“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.