Rebels to the Death
A definitive, updated history of West Germany’s depraved Baader-Meinhof terrorists. A BOOK REVIEW of "Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F.", by Stefan Aust. Review by JACOB LAKSIN
The Weather Underground, a leftist terrorist group from the 1970s, played a bit role in last fall’s presidential election through the association of unrepentant former Weatherman Bill Ayers with his fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama. That kind of connection would have come as no surprise in Germany, where the Weather Underground’s far more deadly counterpart, the Red Army Faction (RAF), also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, continues to cast a shadow over the country’s politics.
In 1985, German journalist Stefan Aust published the definitive book on the RAF, The Baader-Meinhof Complex. His book has since been turned into a successful feature film of the same name, which was nominated last year for a foreign-language Oscar and is slated for U.S. release this summer. Aust, a former editor of Der Spiegel, has now reissued his earlier work, changing the title to Baader-Meinhof and updating it with information that has come to light since the end of the RAF’s reign of terror in West Germany 30 years ago. The new edition deserves attention, and not just because Anthea Bell’s deft translation preserves the dynamic, detail-rich prose that made Aust’s original read like a real-life thriller. Dense with insights into the psychology of terrorism, this history of West Germany’s struggle against RAF radicals also serves as a cautionary tale for the West in its war against the modern threat of jihadist terror.
From the day of its founding in 1970, the Baader-Meinhof gang wasn’t what it appeared to be. Though Andreas Baader was the group’s leader (along with his lover-cum-comrade Gudrun Ensslin), the leftist journalist Ulrike Meinhof was always a secondary figure. Indeed, the RAF was something of a personality cult built around the volatile Baader. More sociopath than socialist, the speed- and LSD-addled Baader parlayed a troubled youth as a car thief and street hooligan into a career as the RAF’s “general,” leading the guerilla group on everything from combat training missions in Jordan under the tutelage of Palestinian terrorists to bombing raids on German department stores and police stations and U.S. military bases in Frankfurt and Heidelberg. An RAF slogan—“Madmen to arms!”—was as apt a description as any of Baader’s modus operandi.
The contrast with Meinhof was striking. Ten years Baader’s senior, the cerebral Meinhof hailed from a respectable middle-class family famous for producing Protestant theologians. She joined the RAF after her increasingly militant writings in the left-wing journal konkret led her to practice what she preached. But Meinhof was never fully accepted into the RAF’s senior command; Baader especially tormented her with accusations that she was a would-be class enemy and a “knife in the back” of the RAF. The abuse had its effect. In one of the RAF’s routine exercises in “self-criticism”—a Maoist practice in which members were expected to engage—Meinhof denounced herself as a “hypocritical bourgeois bitch.” Meinhof remained the RAF’s main ideologist, producing most of its political writings, but there was never any doubt about who was in charge.
Like its supposed dual leadership, the RAF’s revolutionary political agenda was something of a chimera. In theory at least, the group had come together to oppose the Vietnam War abroad and what it decried as the nascent police-state of West Germany at home. (This as opposed to the actual police state of communist East Germany, whose much-feared Stasi secret police aided and abetted the RAF.) The RAF’s solution was communist revolution, and the group peppered its aggressively unintelligible political manifestos with Marxist clichés about the evils of capitalism, “American imperialism,” and the “state oppression” of West Germany.
Yet, as Aust clearly shows, for Baader in particular and for the RAF generally, revolutionary politics were soon subordinated to the thrill of direct action. Whether it was stealing cars, committing countless bank robberies, or merely the adrenaline rush of being on the lam, the RAF found liberation in lawlessness. Even the group’s favored euphemisms—a bank heist became an “expropriation action”—could not disguise its criminality, which became an end in itself. It was no oversight that the RAF’s chief political manifesto, The Urban Guerilla Concept, had more to say about the urgency of fighting one’s enemies than what one should be fighting for. The RAF were rebels without a cause.
For many on the Left, that did not seem to matter. Thus the Nobel Prize-winning author Heinrich Böll defended the group as “desperate theoreticians” driven into a “corner” by the German authorities, and famously romanticized what he called the war of “six against 60 million” West Germans. Absurd on its face—it was the RAF that was terrorizing the West German state, not the other way around—this David-vs.-Goliath storyline was enthusiastically embraced by the young and politically naïve. In a famous 1971 poll, one in four West Germans under 30 admitted to “a certain sympathy” for the RAF. Germans of an older generation had fewer illusions. Nevertheless, guilt-ridden about Germany’s Nazi past, they were reluctant to condemn a group that styled itself, however improbably, as a resistance movement fighting the Third Reich’s political heir.
Ironically, the RAF had its most devastating impact only after it had been defeated. In 1972, the core leadership—including Baader, Ensslin, and Meinhof—was arrested in rapid succession. Imprisoned in Stuttgart’s Stammheim prison, they became instant symbols of resistance, inspiring followers in a way that their reader-proof political tracts never could. At the time of their arrest, the group reportedly had a few dozen members. By 1974, when the RAF existed only in prison, police were searching for some 10,000 RAF sympathizers.
It was this “second generation” of the RAF that was responsible for the worst period of violence in Germany’s postwar history: the so-called “German Autumn” of 1977, a 44-day terror spree that saw the kidnapping and subsequent murder of German Employers Association president Hans Martin Schleyer and the hijacking of a 91-passenger Lufthansa airliner by RAF-linked Palestinian terrorists. Aust reconstructs the events in vivid detail. For Germany, he writes, the fall of 1977 was the equivalent of the September 11 attacks.
In these parallels to today’s terrorism, Aust’s book seems as timely as when it was fist published. Over 30 years ago, West Germany anticipated many of the challenges facing democratic states as they confront terrorists who spurn the rules of war and exploit legal restraint for lethal ends. Long before American policymakers debated the merits of wireless wiretapping and coercive interrogations, German politicians deliberated whether it was going too far to bug the RAF in their prison cells and whether solitary confinement was a form of torture. West Germany’s experience offers some valuable lessons.
One is that, too often, excessive caution proved counterproductive. Kidnap victim Schleyer, for instance, might have been saved had police been allowed to search the Cologne apartment where he was being kept. For 11 days, police had suspected Apartment 104 as Schleyer’s likely location; one investigator even rang the doorbell. Bureaucratic timidity prevailed, however, and the required search warrant was never issued. Several weeks later, Schleyer’s lifeless body would turn up in France in the trunk of an abandoned Audi.
More assertive measures yielded results, especially the counter-terror program devised by Horst Herold, the unacknowledged hero of Aust’s book. Herold was a former public prosecutor from Nuremberg who became the chief of the Bundeskriminalamt, the German equivalent of the FBI, and almost singlehandedly brought down the RAF. His major contribution was to design a COMPSTAT-like computer program that recorded data on all aspects of RAF terrorism—names, dates, targets, escape routes, methods, car registrations, residences—and distributed it to regional police departments, ultimately allowing them to close in on the group.
Alas, Herold received little thanks for his efforts. Derided for creating a “Big Brother” monitoring system, he was forced into early retirement in 1981. Allegations that he presided over the creation of a “surveillance state” were overwrought even then, but they continue to be repeated today. Aust himself, in an unfortunate departure from his carefully objective approach, echoes the repellent claim that there was some moral equivalence between the RAF’s indiscriminate terrorism and the security services’ precisely targeted response to it. This is a rare lapse, however. Aust is anything but an admirer of the RAF—not least because the group targeted him for assassination after he helped return Meinhof’s children to her estranged husband. She had previously arranged for them to be raised in a Palestinian refugee camp.
The RAF died as violently as it began. On October 18, 1977, an elite German counter-terrorism unit stormed the hijacked Lufthansa airliner, freeing the passengers and ending any chance that Baader and his cohorts may have had of being released in exchange for the hostages. Later that day, what remained of the RAF leadership (Meinhof had earlier hanged herself in her cell) killed themselves in a prearranged suicide pact. It was a grimly fitting conclusion: a senseless act of destruction that foretold the tactics of the RAF’s Islamist successors. Three decades hence, no one has told that story better than Stefan Aust.
Why do my son's books tell him all men are useless?
Sitting on the sofa, with my four-year-old son Billy, I was reading aloud to him from a book by Anthony Browne. He's our favourite male children's author. We love reading together. For one thing, it's about bonding. My son asks me about the world and I try to explain it to him. It's a classic moment between father and son. This particular book is called Gorilla. It's about a girl called Hannah who is obsessed with gorillas and whose father takes no notice of her.
There he is, the awful man, introduced on page two, sitting at the breakfast table, hiding behind his newspaper. His daughter wants to talk to him, but he's not interested. He's there, physically, at the table. But in all other respects, he's absent. 'He didn't have time for anything,' writes the author Browne. On the next page, the father says: 'Not now. I'm busy. Maybe tomorrow.' And as I read this out to my son, he looked puzzled. 'Why?' he asked, gazing up towards me for an answer. 'I don't know,' I said.
Later, I considered my son's question in more detail. And I realised that it wasn't just some dads. It was lots of dads. Why? Why is the dad in Zoo, another book by Browne, about a family trip to the zoo, such an idiot? Not just an idiot, but a grumpy, overweight idiot who tries to make jokes, but is never funny and, what's more, is always on the verge of ruining things for everybody else. He's a greedy slob, just like Homer Simpson. He's more childish than his children, even though he has hair sprouting from his ears. Then there's the dad in Into The Forest, another book by this author. This one's about a dad who goes missing. He is clearly a weakling. He walks out of the family home and goes to stay with his mum.
A recent academic study confirmed that men - particularly fathers - are under-represented in almost all children's books. And when they do appear, like the fathers in Gorilla and Zoo, they are often withdrawn, or obsessed with themselves, or just utterly ineffectual.
Take our favourite female author, Julia Donaldson. I started with her most famous book, The Gruffalo. The Gruffalo is male and he's also a dad. His main characteristic is that he's an idiot. A complete fool. The butt of the book's jokes. He's outsmarted by a mouse. Actually, the mouse outsmarts various other animals, too - a fox, an owl and a snake. They're all male. But we never get to know if the mouse is male or female. The mouse is just a mouse. Again, I thought of my son's question. Why? Why are so many male characters in books such idiots?
I don't think Julia Donaldson is a male-basher. But still, a gentle thread of male idiocy runs through her books. Two of our favourites are The Snail And The Whale and Tiddler. Both are about adventurous young creatures. The snail travels the world on the back of a whale, and is smart and resourceful at every point. Tiddler, a little fish, also has adventures. But this fish is a bit of a dreamer and eventually gets caught up in a trawler net. Tiddler is lucky to escape. Whereas the snail calls the shots and ends up saving the whale's life. And guess what? The snail is female. And Tiddler is, of course, a guy.
As the penny dropped, I looked at all the other books I've been reading to my son. There's The Selfish Crocodile, by Faustin Charles and Michael Terry. It's about a male crocodile who wants everything for himself, thereby ruining the lives of all the other animals in the jungle. And, then, there's Giraffes Can't Dance, in which a giraffe called Gerald tries to dance and looks like a total idiot.
And something else began to strike me as I looked at these stories - the stories I use to introduce my son to the ways of the world. Not only were they full of bad male stereotypes - deadbeat dads, absent fathers, idiots, wimps and fools - but I have been totally colluding with them. It didn't bother me at all. Until I started to think about it, it had seemed normal to me.
What are men like? Dumb. I just accepted it. For instance, in another of our favourites, Benedict Blathwayt's The Runaway Train, the driver is called Duffy. And what does he do? He gets out of the train, forgetting to put the brake on, and the train rolls off without him. A driverless train - what a powerful symbol of male inadequacy! Yet this seems quite normal. We sit on the sofa and laugh.
'Why does Duffy forget the brake?' my son asked me. Why? Stories require fall-guys. They need some people to be malign or foolish or weak. And it just so happens that these people, in these stories, are male. It just so happens that it wouldn't seem right, to me, if these malign, foolish or weak people were female. Somehow, they have to be male. And symbols of male inadequacy are so deeply embedded in other parts of our culture. So much so, in fact, that nobody notices it any more.
For years, I've laughed at hopeless Homer Simpson and his dangerous son Bart, and the attempts of the female characters in the family to clean up after them. For years I've accepted that Wally, in the Where's Wally? books, is, in fact, a bit of a wally. That's the point of him, surely? And it never mattered to me that the one thing that defines Tinky Winky, the only identifiable male in the Teletubbies, is his general ineffectuality. And it's also never bothered me that Iggle Piggle, in another children's TV programme In The Night Garden, seems like a drunk, and that most of the Mr Men are deeply inadequate.
Why had this never bothered me? Because it's all around us, everywhere we look. For years, men in our stories - not just for children, but adults, too - have been losing their authority. Not just years - decades. It's crept up on us and now it's everywhere. Remember when movie stars were strong and decisive? That was a long time ago now: John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn. Then came a new, softer type - Cary Grant and James Stewart were strong, yes, but against a background of self-doubt. And then came Jack Lemmon, Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, Bill Murray, Kevin Spacey - neurotic, bumbling, deeply flawed anti-heroes.
Think of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. The deadbeat dad, smoking dope in the garage because he can't take the pressure of family life. For a long time now, something has been happening to the way we portray men. And wherever you look, things seem to be getting worse for guys. In a survey of 1,000 TV adverts, made by writer Frederic Hayward, he points out that: '100 per cent of the jerks singled out in male-female relationships were male.'
So does this mean that there is something wrong with the way we portray men? Or - much more seriously - is there some deep trouble with men themselves? I can't bear to have that thought. Can you? Yet that's certainly what our culture seems to be telling us. And it's what certain feminist writers seem to be telling us, too.
Take the American writer Susan Faludi. In her book Stiffed, she says that men have lost something essential to their self-esteem - their role as hunters and frontiersmen. For the past 100 years or so, male qualities, she says, have been getting less and less important. These days, in our safe, modern, information-based society, we don't need the classic male qualities of brute strength and aggression. We don't need people flexing their muscles and jutting their chins out. No, what we need are female qualities, such as empathy and multi-tasking. And this, Faludi suggests, is having a weird effect on lots of men. She writes about gangs of violent male teenagers, and sad, gung-ho sports fans, and the cult of bodybuilding. She says that men feel betrayed by modern society, that men, as a group, are facing a crisis. That men are essentially falling apart.
But is this something I should be telling my son? That men are useless and getting more useless? When I first read Faludi's argument, part of me did not want to accept it. I even wrote an article saying she was wrong. The reason that men were being portrayed as idiots and losers, I said, was because they were strong - and they could take it. You wouldn't mock a woman, as it would be offensive. Men could cope. Men, as a group, were not falling apart. They were fine. Fine, I tell you!
I'm not sure if I believed this argument of mine. But it made me feel good. Anyway, I thought, men can't be falling apart. If they were, surely they would try to do something about it. Surely they would say something. But then I read work by another American writer, Warren Farrell, who made rather a chilling point. When men feel powerless, he said, they don't talk about it. That's because they're men. For men, showing weakness is a no-no. Men have fragile egos, but they are programmed not to talk about it.
Sure, twice as many women are diagnosed with depression as men. But this is partly because lots of men won't admit to being depressed. Often, they try to deal with the situation on their own. By boozing. By brooding. By walking away. By disappearing behind the newspaper at the breakfast table. But is this something I should be explaining to my son? That men, who hunted for millennia while women gathered, are now, slowly but surely, becoming redundant?
Of course, I could read him stories featuring another of his favourites - Bob The Builder. I say his favourite, and not mine, as I don't like Bob much. Bob is so essentially male he might as well be a machine, like Trevor The Tractor. Bob and Trevor have almost no personality - they are automata.
This "American Freedom Thing" Makes People Uncomfortable
American freedom is spiraling out of control, and it needs to be reigned-in. Right?
I don’t know any American who would actually say such a thing - at least not in so many words. But far too many Americans have succumbed to a certain “sickness” these days. It’s the perverse notion that their lives will be improved, and that they will be made to “feel better,” when the freedom of other American individuals and groups is diminished. This nonsense not only makes for some nasty politics, but is also shaping the ways in which many Americans view the world around them...
Our current President ran an incredibly successful campaign, driven in no small part by his promises of punishing certain groups of Americans. “Rich people,” “overpaid corporate executives,” “the oil companies,” and “pharmaceutical manufacturers” were all targets of Barack Obama’s vicious attacks.
And his message to the rest of us about these select groups of Americans was clear: I’ll make your life better, by constraining their freedom - - making “rich people” less free to create and possess wealth, making companies less free to produce a profit, limiting how much an individual can earn at their job, and so forth. These ideas make for absurd economic policy, in that no President, not even dear leader Barack, can simply re-distribute the nation into prosperity - at some point, somebody has to actually “produce wealth.” But as political rhetoric, it resonates, which means that at least some Americans really like the idea of taking away other people’s freedom.
In my current hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, there is further evidence of this sickness. After the irrational run-up in Phoenix area real estate prices earlier this decade, followed by the devastating foreclosure crash over the past 18 months, homes in Phoenix are finally starting to sell again. But one of the challenges facing realtors and buyers is what to do with the “damaged” foreclosures.
It’s a bit of an epidemic. Americans, living in Arizona, who, upon losing their otherwise nice, suburban house, on their way out the door go about breaking all the windows, stealing hardware and appliances, and in some instances - - just to “get even,” I suppose - - urinating and defecating on carpets, and burning walls and cabinetry with matches and lighters. Once again, evidence of “the sickness” presents itself - -“I’ll feel better by restricting somebody else’s freedom” - in this case, the next owner’s freedom to enjoy the house.
The sickness also impacts the ways in which some Americans view the world. While hosting talk radio at Phoenix, Arizona’s Newstalk 92-3 KTAR, I spoke last Friday about Recording Artist Tyrese Gibson’s absurd performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA playoff game the night before. Where the lyric reads “the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there..,” Gibson sang “..that our Lakers were still there..” It was disrespectful, it was nonsensical, and I said as much on the show.
But talk show caller Darren, an Army veteran, declared that he fought for “everything that flag represents” - and then explained that Gibson should be “imprisoned for six months” for his stupidity. “When you were in the Army, were you protecting and upholding the U.S. Constitution?” I asked. “Of course I was” Darren explained.
“Did that include the First Amendment, or did you leave that one out?” I asked. After a few more seconds of discussion, I thanked Darren for his service in the Army, and assured him that constraining somebody else’s First Amendment rights - - even if that person is “an idiot” - - does NOT make his life any better. Americans need to become “okay” with freedom again - - not only their own freedom, but that of their fellow Americans.
Barack Obama is blind to his blunders over Islam
The new President's approach discourages change in Middle Eastern countries that need it most
By Amir Taheri
For the past week or so, the Middle East has been abuzz with speculation about Barack Obama's “historic address to the Muslim world” to be delivered in Cairo on Thursday. During his presidential campaign, Obama had promised to make such a move within his first 100 days at the White House.
In the event, the first 100 days came and went without Obama delivering on his promise. Nevertheless, he granted his first interview as President to Saudi television and, later, made a speech at the Turkish parliament in Ankara. On both occasions he highlighted the Islamic element of his background and solemnly declared that the “United States is not and will never be at war with Islam”.
Obama has aroused more curiosity in the Middle East than any previous US leader, partly because of his Arabic-Islamic first and middle names. The choice of the date for Obama's address indicates his attention to detail. It coincides with the anniversary of the start of the first battle between Islam, under Prophet Muhammad, and Christendom in the shape of a Byzantine expeditionary force in AD629. The “address to Islam” also marks the 30th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini's demise and the appointment of Ali Khamenei as the new “Supreme Guide of the Islamic ummah”. More importantly, it also coincides with the rebuilding of the Ka'abah, the stone at the heart of Mecca, which had been destroyed in a Muslim civil war.
Rich in symbolism, Obama's “address to Islam” is also full of political implications. Obama is the first major Western leader, after Bonaparte, to address Islam as a single bloc, thus adopting the traditional Islamic narrative of dividing the world according to religious beliefs. This ignores the rich and conflict-ridden diversity of the 57 Muslim-majority nations and fosters the illusion, peddled by people such as Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Islam is one and indivisible and should, one day, unite under a caliphate.
By adopting the key element of the Islamist narrative, that is to say the division of humanity into religious blocs, Mr Obama also intends to send a signal to the Middle East's nascent democratic forces that Washington is abandoning with a vengeance George W. Bush's “freedom agenda”.
Mr Bush's analysis had been simple, or as Mr Obama suggests, simplistic: the 9/11 attacks were the result of decades of US support for repressive regimes in the Middle East that had produced closed systems in which terror thrived. In an address to university students in Cairo in 2005, Condoleezza Rice explained the “Bush doctrine” in these terms: “For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East - and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course.”
That different course transformed the US from a supporter of the status quo to an active agent for change - including the use of force to remove two obnoxious regimes in Kabul and Baghdad. It also coerced traditional Arab states to adopt constitutions, hold elections, grant women the vote, ease pressure on the media, and allow greater space for debate and dissent.
Mr Obama has started scrapping that policy in the name of “political realism”, the currently fashionable phrase in Washington. The “political realist” school could also be called the “let them stew in their juices” school. It argues that Arabs, and other Muslims, are not ready for democracy and may not even like it if they encountered it. Rather than trying to shock “traditional societies” out of their sleep of centuries, Western powers, especially America, should try to maintain stability.
In her recent visit to Cairo to prepare for Mr Obama's visit, his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made no mention of human rights, democratisation and good governance. Vice-President Biden's visit to Lebanon, where a crucial election is due on June 7, was designed to hammer home a similar message: Mr Obama is more interested in the country's stability than the victory of democratic forces.
The problem is that the status quo in the Middle East was and remains unstable. Sixty years of “political realist” support for the regimes in the region produced five Arab-Israel wars, civil wars in Lebanon and Yemen, military coups d'état in eight Arab countries, the Islamic revolution in Iran, and two wars between US-led international coalitions and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
Richard Nixon tried to promote a new architecture of stability aimed at helping Washington's regional allies to maintain the status quo. Ultimately, this Nixon doctrine also failed because it ignored the region's explosive desire for change.
Is Mr Obama similarly hoping to build a bloc of Arab states led by Egypt and supported by Turkey and Israel? Or, as some Arabs fear, is he reaching out to Iran to resume its position as “the local gendarme”? The policy of “engaging Iran” cannot exclude a regional leadership position for the Khomeinist regime.
In trying to prove that he is not George Bush, Barack Obama has committed big mistakes on key issues of foreign policy. His Cairo address, and his “one-size-fits-all” Islam policy, is just the latest. It encourages Islamists and ruling despots, discourages the forces of reform and change and, ultimately, could produce greater resentment of the United States among peoples thirsting for freedom, human rights and decent governance.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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