“By The Waters of Babylon”

In 1937 warplanes bombed and destroyed the Basque town of Guernica in northern Spain.  The bombing was carried out by the German and Italian air forces at the request of the Spanish Fascist government during the Spanish Civil War.  Several years before the horror of the Second World War, the bombing of Guernica was one of the first in which modern warplanes bombed a defenseless civilian population.  Pablo Picasso painted his anti-war masterpiece Guernica as a response to the atrocity; the American writer Stephen Vincent Benét did something else: he wrote a haunting short story.  You should read it.

When you read the story, note that Benét wrote it in 1937: before World War II, before incendiary bombing (practiced by both the Axis Powers and the Allies) became one of the facts of the war, before nuclear war was even an evil dream (in fact, before even the discovery of nuclear fission), before Hiroshima, before Planet of the Apes and The Road and The Walking Dead.

(The title is an allusion to Psalm 137, written by the Israelite exiles in Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.)

Click here to read Benét’s post-apocalyptic short story.

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4 thoughts on ““By The Waters of Babylon”

  1. Interesting that you bring up the “The Waters of Babylon” it was required reading for me in an Advanced English class. But, it was also a popular song in the 60’s and 70’s. I remember the tune so I did some research. It was first sung by a Rastafarian group. And Babaylon to them meant an unjust repressive society and also referred to the police. Interesting!

  2. Interesting reading this story again after so many years. I read it once when I was in Junior High. I do remember that it made an impression on me at the time but I didn’t remember much about the story until this rereading. Now I understand much more what it’s about than I did then. Also I now get the biblical reference of the title. As the Old Testament people of Isreal became complacent and smug in human knowledge God allowed the calamity to befall them that led to the exile in Babylon. This story serves as a warning against allowing all of our knowledge to become our god. Really fits in with your recent post on the Battle of the Somme.

    • Doug,
      You mentioned this article to me back in January, when I was preaching on Daniel. So glad you did. I’d never heard of it.

      Andrew

      • Yes, I’m glad you wrote this post about it as that gave me the opportunity to read the story again. I now know why I had the vague memory of reading it all those years ago even though I didn’t remember the specifics. A very meaningful story.