Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Godzillas of screechy self-righteous bitterness

Andrew Hammel at the always interesting and readable German Joys tackles the RAF...no, no, not the Battle of Britain version but rather the poster-friendly 1970s terrorist organisation (Wiki D/E) responsible for, among other things, the political tension and violence since referred to as the 'German Autumn' (D/E) some thirty years ago.

Andrew links to an interesting essay by Paul Hockenos. I need to spend some more time looking at it, but this passage immediately stood out:
For anyone who lived through the German Autumn, the images remain vivid: Schmidt’s grave television addresses to the nation; the “wanted” handbills with blurry black-and-white photos of the fugitives; the public spaces crawling with police; and the eerie high-tech maximum security Stammheim prison near Stuttgart, its seventh floor constructed specially for these political prisoners. The violence—part of a broader pattern in West Germany in the ’70s—shook the state and terrified ordinary Germans who had overwhelmingly backed the Schmidt government’s efforts to crush the militants and their networks. With the administration accused of illegal surveillance, torture, and murder, Germany’s young democracy, created from the ruins of the Third Reich, faced the deepest crisis of its existence.
I wasn't even in Germany then and was attending grade school in the American Midwest, but I can recall late 70s and early 80s news reports dealing with the group. 80s German politics (mainly via the Greens) played a formative role in my own development, and, there too, one always seemed to come up against the ghost of the RAF, and I swear that most of the arthouse German films I saw in college seemed to have something to do with that political milieu. Since I've lived here, I've been struck by how much alive that topic remains in the media, such as in award-winning films such as Volker Schlöndorff's Die Stille nach dem Schuss (the English title of which I have just discovered, to some dismay, is The Legend of Rita.)

In any case, though I need to spend more time with the article, I do agree with Andrew when he says the following:

The RAF itself is, as a subject of study, unedifying. Having spent some time researching them for a project, I came away feeling nothing but vague contempt for it, and complete mystification at the attention it still receives. Active RAF members fell, as near as I can tell, into two general groups: ruthless monomaniacs or deluded dupes. What united both camps was their second-rateness and insufferable pomposity. Their "manifestos" are dull and turgid; their personalities one-dimensional and unappealing. Once they began their RAF careers -- at the very latest -- most RAF cadres morphed into Godzillas of screechy self-righteous bitterness.
And they accomplished...well, nothing as far as I can tell.

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