13 November 2008

The Baader-Meinhof Complex

I grew up in the 1970's, the era of the Red Brigades, the Japanese Red Army and the Red Army Faction. Growing up in Belfast, though, the news was dominated by the actions of our home-grown terrorists factions. Over the years the seemingly endless stream of television programmes and films about the violence in Northern Ireland generated outrage and anger and accusations of sympathy for terrorists.

The recent release of a German film telling the story of the Red Army Faction - the Baader-Meinhof Gang - has created a similar response here in Germany. Here is how Spiegel summarised the debate shortly after the film's release:
Amid accusations its makers are guilty of "hero worship" and glorifying murderous activists with "terrorist-chic," a new German film that recreates the dramatic history of 1970s terrorist gang the Red Army Faction (RAF), is becoming a lightning rod for impassioned protests from spouses and children of those killed by the group.
Not everyone is hostile. Jörg Schleyer, whose father was kidnapped and murdered, welcomed the film:
"You see how my father's chauffeur and another passenger in the car were just slaughtered," he said. "It hurt me to watch it but it is the only way to make clear to young people how brutal and bloodthirsty the RAF was at the time."
The unease the film has created is not surprising. 1977, the year Hanns-Martin Schleyer was kidnapped and murdered, is no so long ago. Who knows what sympathies many of the generation now in their 50's held thirty years ago when they were in their 20's.

Here's what Suddeutsche Zeitung (quoted in Spiegel) had to say thirty years on from Germany's 'Autumn of Terror' in 1977.
This RAF was a criminal product of the decay of '68 generation, who demanded an explanation from their parents, a guilty plea and atonement for the crimes of National Socialism. It grew out of a generation that wanted to reclaim moral integrity for itself. But with the kidnapping and murder of Schleyer, this integrity was perverted. The RAF shot Schleyer in a Gestapo- and SS-like manner. With the photos of the humiliated man…these fanatical moralists proved that they were self-righteous executioners.

The longer the hostage crisis lasted, the more bitterly those who saw these images fought alongside the victim - independently of one's political beliefs, age or generation.

In these images, you see the hubris of a few dozen people, who saw themselves as the violent executors of history who had declared war against the state. These photos did not unmask 'the System;' they exposed the RAF. They brought to a conclusive end the hidden warm sympathies felt for the RAF among parts of the left. Moreover, the Schleyer photos destroyed the self-righteous morality of the post-war generation; it froze the pose of arrogance.
English speaking viewers will get a chance to judge the merits of the film for themselves when it opens in the UK and Irleand (though not in Northern Ireland) tomorrow. There is also a trailer for the film on the website.

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