Art, Writing Must Challenge Pornography of War

By Dallas Darling

Those attacking German novelist Gunter Grass, who wrote a poem criticizing Israel’s nuclear weapons program and arsenal, should recall what Pablo Picasso once said: “Art is not done to decorate apartments, it is an instrument of war against brutality and darkness.”(1) Picasso had just finished painting Guernica, a vivid yet infamous masterpiece that had captured and exposed the cruelty and destructiveness of a fascist-like war.

In 1937, Nazi Germany supported General Francisco Franco’s Spanish fascists in an effort to destroy the morale of republican and communist enemies. German bombers mounted a four-hour-long attack on Guernica, the capital of the northern Basque region of Spain. The town was almost completely destroyed. Thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children, were indiscriminately bombed and murdered from the air.

Picasso’s critical artistic painting depicts a horse, a symbol of republican Spain, screaming as it is speared through its chest. On the right, figures flee from a burning house, on the left, a mother carries a dead infant in her arms. The horrific scene watched over in the top left-hand corner by a rampant bull, signifying the military aggression of General Franco and fascist forces. A decapitated body lies on the bottom holding a lone flower.(2)

Such critical artistic expression, like that of Picasso and Grass, has been missing from mainstream culture and thought. Israel and the United States have both been seduced by the pornography of war and weapons technologies. Israeli soldiers have worn shirts making light of shooting pregnant Palestinian mothers and children. One even reads, “The smaller, the harder,” as it shows a weeping Palestinian mother next to her child’s grave.(3)

The U.S. National Security State and Pentagon continually sexualizes war and military campaigns through films, magazines, photographs, and a commercialized electronic media. Warfare and military service is transformed into a seductive prostitute by making them appear exciting and glamorous. Youth are aroused and stimulated by seeing strong and handsome and beautiful young men and women adorning uniforms and carrying weapons.

Pentagon commercials and violent, military-oriented, video games induce a sexualized and orgasmic thrill in killing others, especially those portrayed as Arabs or enemies that the U.S. “labels.” America’s love affair with preemptive wars also reveals a fascination with sexual assault, even rape. Just as rapists select their prey and stalk their victims, sometimes killing them, the U.S. selects and stalks other nations, militarily invading and raping them.

Grass, a Nobel literature laureate, has again revived the concept that artistic expression and writing are critical instruments of war and should be used against the brutalities and its “dark side.” Like the atrocities that occurred at Guernica with its utter and indiscriminate bombing of civilians, the pornography of war might arouse complete power, mastery, and control, but it is humanly and morally wrong. Such militant fetishes also backfire.

Israel’s and the U.S.’s nuclear arsenals are shameful and the moral equivalence to war and genocide, as are other nations that stockpile nuclear missiles. They pose a threat to world peace, as Grass mentioned in his poem. There is nothing anti-Semitic about Grass challenging both Israel and Iran to open their nuclear programs to inspections. It is merely critical artistic expression and writing that promotes humankind and life.

Critical art and dangerous writing confronts and challenges the pornography of war and the “dark side” of warfare. It either exposes or tries to prevent naked aggression, rape, torture and death-all brutal methods of control and conquest. It helps free humanity from totalitarian thinking. It is human expression at its best and should never be feared or censored. Both Picasso and Grass understood this important truth.

Will the writer and artist in each of us do the same? 

– Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for You can read more of Dallas’ writings at and He contributed this article to


(1) Vaughan, William. Encyclopedia Of World Artists. Hoo, Near Rochester: The Brown Reference Group, 2007., p. 329.
(2) Ibid., p. 329
(3) Sky News.

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