Topic: Must Read
President Obama’s old pal Bill Ayers is a repulsive little toad, but we can be grateful for one thing. As a terrorist he was laughably incompetent.
Bill came to mind as I made my way through Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F. by Stefan Aust. And no, that’s not the Royal Air Force. It’s the Red Army Faction, the left-wing “urban guerrilla” group that terrorized West Germany from the late Sixties to the mid-Nineties. I remember them well from the news reports that flashed across the television screens back then. Unlike the feckless Weather Underground, these German terrorists became accomplished killers. Before the R.A.F. was finished, 34 people were dead at the hands of its members and probably three times that number had been injured more or less seriously.
But though the Rote Armee Fraktion (to give it its German name) was brutal, it was also banal. Reading Aust’s book, I was repeatedly struck by the intellectual coarseness and sterility of the R.A.F. Its members could scarcely open their mouths without coughing up great gobs of Marxist phlegm. Though they professed boundless love for “the masses,” Vietnamese peasants, etc., the R.A.F. cadres somehow lost the ability to regard people not merely as social types, but as as individuals. They were, it seems, quite sincere in their conviction that the German Federal Republic was a fascist state. R.A.F. terrorism was designed, indeed, to provoke the state into unmasking itself by responding with massive repression.
Once in prison (where, from an American perspective, they were treated with considerable forbearance) the leaders of the R.A.F. adopted the role of revolutionary martyrs—ludicrous in the circumstances. On the whole, these people—Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin and the rest—come across as thoroughly unpleasant narcissists. Among their weapons against the “fascist” state in whose custody they languished was the hunger strike. One of them, Holgar Meins, actually did manage to starve himself to death, thereby becoming a hero of the Revolution. (Needless to say, the weapon of the hunger strike had not been available to the victims of genuine fascism, e.g. the inmates of Nazi concentration camps.)
Dostoevsky would immediately have recognized the R.A.F. for what it was, for it was he who gave us one of the earliest portraits of destructive revolutionary nihilism, in The Devils. But to me, these terrorists’ worst fault was their humorlessness. This prevented them from appreciating an old joke that exposed the futility of their crusade: “In Germany there will never be a revolution, because in Germany revolutions are strictly forbidden.”
Stefan Aust, a journalist who knew Ulrike Meinhof and other R.A.F. principals, has written an riveting account of their bloody career. I recommend his book.