamy/ Cordon Press

In reality, that woman with light-looking skin — a product of makeup, as Sargent demonstrates with malice when contrasting her with a red-hot ear — was descended from slave owners with a large plantation. This is information that is not provided in a show that, at times, feels sumptuous but superficial and deceitful. Some of the dresses and accessories are period pieces, but not all of them. Visitors discover a top hat from 1900 and a French lace collar, devoid of the aura about which Walter Benjamin theorized. They do not match those worn by his models. When a piece of textile does not correspond to the one in the painting, the show falls apart.

A portrait of John Singer Sargent.
A portrait of John Singer Sargent.Library of Congress (Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

The exhibition timidly explores the subversion of gender roles that Sargent practiced, which would have to do “with the deliberate sexual ambiguity and with the homosexual and homosocial circles in which he often moved,” its curators Erica Hirschler and James Finch point out in the exhibition catalog. However, this aspect is not mentioned in the exhibition spaces. And yet it is fundamental to understanding the relationship with the women who posed for him, in whom there is more complicity and fascination than eroticism, or his male portraits, in which it some ambiguity does reside. After all, homoeroticism was one of the motifs of that time, as also demonstrated by the works of Henry James, a close friend of Sargent, or those of E. M. Forster, a great admirer of the painter.

The Tate exhibits androgynous portraits such as that of the languid Albert de Belleroche, a young English painter. There is also the larger-than-life-size canvas of Samuel Pozzi, a French gynecologist wearing a bright scarlet robe de chambre with slippers peeking out from the bottom. The portrait shows Pozzi in an unusual pose for his time that defied the conventional public image of powerful men. But the exhibition does not dare to show Sargent’s secret lithographs, discovered after his death, where he painted naked men barely covered by sheets. Elegance, Balenciaga said, is elimination.

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Sheldon Garon: From the Spanish Civil War to Gaza and Ukraine: A history of bombings targeting civilians | International

The house at number 10 Peironcely Street in Madrid seems to be frozen in time. Uninhabited, with exposed brick and sealed off to deter squatters, it is the only one-story house among the surrounding multi-story buildings in the Entrevías neighborhood of the Spanish capital. This property became one of the most famous monuments to the bombing of Madrid by Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and was immortalized by photographer Robert Capa at the beginning of the conflict. It was also the first place in Spain that Princeton University historian Sheldon Garon visited to research his book The Global War on Civilians, 1905-1945. It is a symbol of what he describes as an “important turning point” in the history of the aerial bombardment of civilians, a strategy that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and is being carried out today on populations in Gaza and Ukraine. Madrid was the first capital city to be continuously bombed, causing an alarming number of victims. His next destination was Barcelona, a city to which he attributes the genesis of air-raid shelters built by civilians. Those in Barcelona were highly organized and served as a reference point for the United Kingdom and France in World War II (1939-1945).

“Aerial bombing started in World War I (1914-1918). The Germans bombed London and Paris particularly, but on a small scale, leaving just under 1,000 dead in the former and about 250 in the latter,” explains Garon, who quotes Hispanist historian Hugh Thomas to recall that around 2,000 people died in Madrid. The strategy of targeting civilians used by the Nationalist forces, using the German pilots and aircraft of the Condor Legion, was greatly intensified in later conflicts: World War II, the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Vietnam War (1955-1975), up to the present day in Ukraine and Gaza.

“Instead of simply targeting armies and navies of the enemy, you target their cities and their civilians,” the American details. “You bomb densely populated areas, usually working class areas, with the objective of trying to win the war by breaking the morale of the civilians so they will pressure their government to surrender. That was the rationale in the Spanish Civil War.” That several countries resorted to the same tactic in the same time-period was not coincidental. In his book, Garon connects the different cases to provide a complete picture using a methodology known as transnational history.

Sheldon Garon
Historian Sheldon Garon in front of a building in Madrid that was bombed in the Spanish Civil War. Álvaro García

At the same time that Franco was bombing Madrid in an attempt to break Republican resistance, Japan was attempting to cow China by targeting the cities of Shanghai, Nanjing, and particularly Chongqing, the capital during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which suffered four years of aerial bombardment with an approximate death toll of 9,000. “Nobody is safe, nobody is protected, there’s no difference between civilians and soldiers. Civilians are simply considered soldiers at home,” Garon says to explain “the concept of total war.”

If Madrid was important in understanding the offensive aspect of aerial bombardments, Barcelona had the same importance in understanding the rearguard, what Garon refers to as the home fronts. “In Barcelona in 1937 they had a lot of time to prepare and they built many shelters. It was far from the front. So Barcelona had a lot of time to prepare, unlike Madrid.” The population of the Catalan capital, the last bastion of the Republican government, formed neighborhood organizations that provided first aid, distributed food rations, set up guards on the tops of buildings to warn of approaching planes, dug trenches, and sheltered children.

“Barcelona became a model to other Europeans at the time, because in the First World War there weren’t many shelters in London and Paris. The British and the French had observers in Barcelona and they studied the shelters. It was almost a laboratory for them. By the time World War II started they had all organized home fronts,” he points out. “So, again, it’s a transnational history.”

A Spanish Civil War-era air raid shelter in Barcelona.
A Spanish Civil War-era air raid shelter in Barcelona. Marcel.lí Sàenz

It is impossible to talk of aerial attacks on cities without mentioning Germany. The United States and the United Kingdom had destroyed 200 by 1944, mainly industrial areas such as Hamburg, Dresden, and the Rhine Valley. In France, 70% of Cannes was destroyed, Garon estimates. In Japan, 66 cities were devastated, two by atomic bombs and the rest by incendiary devices. This intimidating strategy had already been used in the 1920s and 1930s against insurgencies in the colonies. In 1926, Spain and France bombed the rebels in Morocco in the Rift Valley, and the United Kingdom did the same shortly afterwards against those seeking independence in Somaliland and Iraq.

Garon’s research ends with the conclusion of World War II, but the dropping of bombs targeting the civilian population “continues to the present day, unfortunately.” The U.S. became the biggest exponent of bombing campaigns in the second half of the 20th century, in Vietnam (where deadly napalm fuel was dropped), North Korea (as part of the Korean War of 1950-1953) and in Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.

All the cases detailed by Garon reverberate today with Ukraine and Gaza, although incendiary and heavy bombs have been exchanged for ballistic missiles and drones. “The scale and the technologies become much more sophisticated, but the strategies don’t change much: the demoralization of the population.” The United Nations has condemned reports of Israeli attacks in the Strip against hospitals and refugee camps and some 70% of the more than 30,000 Palestinians killed during the war are women and children. On the other hand, the Kremlin has consistently targeted the Ukrainian power grid but has also attacked Kyiv and other cities with aerial strikes.

Guerra Israel en Gaza
A house destroyed by bombing in the southern Gaza Strip.
Anas Baba (EFE)

International rules of engagement have not been able to deter warring nations from using weapons against civilians. There are laws such as the 1923 Hague Regulations on aerial warfare, which prohibited the bombing of cities that were not being attacked from the ground, or the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949, which was created precisely to protect the population in times of war. However, they have been regularly violated under the claim that military targets are mixed among civilians.

This willingness to use the citizenry as a means of warfare was verified by Garon when he gained access to official documents. The 1941 British Air Force files noted that the new targets were not industrial factories or port cities, but “the morale of the German people.” Other records detailed the types of poison effective against rebels in British colonies. Garon highlights the one that shocked him most: “When the U.S. was fighting the Japanese in 1945, they blockaded food supplies to Japan. They called it Operation Starvation and the goal was to cut 20% to 30% of the calories that the Japanese people consumed.”

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