In 1965, on the cusp of the counterculture movement, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organized the first “teach-in” at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In contrast to a lecture or symposium, the teach-in was oriented towards action; indeed, SDS’s goal was to teach about Vietnam and organize students against the war. Remarkably, thousands attended the teach-in, yet this paled in comparison to the tens of thousands who turned up a few months later at Berkeley for an anti-war teach-in that included a range of intellectual luminaries, including Norman Mailer, I.F. Stone and Alan Watts.
In April 1937, Mussolini and Hitler’s air forces, in compact with Franco’s nationalists, began a bombing campaign against the Basque city of Guernica. The city had no military defenses and few soldiers; hundreds of civilians were killed or maimed in the assault. While the Basque civilians were horrified at the senseless aggression of the fascists, the rest of the world barely noticed. Rather, it took a generation of artists to take to their typewriters and paintbrushes to communicate the fascists’ war crimes to a callous world.
One of these artist happened to be the Spaniard Pablo Picasso, who was living and painting five hundred miles northeast, in Paris. His response was to paint “Guernica,” perhaps his most famous canvas, an abstract depiction of the agonizing death of Guernican civilians under the wrath of the bombers. So powerful and illustrative was the painting that it is rumored to have prompted a Nazi officer to arrive at Picasso’s doorstep in Paris and ask, “Did you paint this?” To which he responded, “No. You did.”