From Bayeux to Guernica: The Depiction of Power, Destruction, and Suffering in War Art

See the PDF of the slides used in my talk


In this talk I want to compare and contrast two important works of art about war, the “Bayeux Tapestry” (or the “Canterbury Embroidery”) (henceforth BT) which is perhaps the “creation” of Odo Bishop of Kent and Bayeux, which was done in the 1070s, and Pablo Picasso’s painting “Guernica” (1937). Even though they are separated in time by some 860 years they have some common elements and themes which suggest that there is a universal human response to war and violence which we should take not of.

Let us begin by looking at other people looking at these works on public display in museums, before turning to looking at these works ourselves in more detail.

Our “looking” will be done via the digitigised images of these works which are available online. I have use two sites and modified them for my purposes on my own website. They are a version made by the medieval historian Carolyn Schriber who divided the Bayeux Tapestry into 35 discrete “events” which I have modified slightly:

“The Bayeux Tapestry (c. 1070) (Carolyn Schriber Version)”

And the higher quality version made available by the Bayeux Museum, which I have modified slightly on my website as well:

the official Bayeux Museum version: “Official digital representation of the Bayeux Tapestry – 11th century. Credits: City of Bayeux, DRAC Normandie, University of Caen Normandie, CNRS, Ensicaen, Photos: 2017 – La Fabrique de patrimoines en Normandie.” <official Bayeux Museum version

my version “The Bayeux Tapestry (c. 1070) [Bayeux Museum Version]” my version

As we look at these works we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. What do you see in this picture?
  2. How big is it?
  3. Why is it this size?
  4. What is it depicting / telling us?
  5. Who is telling us about what is being depicted?
  6. What is the purpose of this depiction / telling?
  7. Who was the intended audience?
  8. Is it “art” or is it “propaganda”?
  9. How should we interpret it?
  10. What do they have in common?
  11. How are they different?
  12. So what?

An Overview of the Works

Let us begin our “looking” with an overview of the works, beginning with the BT.

The Bayeux Tapestry, or rather “Canterbury Embroidery”, was commissioned by Odo Earl of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux, William’s maternal half-brother. It was created in Canterbury, England during the 1070s, probably by monks, in order to celebrate the invasion and conquest of England in Sept. 1066 by the Normans. It is 50 cms high and 70 metres long.

It is difficult to know who exactly was the “creator” of this work as it was a collaborative work administered by William’s half brother Odo. He must have had a team of people working under him, but who created the overall design of the work, how this work was delegated to others to complete, the sequence of events which were to be depicted, and how they were to be depicted, remains a mystery as no record was kept or survived. It is also unknown who organised and designed the very large number of smaller, often animal, images above and below the main middle panel.

We have two images of Odo in the TP itself, one of him eating and talking to William before the battle (P44) (sitting on the left under the roof of some kind of building or shelter) and another of him in battle on horseback wielding a club (P54).

My interpretation of this images is given at the end of this essay.
One way to look at the BT as a whole is a montage of all 35 panels/”events” of Schriver’s online edition.

Or even better, to go to the Bayeux Museum website to see the “long ribbon” or “panorama” of images (some 58 numbered “panels” and scroll across them from one end to the other: panorama

Compare this panoramic view with the view of just one of these panels which contains considerable detail. One such panel is Panel 53 which shows injured horses in battle with the typical added details of images in the top and bottom smaller panels (in most cases animals but here injured and dead soldiers as well):

Now for an overview of the second work “Guernica”.

The creator is definitely the famous and great “Cubist” painter Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

The painting “Guernica” was a mural which was commissioned by the Spanish republican government for the International Exposition held in Paris between May and November 1937. It was intended as a protest of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica on 26 April 1937 by planes from the German (Nazi) air force to aid Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It is 3.49 metres high and 7.76 metres wide.

A Brief Interlude

This is a heads-up of what is to come: a montage of 5 common elements of the works with 1 example from each work:

  • dead and decapitated soldiers
  • an injured horse
  • a burning building
  • a light
  • a woman

A more detailed discussion of each work follows, in reverse chronological order.

II. Guernica

The finished painting can appear confusing to first-time viewers because of the jumble of images and the cubist style used by Picasso:

This early sketch from 6 May 1937 as Picasso was planning the final form of the painting gives a simpler idea of what he had in mind:

In my analysis of the painting I have identified ten major components:

The painting has a pyramidal structure (red lines) and contains the following components:

  1. the bull
  2. the grieving woman with her dead child
  3. the fallen statue of a warrior, with its head broken off
  4. the bird flying from the wound in the side of the horse
  5. the image of the sun or electric light
  6. the wounded horse with a gash in its side
  7. the sprouting flower
  8. the woman with the lamp leaning out of the burning building
  9. the woman fleeing the burning building
  10. the woman falling from the burning building

The significance and meaning of the various images within the painting are not entirely clear and there have been different explanations offered by art critics and historians over the years.

My summary interpretation is that Picasso is showing us the effects of a bombing raid on innocent civilians and animals in a small town, by shining some light on these appalling events, in the hope that this will arouse outrage and opposition among the public, and that this is a warning of what might happen to the rest of Europe if fascism/nazism is not stopped.

Let us examine each one in more detail.

1.) the bull and 2.) the grieving “weeping” woman with her dead child – the bull might be a symbol of the Spanish people and their strength in opposing injustice and misfortune. It seems to be standing in a protective stance to shield the inhabitants of the town; the women is weeping as she holds her child which has been killed in the bombardment of the town. Note that Picasso did many pictures of bulls and horses in his studies of bull fights, and many pictures of weeping women.

3.) the fallen statue of a warrior, with its head broken off – in the sketch shown above the warrior is a real man but here he is a statue which has been knocked over in the blast and broken into pieces. The head has been separated and the arm holding a sword has broken off and is in pieces. This could represent the local armed forces which should have protected the town from attack but did not. The statue and the bull are the only male figures in the painting. The others (4) are women.

4.) the bird flying from the wound in the side of the horse – this might represent the soul of a living creature which is departing the dead or dying body.

5.) the image of the sun or electric light – Picasso is illuminating the events of the bombing with three sources of light; the lamp held over the town square by the woman leaning out of the burning building; the flames of the burning building itself, and this object which is part sun and part electric light bulb. The meaning of the latter is not clear.

6.) the wounded horse with a gash in its side – Picasso did many drawings of horses as part of his studies of bull fights. They are shown as noble animals who serve humans in farming, transport, and entertainment.

7.) the sprouting flower – perhaps a sign of hope for the future if people heed the warnings made in the painting

8.) the woman with the lamp leaning out of the burning building – she has a look of horror on her face as she leans out of the building holding a lamp to illuminate what is happening below.

9.) the woman fleeing the burning building – one of the innocent victims of the bombing is trying to escape the fate of the many others who have been injured or killed. She is running towards the centre of the painting.

10.) the woman falling from the burning building – it is not clear whether she has fallen as a result of the blast or jumped to escape the flames. In either case she will be severely injured or will die as a result.

I. The Bayeux Tapestry / Canterbury Embroidery

Let us remind ourselves of the scale and complexity of this work of art before we look at some of the details:

We need to keep in mind that there are several “stories” being told in this 70 meter long work. The main story is told in the larger middle panel where the main events are the invasion and conquest of England by the Normas in 1066. There is another “story” being told in the form of the “titula” or “titles” which are in Latin and provide some description of what is happening and who the figures are. The Bayeux Museum version provides a transcription and translation of these “titles”. The third story, or set of stories, are shown in the smaller panels above and below the main panel.

Here there are pictures of animals, scenes of people working in the fields, other people, religious symbols, and towards the end fallen soldiers and horses.

These smaller images were often ignored, or thought to be mere decorations or “doodles” which added nothing to the main story. Closer analysis has shown that they play an important role in the story. I will discuss the meaning of some of these in what follows.

To begin with the main story line, we can identify some recurring themes in the 35 events (Schriver) or 58 panels (Bayeaux Museum):

  1. Kings and Lords in Discussion
  2. Banquets before and after Battle
  3. Travelling in Boats
  4. Getting Ready for Battle
  5. Battle
  6. Animals and other interesting and curious images

Here is a sampling to look at (the Part number refers to the Schriver version):

1.) Kings and Lords in Discussion

Part 1. Harold Godwinson confers with King Edward the Confessor and sets out on his journey.

Part 8. Harold and William return to Normandy, where William’s daughter Aelfgifu is betrothed to Harold.

Part 12. During the victory celebration William knights Harold, and Harold takes a solemn oath to become the man of William.

Part 15. Harold is crowned King of England. 
(Look for Haley’s Comet.)

2.) Banquets before and after Battle

Part 2. Harold and his men prepare for a sea voyage with a final prayer and meal. Then they board their ships, taking dogs and falcons with them.

Part 23. William and his lords (Odo is on the left of the group of three in the middle) celebrate at a banquet.

3.) Travelling in Boats

Part 3. Their landing on the coast of France is met by the hostile Guy of Ponthieu.

Part 17. William orders the Normans to begin building a fleet.

Part 18. The ships take on their supplies.

Part 19. The horses board, and the ships set sail.

4.) Getting Ready for Battle

Part 24. The Normans build their camp and prepare for battle.

Part 25. The Norman army assembles.

Part 28. The Normans attack on horseback.

Part 29.The Anglo-Saxons meet their attackers on foot.

5.) Battle

Part 31. The battle rages.

Part 34. Harold is struck in the eye by an arrow and dies.

Part 35. The Normans are victorious.

The Tapestry ends suddenly. The end piece seems to be missing.

6.) Other Interesting Images

A. Medieval Technology

Some of the panels are very interesting to historians because they reveal something about how life was lived in the 11th century. Such as tilling the fields, the kinds of weapons and armor used, the building of boats, and cooking food for banquets. Some are shown in the bottom panel (farming) and others in the main larger panel.

Tilling the field (P10)

Armor and Weapons (P37)

Boat building (P36)

Cooking (P42)

B. Injury and Death in Combat

Since this is a work depicting the invasion and conquest of England by the Normans it is not surprising that images of battle take up considerable space, especially towards the end (Panels 48 to 58).

To link back to Picasso’s painting “Guernica” I want to point out the many images in the BT of dead and injured soldiers and horses, the presence of which suggests that the creators of the Tapestry were sensitive to the cost of war to those “little people” (i.e. not noble) who suffered the consequences.

This one of “Two Dead Soldiers” from the bottom panel of P52 reminds me of the fallen statue of the warrior in “Guernica” which has been decapitated and has its sword broken:

Here is the full panel from which this detail comes:

Because armor and swords were expensive items they were “recycled” by stripping the dead for use by replacement soldiers. Here is a detail from P57:

Here is the full panel from which this detail comes:

We forget that until very recently (up to and including WW1) horses played a very important role in war as vehicles for the transport of men, food, and other supplies. Their injury, death and suffering is depicted in the BT in graphic detail, as these images show.

Here are two horses which have been up-ended in combat as their riders are pulled to the ground by soldiers (P53):

Here is the full panel from which this detail comes:

C. Animals and other curious images

For a long time historians did not understand or appreciate the meaning of the images which appear in the narrow panels above and below the main panel.

Halley’s Comet

One that was quite obvious early on was the propitious appearance of the “stella” (star) or Halley’s Comet which appears above the Coronation of King Harold, which indicates that he has the blessing of God (P. 32 and 33).

Mythical Beasts

There are also many images of mythical beasts which are often shown beneath or above the King and the Dukes. They have powers above that of ordinary animals and act as guardians who protect or warn the King of coming dangers or threats.

Here are some examples:

The Centaur was neither man nor beast, it was an ungoverned creature which was in need of some superior power to guide it and authority to make this creature acknowledge the True Faith.

Here are two Centaurs below Harold and his pack of hunting dogs as he sets off to Normandy. Note he his holding a hunting falcon on his arm. (P3).

Note also that there are many noble beasts in the smaller panels: vultures who are bowing their heads in recognition of his authority, and “pards”(big cats which are not lions (which represent kingly power) but which represent the lesser nobility).

The Wyvern was a two legged, half-lizard, half-bird, with a forked tongue and which spat poison.

The larger image (P13):

Guy has arrested Harold and then takes him to William: there are vultures (predatory birds) and camels (symbols of strength and endurance) above; and a naked “Adam and Eve” ( a symbol of sinful humans) and Wyverns below. Note that one Wyvern is spitting at Guy and the other at William, but there is a crucifix in between them.

The Gryphon was a guardian of the souls of the dead (especially those of royalty). It had the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle and talons on its front legs.

In this panel (P14) William takes Harold to his castle:

Above are lions (symbols of kingly power), Gryphons, and peacocks (also symbols of royalty and nobility).
Below are bowing vultures and pads, with crucifixes interspersed.

D. The “Fabulous Animals” of Aesop and Phaedrus

A very curious but important set of animal images were ignored or misunderstood by historians until relatively recently. They are based upon the stories of Aesop whose fables feature talking animals whose actions are used to teach moral lessons to their readers. Aesop was a Greek slave who used animal stories to indirectly criticize the injustices of his own day. He had to do this in order to avoid punishment, death or sale by his owner.

Many of these stories warn how naive, powerless, gullible, and stupid people can lose their property or even their lives at the hands of those who are more ruthless and powerful than they are. The weak are portrayed as a lamb, or a hare, or a beetle; and the powerful as a lion, a fox, or an eagle. Their use in the panels of the BT seems to be deliberate references to these fables by the monks who stitched the stories onto the linen cloth. It is possible that the young monks who did the stitching had leaned their latin by reading Aesop’s fables and had absorbed the meaning of their moral lessons.

It is hard to know who these people were or why they did this. Did they do this on their own initiative, or did they have permission from those who were supervising the project (like Odo, or his subordinates)? Whatever the reason, these Aesopian stories seem to undermine other parts of the story being depicted in the main central frame, that of the legitimacy of the invasion and conquest of the English by the Normans.

The appearance of the wise, cynical, and often subversive Aesopian animals would seem to undercut the pro-monarchical narrative provided by the plethora of lions, pards, eagles, and vultures among the existing beasts, and the gryphons, wyverns, and centaurs among the mythical beasts. The Aesopian lambs, crows, cranes, goats, dung-beetles, and donkeys provides us with a counter-narrative for another reading of the events being depicted in the main panel.

There are a number of “classic Aesopian fables” (possibly 8 or 9) which are scattered throughout the 70 meter length of BT and appear dozens of times. Five of these classic fables are depicted alongside each other in Panels 4-5, so very early on in the story, and would therefore seem to be of some importance. The predators are the fox, the wolf, and the lion (the lion of course representing monarchical authority); those oppressed and hurt are the crow, the lamb, the bitch, the crane, and other smaller animals (representing ordinary working people).

Here are the full panels (P4 and P5):

Beginning from left to right we have:

1.) The Fox and the Crow: the fox sees that a crow has a piece of cheese in its beak which it wants to steal; he tricks the crow into opening his beak by telling it that he has heard that crows can sing beautifully (which is not true); the vain crow opens its mouth to sing and drops the piece of cheese; the fox then steals and eats the cheese. The moral of the story is that the more powerful can get their way by tricking those who are gullible and vain and who too easily surrender their property without a fight.

2.) The Lamb and the Wolf: the wolf falsely accuses the lamb of having insulted him; he says he overheard her saying bad things about him while she was drinking from the stream not knowing that he was downstream from her and could hear what she was saying; she denies this was the case and provides evidence to show that it could not have been her; the wolf becomes angry with her vigorous defence and his inability to rebut her, so eats her anyway. The moral is that even if the weak are able to defend themselves well through reasoning and argument, the powerful will ignore this and take want they want anyway.

3.) The Bitch and her Puppies: a bitch lends her lair to a pregnant friend who takes advantage of her generosity; after she has given birth to her pups and has raised them to a healthy age she refuses to let her friend have her lair back. The moral is that one should be on guard against being taken advantage of, even by one’s own friends.

4.) The Wolf and the Crane: the wolf has a bone caught in his throa; he sees a crane with a long beak and asks it to help him, in return for which he promises the crane a reward; the crane uses its beak to remove the bone from the wolf’s throat and asks for its reward; the wolf reneges on his promise and there is nothing the crane can do about it. The moral is that the powerful cannot be trusted, and that if you do something for them there is no guarantee that they will reward you for it, and will more than likely go back on any promise they made.

5.) The Lion and the Animals: soon after the Lion King made himself king of all the animals he wanted to win the trust of his subjects by saying he would give up his habit of eating meat (i.e. eating them) and would distribute justice equally and without favour; after a while he reverts back to his old habits and devours all the animals anyway. The moral of the story is that predators cannot and will not give up their predatory habits, so it is foolish to trust them when they say they will.

In addition to these 5 canonical fables which are referred to early on (P4-5) and several times again, there are other fables which we should note.

6.) The Lion’s share (P7-8). This story is found in the Panel where Guy arrests Harold upon his arrival in Normandy and then is taken prisoner to his castle. In the story the Lion asks some of his subjects to help in hunting for prey; in return for their help he promises them an equal share in what they catch; the hunt is successful but the lion claims the first portion as his right as king; he then claims the second portion as his share of their partnership; and then the third share because he is the strongest, and then finally the fourth because he sees that no one will challenge him. The moral is that one cannot trust the word of the powerful.

There are also a number of more radical Aesopian fables which are alluded to in the BT where the less powerful animals fight back and resist their predators, or undertake a form of passive resistance. These include stories about a goat, a dung-beetle, and a donkey.

7.) The Wolf and the Goat (P6-7). This story is found in the Panel where Harold arrives in Normandy and is arrested by Guy. A wolf catches a goat and allows her to pray before he kills her; she tricks him by calling out for help very loudly; nearby hunters hear her shouts, and they and their dogs hunt down the wolf and kill him. The moral is that a weak but quick thinking person might be able to outwit a predator and call for help (and perhaps get that help) and thus defend their rights.

8.) The Eagle, the Hare, and the Dung-Beetle (P49). As the armies of Williams and Harold are about to confront each there is an interesting pairing of these two radical Aesopian stories. To the left is this one; to the right is the one about the Old Man and the Donkey. In this story the hare is escaping capture by an eagle; the hare asks the dung beetle for help and asylum; the beetle courageously intervenes to beg the eagle to spare the life of the hare in the sacred name of Zeus and the right of asylum; the eagle brushes the beetle away and devours the hare; the beetle is so outraged by the eagle’s behaviour in not acknowledging the right of asylum that he follows the eagle back to its nest and destroys all of its eggs in revenge. This happens several times until Zeus intervenes and castigates the eagle for violating the right of asylum claimed in his name. The moral is that sometimes when a less powerful creature stands up to a more powerful one the “Gods” will intervene to defend the weak against the strong. But usually not.

9.) The Old Man and the Donkey. In this story (which appears twice in the BT) the old man learns that an invading army is approaching and tells the donkey they will have to flee. The donkey tells his owner that he does not care who is his master, him or the soldiers of the invading army, as they are all the same and will both mistreat him whatever he does. He prefers to stay where he is and refuses to go with the old man. The moral is that one should be cynical about the nature of power that the strong have over the weak, and that a change of master will not necessarily improve one’s situation in life. Perhaps the best one can hope for is to refuse to obey orders unless one has a compelling reason to do so.

It is interesting that both these stories are referred to in the same panel (P49) which is reproduced below:

The two armies are facing off against each other and the battle is bout to begin. In the narrow panel above, we have the usual symbols of royal power (deferential vultures, lions, and pards). However in the narrow panel below we have a symmetrical arrangement of animals bookended by the “Eagle, Hare, and Dung-Beetle” on the left and “The Donkey” on the left. In between these are 2 vultures, 2 pards, 2 crucifixes, 2 more volumes. What this means is hard to tell but it seems to have been deliberately chosen and arranged.

Naked People

I will end with a strange but amusing collection of “naked people” who are scattered throughout the BT. The meaning of these is not clear and I do not have time to go into the matter here. I will just list them, have a chuckle, and move on:


I will conclude by returning to the collection of images from the two works of art which show some interesting similarities in the images of death and destruction chosen by the two different “creators”:

  • dead and decapitated soldiers
  • injured horse
  • burning building
  • a light
  • a woman

Here its also an appropriate moment to look at the depiction of the “creator” of the BT in the BT and reflect on the possible meaning of the animal symbols which surround his depiction:

Recall that the first is of him eating and talking to William before the battle (P44) (he is sitting on the left under the roof of some kind of building or shelter) and the second is of him in battle on horseback wielding a club (P54).

Above Odo and William are from left to right, a Gryphon, a vulture, and two lions. Below are a pard sucking its tail, two vultures and another pard.

In this panel (P54) where Odo is on horseback wielding a club in battle we see at the top on the left a vulture pointing, on the right a vulture bowing head, and in the middle two pards (not lions); and on the bottom on the left and right are fallen soldiers and their shields, in middle is a large horse and a soldier defending him with shield.

One might interpret this to mean that Odo, perhaps the creator or administrator of the TB project, was a senior noble who was valiantly and successfully defending his brother the King in battle, and his legacy and memory in the form of the BT, even though there are many other visual references which are literally interwoven into the tapestry which might be seen to cast doubt on the legitimacy and worth of this endeavour.

Further Exploring and Reading

The Bayeux Museum

At my website:

“The Bayeux Tapestry (c. 1070) Bayeux Museum Version”

“The Bayeux Tapestry (c. 1070)
Carolyn Schriber Version”

“Pablo Picasso (1881-1973): From the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam”

“Images of Liberty and Power: the Art of War and Peace”

At my blog “Reflections on Liberty and Power”:

“Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937)” (25 June, 2015)

“Picasso and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement 1969” (12 July, 2015)

Molinari on War and Peace


Towards the end of his very long life, the French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) said that he had spent his entire life fighting in one form or another, protectionism, socialism, slavery, statism, and militarism.

He went to Paris as a young man and would-be journalist in 1841 from his native Belgium and began writing on current issues such as free trade and protection and the right of workers to form voluntary associations like trade unions; before gradually moving on to other topics such as slavery and other forms of coerced labour and the rise of socialism; and then Malthusian population theory, the role of war in the evolution of the state, the emergence of a ruling class and favoured interest groups who came to dominate the state, and the application of economic ideas to understand “everything” (including public goods, the family, the church, etc). Most famously among modern libertarians was his pioneering work on the private provision of public goods such as police and national defense, making the “first anarcho-capitalist”.


The Coppet Institute is publishing the Oeuvres complètes (Complete Works) of Molinari in a very ambitious undertaking. They have completed 9 volumes which only cover the first 10 years of Molinari’s long and productive life from 1842-1852. Since their site is poorly laid out and hard to navigate I have listed the volumes, a brief description of their contents, a more detailed version of their tables of contents, and links to download the PDFs here. In the meantime, go here À propos des Œuvres complètes de Gustave de Molinari – Institut Coppet.

My own bibliography of the works of Molinari with 73 Books, Printed Pamphlets, and Intros to books and 240 articles.

A paper I gave: “Was Molinari a True Anarcho-Capitalist?: An Intellectual History of the Private and Competitive Production of Security.” A paper given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, New York City (28 Sept. 2019). Online.

And other material on the French political economists.

Molinari’s Evolving Interest in War and Peace

To take just the war and peace thread of his thought one can track his interest through the following stages:

1.) The Paris Peace Conference of 1849

A large international Peace Conference was held in Paris in August 1849, which was presided over by Victor Hugo and at which Bastiat gave an important speech (as did Richard Cobden). Molinari wrote on this for the Journal des Économistes (the main journal of the Paris economists). I included Bastiat’s speech in one of the volumes of his works I edited for Liberty Fund.


Bastiat’s Speech to the Peace Congress on “Disarmament and Taxes” (August 1849), in Addendum, CW3, pp. 526-32. Speech

2.) Articles for the *Dictionnaire de l’économie politique* (1852-1853).

The “30 something” Molinari was already an acknowledged expert on war and peace matters (as he was on the the history of tariffs) and he made important contributions on these topics (as well as many others) for the monumental DEP. He wrote the articles on “Guerre” (War), “Nations”, and “Paix” (Peace) . which he wrote for the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique (1852-1853).


See all of his articles here en français and a selection in English here.

3.) The Ideal of “Perpetual Peace” and a League of Neutral States

After he left Paris in 1852 to avoid the tyranny of Napoleon III he wrote a book (1857) on the 18th century peace advocate, the Abbey Saint-Pierre (1658-1743), who introduced him to ideas about the ideal of “perpetual peace” and a “league for peace” which he thought would make this ideal achievable. Part of his lengthy introduction to the book was published as an article in the JDE (Oct. 1856). Molinari continued to write on this throughout the 1860s in articles which appeared hi his own journal l’Économiste belge (The Belgian Economist) and in pamphlets like Le Congrès européen (The European Congress) (1864). Many of these shorter pieces can be found in the Appendix of of his book Grandeur et décadence de la guerre (1898). He would take these ideas up again in the late 1880s with his Projet d’Association pour l’établissement d’une Ligue des neutres (1887) (Plan for an Association to establish a League of Neutral Countries), and in an article in English which appeared in the London Times.


The extract from his book on the Abbé de Saint-Pierre is published by the Institut Coppet: “La Paix perpétuelle est-elle une utopie ?” (Is Perpetual Peace a Utopia?) here.

I have the entire book online in facs. PDF.

The Appendix of his book Grandeur et décadence de la guerre (1898). The full book is here

4.) The Role of War in the Evolution of Markets and States

The role of war in the evolution of markets and organised states is a central part of his series of works on historical sociology which appeared in the 1880s, beginning with L’évolution économique du XIXe siècle: théorie du progrès (Economic Evolution in the 19th Century: A Theory of Progress) (1880) and then its sequel L’évolution politique et la révolution (Political Evolution and the Revolution) (1884). In these works he argued that war had once served a useful purpose by protecting productive groups from barbarian invasions and the plunder and taxation which this entailed, but had outlived this function as a permanent warrior class emerged which institutionalized plunder in the form of the early state. In the modern era in which advanced markets and an articulate class of producers had appeared, war and militarism had now become the greatest threat to the evolution of societies.


Over a period of about 20 years Molinari wrote a series of 4 books on political and economic sociology, in war played a major part in his theory:

  1. L’évolution économique du XIXe siècle: théorie du progrès (Economic Evolution in the 19th Century: A Theory of Progress) (Paris: C. Reinwald 1880) in HTML
  2. L’évolution politique et la révolution (Political Evolution and the Revolution) (Paris: C. Reinwald, 1884) in HTML
  3. Grandeur et décadence de la guerre (The Rise and Fall of War) (Paris: Guillaumin, 1898) in HTML
  4. and a final fourth volume which summarises his life’s work on this topic: Économie de l’histoire: Théorie de l’Évolution (The Economics of History: A Theory of Evolution) (Paris: F. Alcan, 1908) in HTML

These 4 volumes are also part of my eBook Collection of the Great Works of Liberty.

I have written previously on the neglect of classical liberal sociology and class analysis. See my blog post on “The Scandalous Neglect of Classical Liberal Sociology” (30 May 2021) here.

5.) War and Peace at the End of the 19th Century

As the combination of a new tariff war, the rise of organised socialist parties, and another arms race threatened the peace and prosperity of the major European powers at the end of the 19th century, Molinari returned to the problem of war and peace in another book on historical sociology (the third in his series) where he treats war in considerable detail, Grandeur et décadence de la guerre (The Rise and Fall of War) (1898); and then again in a pair of articles in which he sums up the achievements and failures of the liberal movement throughout the 19th century, and the prospects for liberty (and war and peace) in the coming 20th century: “Le XIXe siècle”, JDE (Jan. 1901) and “Le XXe siècle”, JDE (Jan. 1902). I discuss his pessimistic and quite accurate prognosis for the coming century in my article subtitled “The End of the Century, the End of Liberty?”: ”Gustave de Molinari and the Future Of Liberty: ‘Fin De Siècle, Fin De La Liberté’?” (2021).


Gustave de Molinari, Grandeur et décadence de la guerre (The Rise and Fall of War) (Paris: Guillaumin, 1898) in HTML.

A recent new edition of this work: Gustave de Molinari, Grandeur et Décadence de la Guerre (Paris: Institut Coppet, 2015). Introduction par Benoît Malbranque. Available to download in PDF.

My version is a reproduction of the first edition, with original page numbers for citation purposes is here. It is also part of my eBook collection of “Great Books about Liberty” which are available in various eBook formats such as HTML, PDF, and ePub, from here.

Gustave de Molinari, “Le XIXe siècle”, Journal des Économistes, Janvier 1901, 5e série, T. XLV, pp. 5-19; and “Le XXe siècle”, Journal des Économistes, Janvier 1902, 5e série, T. XLIX, pp. 5-14. These articles are included in an Appendix to my article below.

David M. Hart, ”Gustave de Molinari and the Future Of Liberty: ‘Fin De Siècle, Fin De La Liberté’?” (2001, 2021). Here.

6.) His “Final Words” on the Matter

Literally his “last words” on the subject of war appeared in the last chapter of the last book he published in 1911 the year before he died: Ultima Verba: Mon dernier ouvrage (Last Words: My Final Work). This was his 73rd and would indeed be his last book. In an uncharacteristically optimistic conclusion, he believed that “une révolution silencieuse” (a silent revolution) had been at work during the 19th century which had made the “business” of war less and less profitable even for those who started the wars (the professional diplomats and politicians), ran the wars (the officer class), supplied states with the weapons to fight the wars (the munitions manufacturers), and those who loaned money to fund the wars (the bankers). What had once been a profitable business for the ruling class was no longer the case – even for the victors. Given the added costs of weaponry, the greater destruction caused by the new weapons, and the willingness of states to go further and further into debt to fund wars, the ordinary taxpayers would, he thought, have to rise up in rebellion after the next European war to finally bring war to an end.

On doit craindre qu’à la suite d’une guerre européenne l’ensemble des dettes des Etats soit presque doublé. Les populations ne pourront soutenir des guerres devenues trop onéreuses — ou subvenir aux frais des préparatifs de guerre — et, malgré ceux qui [333] en profitent et qui opposeront, sans nul doute, aux efforts pacifiques, une résistance acharnée, elles rejetteront ce lourd fardeau. Et ce sera la fin de la guerre. Elle coûtera trop cher aux belligérants et elle causera aux neutres un dommage croissant.

One would be right to fear that at the end of a (future) European war that total State debt would have almost doubled. Populations will not be able to support wars which have become too onerous, or to be able to pay the costs of the build up to (future) wars. In spite of (the fact that) those who profit from them (wars) will no doubt put up a bloody resistance to any anti-war (pacifist) efforts, they (the population) will throw off this heavy burden. And this will be the end of war. It will cost too much for the belligerents and cause increasing damage to neutral countries.

He didn’t mention in this final passage the more realistic fears he had expressed in his 1902 article about the coming 20th century, that it might take a couple of generations of war, economic depression, and brutal political oppression before the people would come to this awful realisation. But he was convinced that ultimately they would.


Gustave de Molinari, Ultima Verba: Mon dernier ouvrage (Last Words: My Final Work) (1911), Chap. XVIII. “La révolution silencieuse. La guerre” (War: The Silent Revolution), pp. 327-333. [facs. PDF[(

Additional Reading

The standard older works on the attitude of the political economists to war were by Edmund Silberner, only one of which has been translated into English:

Edmund Silberner , La Guerre dans la pensée économique du XVIe et XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Sirey, 1939).

Edmund Silberner, The Problem of War in Nineteenth Century Economic Thought, trans. Alexander H. Krappe (Princeton University Press, 1946). On James Mill, John Stuart Mill, Jean-Babtiste Say, Frédéric Bastiat and Gustave de Molinari.

Edmund Silberner, La Guerre et la paix dans l’histoire des doctrines économiques (Paris: Sirey, 1957).

Benoît Malbranque’s Introduction to the Institut Coppet edition of Molinari’s Grandeur et décadence de la guerre is online:

Benoît Malbranque, “Un ami de la paix : Gustave de Molinari” (Molinari: A Friend of Peace) Institut Coppet (décembre 12, 2015)


To coincide with the 2015 publication of Molinari’s book Benoît also wrote a series of articles for the Institut Coppet’s magazine Laissons Faire on the importance of peace and liberty to the French political economists, which is a very good survey of the field: “« Paix et liberté ». La question de la paix chez les économistes français” (Peace and Liberty: The Question of Peace (in the thought of) the French Economists) (January and March, 2015). The article was written in 4 parts, consisting of

  1. “Bellicisme des Mercantilistes, Pacifisme des Libéraux (1570-1750)” (The Bellicism of the Mercantilists and the Pacifism of the Liberals)
  2. “Pacifisme et Cosmopolitisme des Physiocrates” (The Pacifism and Cosmopolitanism of the Physiocrats)
  3. “« Paix et Liberte » : L’idéal Pacisite (sic) des Disciples de J.-B. Say” (‘Peace and Liberty’: The Ideal of Peace of the Followers of JB Say)
  4. “Conclusion : La Paix est-elle une Vertu Française ?” (Conclusion: Is Peace a Virtue of the French (Economists)?)

These have been published as a booklet: Benoît Malbranque, La question de la paix dans l’économie politique française (Paris: Institut Coppet, 2015) which is available in PDF.

Film and the Teaching of History

[Michael Curtiz, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) – a man who “speaks treason fluently” to tyrants]

[Warren Beatty, “Reds” (1981) – a brilliant political film but about the wrong side]

See also “The Politics and History of/in Film”.

I have used films in my teaching and lecturing ever since I began teaching at the University of Adelaide in 1986. They were a regular feature in my first year introductory courses on Modern European history, my upper level courses on “German Europe” and “The Holocaust,” and most extensively in my course “Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural History” in which, over a period of a decade, I showed about 100 different films. [See “Some Thoughts on how People have ‘Responded to War’”]

The week long Summer Seminars organized by the Institute for Humane Studies during the 1990s on “Liberty in Film and Fiction” gave me an opportunity to show and discuss films with a group of students who were sympathetic to CL/libertarian ideas and who were in creative writing and film studies programs. These films included:

  1. Lewis Milestone, “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930)
  2. Michael Curtiz, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938)
  3. Robert Wise, “Executive Suite” (1954)
  4. Stanley Kubrick, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964)
  5. Andrew McLaglan, “Shenandoah“ (1965)
  6. George Lucas, “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” (1977)
  7. Claude Berri, “ Jean de Florette“ (1987) and “Manon des sources” (1987)
  8. Oliver Stone, “Wall Street” (1987)
  9. Kenneth Branagh, “Henry V” (1989)
  10. Volker Schloendorff, “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1990)
  11. Norman Jewison, “Other People’s Money” (1991)

[Claude Berri, “Jean de Florette” (1987) – on property rights in water and what happens when they are violated]

Since war films were a major interest of mine, during 1995 I held a two week long “film festival” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, during which I showed two films a day for two weeks. See the full list.

The two Honours level subjects I taught on ”Reel History: History IN Film and Film AS History” (course guide) and “Film and the History of Occupation, Collaboration, and Resistance in WW2” (course guide) provided an opportunity to explore in greater depth some of the key questions which an historian must ask about film, such as

  1. the representation and interpretation of history which takes place WITHIN films, in other words, to examine films as works of historical interpretation by the filmmaker
  2. to study films as important historical documents in their own right, i.e. to use films as just one of many primary sources one might use in order to better understand the past
  3. to compare and contrast the kind of history presented to the public by the film industry in Hollywood, i.e. “Hollywood History”, with other, sometimes more thoughtful historical films made by European and independent filmmakers
  4. to compare and contrast all forms of “filmed history” with the history found in traditional, printed texts

Since I was teaching “history” courses a major question we had to ask and try to answer (if we could) was how historically accurate was the film, and if it was not accurate, to ask the follow up question, why did the filmmaker alter the past or stress certain aspects and ignore or distort others?

A question we kept coming back to was one posed by Robert Rosenstone, who asked:

No matter how serious or honest the filmmakers, and no matter how deeply committed they are to rendering the subject faithfully, the history that finally appears on the screen can never fully satisfy the historian as historian (although it may satisfy the historian as filmgoer). Inevitably, something happens on the way from the page to the screen that changes the meaning of the past as it is understood by those of us who work in words.

[Robert A. Rosenstone, “History in Images/History in Words: Reflections on the Possibility of Really Putting History into Film,” American Historical Review, December 1988, vol. 93, no. 5, pp. 1173-85. ]

It should be noted that Rosenstone, as an historian, wrote a biography of the American socialist journalist John Reed, Romantic Revolutionary: A Biography of John Reed (1975) and then advised Warren Beatty in the making of his Academy award-winning film Reds (1981). The film is a brilliant depiction of an immensely important historical event but is is far too sympathetic to the socialist cause, even uncritical. This inspired me to write my own screenplay on a classical liberal on whom I had written a great deal who had also been involved in a revolution – Frédéric Bastiat in the 1848 Revolution in Paris in February 1848. The results, entitled “Broken Windows” screenplay HTML, along with an “illustrated essay” to help the director “visualize the past” can be found here. I found some initial interest by a small-time producer in taking it further but that interest soon evaporated when the complexity and the cost of filming an “historical film” became evident. In the meantime a dreadful “bro” movie about Marx and Engels in Paris at the same time Bastiat was living and working there got made with funding by the EU. [Raoul Peck, “The Young Karl Marx” (2018) and the review in the New York Times by A.O. Scott (22 Feb. 2018) here]

[Raoul Peck, “The Young Karl Marx” (2018) – yet another account of the life of an obnoxious man and his obnoxious ideas]

Other questions I explored in these classes, with particular reference to war films, were the following. To use films:

(1.) to assist in the visualisation of historical events or historical conditions, thus the film acts as a “window on the past” and is an attempt to “restage the past” (Sorlin) or an attempt to create “historical authenticity” (Zemon Davis) on the screen. Examples include:

  1. Carl Theodor Dreyer, The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc) (1928)
  2. Lewis Milestone, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
  3. Cy Endfield, Zulu (1964)
  4. Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) and Dr Strangelove (1964)
  5. Peter Watkins, The Battle of Culloden (1969)
  6. Oliver Stone, Platoon (1986)
  7. Maxwell, Gettysburg (1994)
  8. and one film which is not: John Wayne’s Green Berets (1968).

[The sensational original release movie poster of a slave revolt in ancient Rome which does not show any inkling of Kubrick’s deeper ideas about the subject.]

(2.) to study the history of prevailing attitudes or mentalités, since sometimes the film tells us more about the time of its making than the events it sets out to depict, that the film reflects the “climate of opinion” of the society in which it was made, in other words it acts as a “mirror of contemporary society”.

  1. the left-wing and humanitarian pacifism of Remarque/Milestone’s All Quiet (1930) and Pabst’s Westfront 1918 (1930) in the late Weimar Republic;
  2. the officially sanctioned or supported war propaganda of Olivier’s Henry V (1944) and Frank Capra’s series on Why We Fight (1942); and on the German/Nazi side, Veit Harlan, Kolberg (1945)
  3. he paranoia and fear of communist infiltration and invasion at the height of the Cold War in Siegel’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956);
  4. and the anti-authoritarianism, even anarchism, of the swinging sixties depicted in Altman’s MASH** (1970) and Nichols’ Catch-22 (1970).

(3.) to study the ideas of individual filmmakers (especially those who were war veterans); in this case, the film is a “personal memoir” by someone who had first-hand experience of the events depicted on the screen.

  1. films made by directors who were engaged as official filmmakers during war who went on to make films after the war, such as John Ford’s They Were Expendable (1945) and William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
  2. Three examples of filmmakers who personally experienced combat include Jean Renoir’s La Grande Ilusion (1936), Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition (1959-61), and Oliver Stone’s (again) Platoon (1986) and Born on the 4th of July (1989).
  3. or indirectly, when a director makes a film based upon a novel or memoir by someone else who was a participant, such as Lewis Milestone (Erick Maria Remarque), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

(4.) to reflect on the nature of war, history and the human condition in a general way; in this case, film can function as a philosophical or historical “essay” which attempts to interpret or make sense of the past in some way.

  1. films based upon Shakespeare – Laurence Olivier’s and Kenneth Branagh’s versions of Shakespeare’s Henry V (1944/1989), Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957) and Ran (1985);
  2. Akira Kurosawa, The Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai) (1954)
  3. Sergei Bondarchuck’s version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1968);
  4. Jean Renoir, La Grande Illusion (1936); Kon Ichikawa, The Burmese Harp (Harp of Burma – Biruma No Tategoto) (1956) and Fires on the Plain (Nobi) (1962)
  5. Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre of war films: Paths of Glory (1957), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to stop worrying and love the Bomb (1964)
  6. Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition (1958-61).

[Lewis Milestone, “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930) – the classic anti-war movie to which we all keep coming back.]

An important question which was often raised in my courses was one articulated by the Romanian film historian Manuela Gheorghiu-Cernat who expressed it this way: is the showing and studying of war films (especially violent ones) “a pedagogy of peace or a school of violence?” [Arms and the Film, pp. 303-23]. Perhaps Fritz Lang was correct when he stated in 1958 interview: “Could anything new be possibly said on war?… No. But, it is essential for us to repeat over and over again, the things previously uttered.” (Quoted in Manuela Gheorghiu-Cernat, Arms and the Film, p. 304.)

Lang’s unstated assumption is that in the 20th century film would become the medium through which this restatement of the horrors and evil of war can and should be made. We need to ask ourselves whether film, rather than the written word (or perhaps art), is the proper medium for this dialogue. Or perhaps Georges Duhamel is closer to the mark with his prediction: “I shall no longer be able to think what I want. My thoughts will be replaced by mobile images.” (Quoted in Manuela Gheorghiu-Cernat, Arms and the Film, p. 305.) The American soldiers in Vietnam who had watched John Wayne westerns and war movies when they were growing up had such mobile images in their minds – images of heroic actions, self-sacrifice for the state, and glorious death on the battlefield. The great power cinema has is the capacity to offer such “mobile images”, with their associated political and moral meanings, for the purposes of distraction, excitement, amusement, and the political control of audiences. Thus educators have a special responsibility to use this medium carefully.

What I try to do in my use of film in the teaching of history is to make explicit what is implicit in the mobile images on the screen, to place in historical context what might appear at first sight to be timeless and “normal” to the viewer, to discuss the moral beliefs and the political orientation of filmmakers and the impact these ideas have on their filmmaking, and to examine the reception of the films by the audiences of their day.

[Source: Manuela Gheorghiu-Cernat, Arms and the Film: War and Peace in European films. Translated into English by Florin Ionescu and Ecaterina Grundbock (Bucharest : Meridiane, 1983).]

Some additional thoughts on the connections between film and history can be found in the following essays and guides:

“A Guide to the Study of War, History, and Film”

“Further Thoughts on War Films and the Study of History”

“Bastiat goes to the Movies, or “Filming Freddie”: How to Popularise Economic Ideas in Film” (2017)

“Some Thoughts on an ‘Austrian Theory of Film’: Ideas and Human Action in a Film about Frédéric Bastiat” (Sept. 2019)

An Allegory of War and Peace

The Dutch legal theorist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) published the first edition of his important book on the Laws of War and Peace in 1625 while he was in exile in Paris. His second edition of 1670 was published in Amsterdam and came with two etchings, one of himself and another which was an allegorical etching of Justice, War, and Peace (or Bounty) which served as the frontispiece of the book.

The engraver was Romeyn de Hooghe (1645 – 1708) who was a Dutch painter and engraver who made political prints in support King William of Orange (1650-1702). See Romeyn de Hooghe – Wikipedia.

Romeyn de Hooghe (1645 – 1708)

The portrait of Grotius:

See the larger version 1781×3042 px

The allegorical etching is a very interesting visual summary of Grotius’ book. A printed summary of his ideas can be found in Grotius’ “Prolegomena” to his book which I have made available in HTML.

That body of law, however, which is concerned with the mutual relations among states or rulers of states, whether derived from nature, or established by divine ordinances, or having its origin in custom and tacit agreement, few have touched upon. Up to the present time no one has treated it in a comprehensive and systematic manner ; yet the welfare of mankind demands that this task be accomplished. …

Such a work is all the more necessary because in our day, as in former times, there is no lack of men who view this branch of law with contempt as having no reality outside of an empty name. … Of like implication is the statement that for those whom fortune favours might makes right, and that the administration of a state cannot be carried on without injustice. …

Furthermore, the controversies which arise between peoples or kings generally have Mars as their arbiter. That war is irreconcilable with all law is a view held not alone by the ignorant populace ; expressions are often let slip by well-informed and thoughtful men which lend countenance to such a view. Nothing is more common than the assertion of antagonism between law and arms. …

Since our discussion concerning law will have been undertaken in vain if there is no law, in order to open the way for a favourable reception of our work and at the same time to fortify it against attacks, this very serious error must be briefly refuted. …

Man is, to be sure, an animal, but an animal of a superior kind, much farther removed from all other animals than the different kinds of animals are from one another; evidence on this point may be found in the many traits peculiar to the human species. But among the traits characteristic of man is an impelling desire for society, that is, for the social life—not of any and every sort, but peaceful, and organized according to the measure of his intelligence, with those who are of his own kind; this social trend the Stoics called ‘ sociableness’. …

This maintenance of the social order, which we have roughly sketched, and which is consonant with human intelligence, is the source of law properly so called. To this sphere of law belong the abstaining from that which is another’s, the restoration to another of anything of his which we may have, together with any gain which we may have received from it; the obligation to fulfil promises, the making good of a loss incurred through our fault, and the inflicting of penalties upon men according to their deserts. …

From this signification of the word law there has flowed another and more extended meaning. Since over other animals man has the advantage of possessing not only a strong bent towards social life, of which we have spoken, but also a power of discrimination which enables him to [ix] decide what things are agreeable or harmful (as to both things present and things to come), and what can lead to either alternative: in such things it is meet for the nature of man, within the limitations of human intelligence, to follow the direction of a well-tempered judgement, being neither led astray by fear or the allurement of immediate pleasure, nor carried away by rash impulse. Whatever is clearly at variance with such judgement is understood to be contrary also to the law of nature; that is, to the nature of man. …

Least of all should that be admitted which some people imagine, that in war all laws are in abeyance. On the contrary war ought not to be undertaken except for the enforcement of rights ; when once undertaken, it should be carried on only within the bounds of law and good faith. Demosthenes well said that war is directed against those who cannot be held in check by judicial processes. For judgements are efficacious against those who feel that they are too weak to resist; against those who are equally strong, or think that they are, wars [xii] are undertaken. But in order that wars may be justified, they must be carried on with not less scrupulousness than judicial processes are wont to be.

Let the laws be silent, then, in the midst of arms, but only the laws of the State, those that the courts are concerned with, that are adapted only to a state of peace; not those other laws, which are of perpetual validity and suited to all times.

See a larger version of 1800×3050 px

My analysis of the allegories used in the picture follows:

Standing on a round temple is Justice (she holds the scales of justice in her right hand) above Mars (war) who holds a sword in his right hand, next to whom is Peace or Abundance who holds a compass in her left hand (to measure out quantities), over which is draped a snake which is biting its own tail in a circle (a symbol of eternity), and who holds in her right hand the cornucopia (the horn of plenty). On either side of them and slightly behind are some shadowy figures whose meaning is not clear. Mars’ sword points to the left and in the distance is Neptune with his trident and his chariot pulled by horses. Since Holland and England were both aspiring sea powers this may be a reference to this fact. At the foot of the temple at the right are two figures, a man wearing a helmet who is holding another snake over a fire with his right hand (perhaps here a symbol of evil) and with his left holding a woman around her waste; she is a peasant girl who is wearing a bonnet and a yoke around her shoulders (a symbol of submission) and in her left hand an hour glass (a symbol of the passage of time and of death). At the left is a bearded man in the shadows who is also holding a snake over a fire. At the very bottom of the picture is a dead boar (a symbol of lust and ferocity) which has been sacrificed.

For further material by Grotius see:

  • the main page for Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) which has links to the facsimile PDFs of the 1625 and 1670 editions in Latin
  • an incomplete English translation done at the time of International Peace Conference at The Hague July 4th, 1899, with an introduction by David J. Hill, Assistant Secretary of State of the United States; and with a dedication “To the Memory of Hugo Grotius in Reverence and Gratitude from the United States of America” HTML
  • and an 1925 edition edited by James Brown Scott for the Carnegie Institution, from which I made an HTML version of Grotius’ Prolegomena to the Three Books on The Law Of War And Peace” (1625, 1925)

Picasso and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement 1969


I recently came across an interesting poster (thanks to a thoughtful reader) which was used in the 250,000 person “March against death : march on Washington” anti-Vietnam War protest march which took place on Nov. 13-15, 1969. You can read the front page story about the march on the NYT’s “On This Day” website and more details can be found in the memoirs of one of the organizers, Ron Young, Crossing Boundaries in the Americas, Vietnam, and the Middle East: A Memoir (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014).

Picasso donated a pen and ink drawing for the protesters to use in their promotional material which shows one of his “machines of war”.

(see a larger version 1828 px wide

A view of just the image:


These “engines of war” first appeared in his anti-Korean War pictures from the early 1950s which marked a break from his earlier anti-war drawings which showed primarily the victims of war such as the women, children, and horse in “Guernica” (1937) or the apparently unfinished (or unfinishable) “The Charnel House” (1944-45) depicting the victims of WW2.


For two or so decades after WW2 Picasso drew many images which were used for posters for various peace congresses. These consisted mainly of his classic peace dove images, or images of flowers.



With the Korean War he changed tack and drew a series of works showing the actual killing rather than the aftermath of attacks. In “Massacre in Korea” (Jan. 1950) he shows a group of women and children facing immanent execution by a group of faceless, helmeted soldiers with rifles, very much in the style of Francisco Goya’s classic “The Third of May 1808”.


This was followed a a pair of paintings in 1952, “War” and “Peace”, with the war painting showing a chariot with a warrior with a bloody sword and a group of silhouettes committing unseen atrocities in the background.



During 1951 Picasso drew a series of works which showed various “machines of war” or tank-like vehicles attacking soldiers who look like classical Greek warriors. It was one of these tank-like vehicles which he drew for the 1969 anti-Vietnam War march in Washington.


Another poster from the same year as the anti-war march shows the enduring relevance of the “Guernica” painting for anti-war protesters. It depicts a close-up of the head and arm of the fallen warrior/statue.


For further information and images see:
– my Guide to the War Art of Picasso
Picasso: Peace and Freedom, ed. Lynda Morris and Christoph Grunenberg (London: Tate Publishing, 2010).
Picasso and the War Years, 1937-1945, ed. Stephen A. Nash, with Robert Rosenblum (New York: Thames and Hudson, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1998).