The 1937 bombing of Guernica by the German Condor Legion was a massive PR offensive against the rest of Europe, and was part of the reason European countries were frightened into appeasing Hitler in the disastrous Munich Agreement of 1938. But the fascists played it both ways, creating controversy about who actually bombed Guernica that was only settled in the 1970s.
In fact, western opposition to the fascists was slow to develop. Many did not want to support communism. The little that Britain and France did to oppose the civil war ended up hurting the socialist side more than the fascist side. Both sides had their good points and bad points, which led to controversy that distracted the world from the real threat.
Here we are 70 years later, and I think there are some lessons to be learned as we consider the activities and aspirations of Iran. I am by no means supporting the idea of bombing Tehran or following George Bush-style "democracy" at the end of a gun. Nor am I suggesting that there's anyone in Iran who compares to Hitler. But I think there are some disturbing historical similarities and that we should forget for a moment whether we sympathise more with the Palestinians or Israelis, put aside our disgust and outrage at the US, and think in a clear and non-partisan way about what might be coming.
What might be coming is Iran. Iran has clearly-expressed territorial ambitions in the Middle East, and it sees the west as its enemy. How will it achieve its ends? Probably in some ways we can predict (such as an Iranian-backed coup in Egypt; the gradual, partly democratic take-over of Lebanon and Iraq; and increased support for terrorism against the west) and some we can't (something wholly unexpected like a deal with Turkey to take on the Kurds; or a deal with the UAE or Oman that would allow them to close the Persian Gulf). Iran is not now a superpower, but that would change quickly if it had nuclear weapons, control of the world oil supply, and the support of a large proportion of the world's billion-plus Arabs.
It would be foolish to underestimate the intelligence or determination of Iran. Iran is a large, stable parliamentary democracy (it's an Islamic theocratic republic, but it also has free elections and a parliament) with a millennia-old civilization and a history as a colonial power. Just this week Iran demonstrated its Thaqeb submarine-to-surface missile. Iran's Hoot torpedo travels four times faster than conventional torpedoes (223 mph), and its Shahab-3 missile can travel 1,200 miles and carry a nuclear warhead.
I hope that all this comes to nothing. I would very much like to live in a world where Iran was our ally and we all co-existed peacefully. However, there is a chance that a few years down the road we will be embroiled in World War III and it may have eerie similarities to WWII, with the Middle East taking the place of Europe and - who knows - Iran, Syria and North Korea taking the place of Germany, Italy and Japan. (An old joke goes, "Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean everybody's not out to get me." Just because the idiot George Bush called them the axis of evil doesn't mean they're not going to become just that.)
We need to keep our eyes open to the big picture. Also, we need to be a lot more careful about electing national leaders who will be up to the challenge of avoiding and possibly fighting a world war.