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The Return of the Red Army Faction By: Jacob Laksin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, February 28, 2007


The Cold War is back in a big way in Germany. The November passing of East German spymaster Markus Wolf has rekindled a debate over the sins of the communists, one that has been further stoked by the German film "Das Leben der Anderen" ("The Lives of Others") a devastating portrayal of the East German penitentiary state and the Stasi secret police that has just won an Oscar in the best foreign-film category. But perhaps the most bitter reminder of that unmissed era, and the source of a modern kulturkampf in the country, is the far-left terrorist group the Red Army Faction (RAF).

Like the American Weather Underground, the terrorist offshoot of the radical Students for a Democratic Society, the Red Army Faction fashioned itself as a revolutionary militia waging war against a “fascist” and illegitimate state. But where the Weather Underground largely failed to live up to its militant rhetoric -- the Weathermen’s best-known act of terror was self-inflicted, when three of its members accidentally blew themselves up in 1970 in the course of constructing homemade bombs -- the RAF was the real deal.

From its inception in 1970 until its rejection of violence in 1992, the RAF, a splinter of the Baader-Meinhof gang, waged a sporadic campaign of terror in social-democratic West Germany that targeted the alleged perpetrators of capitalist injustice and generally sowed chaos. Business leaders, bank presidents, diplomats, judges, as well as their entourage -- 34 in all -- were eventually murdered by the terrorist group.

It’s a history many Germans would just as soon forget. That’s difficult to do, however, when German authorities, to the vocal approval of the country’s intelligentsia, are bent on freeing its most notorious member. On February 12, a German court ruled that former RAF ringleader Brigitte Mohnhaupt, currently serving out a sentence of five life terms plus an additional fifteen years for her role in nine murders, would be released on March 26 on five-years probation. According to the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Mohnhaupt, dubbed “the most dangerous woman in Germany” by the tabloids, had previously been granted furloughs to leave prison, under guard, for occasional trips. Since 2000, she had apparently been granted three such trips per year.

If all this sounds impossibly lenient for a convicted murderer, the full story is even yet more disheartening. At no point during the 24 years Mohnhaupt has spent behind bars has she indicated any remorse over the deaths she helped plan and execute. On the contrary, Mohnhaupt remains the same faithful ideologue she was at the time of her arrest in 1982, ready as ever to fight -- if not, at a graying 57 years of age, to take up arms -- on behalf of the revolutionary cause. As she put it in a 1993 missive to comrades on the outside, her communist convictions remained an “inseparable” and “existential” part of her life.

No matter, German authorities say. Under Germany’s sentencing laws, Mohnhaupt is eligible for release. What better way to demonstrate the liberality and civic virtue of the state she has spent her life fighting than to set her free at the first opportunity? Crystallizing the elite consensus, German parliamentarian Dieter Wiefelspütz, a member of the leftwing Social Democratic Party, recently averred: “The constitutional state is not a vengeful state.”

Implicit in this view, a popular one in European capitals, is the notion that criminal punishment, even if imposed by a fair and transparent legal system and fully merited by a heinous crime, is itself a form of injustice. That this should have become conventional wisdom among the political and intellectual classes of modern Germany is ironic, since it is a close ideological cousin to the rallying cry of the RAF, which held that the institutions of free Germany were fundamentally repressive and hence inferior to the workers’ paradise of a Communist state. It’s enough to make one wonder if the RAF, which officially disbanded in 1998, was really defeated after all.

In fairness, there are those who have risen to protest the folly of freeing an unrepentant terrorist. Ludwig Zachert, the erstwhile head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, has noted that neither Mohnhaupt nor her prison mate and fellow RAF member Christian Klar, himself eligible for release in two years, “have ever turned their back on their past deeds, or distanced themselves from the murders they committed, let alone shown regret.”

Even more moving have been the appeals of the families of the RAF’s victims, who’ve called on Mohnhaupt to acknowledge her role in the murders for which she was convicted. If she must go free, they say, at least let her grant them the consolation of knowing, at last, who killed their loved ones. Thus far, their appeals have fallen on deaf years.

Arguably, Mohnhaupt’s release could not have come at a worse time. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the so-called “German autumn,” the campaign of kidnappings, assassinations, and bombings unleashed by the RAF in 1977. In one instance, the West German industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer was abducted and held for ransom. Executed in cold blood, his body was eventually found in the trunk of an abandoned car -- a grim memorial to the RAF’s savage handiwork.

Yet another RAF plot anticipated in terribly literal terms today’s de facto alliance between the anti-American Left and Middle Eastern terror. A joint operation with Palestinian terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, it involved the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner. A raid by an elite German counterterrorism unit, the GSG-9, succeeded in liberating the hostages and killing all but a single hijacker, but the damage was done. RAF violence had shocked and shaken the country. In his speech at the funeral of Hanns Martin Schleyer, then-president Walter Scheel called the months following his kidnapping “the worst in the history” of West Germany.

In each of these crimes, and others more brutal, Mohnhaupt had a hand. It is unhappy to reflect that three decades later, her debt to society unpaid, she will walk free, the ghosts of the Cold War trailing in her wake.

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Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine. His email is jlaksin -at- gmail.com


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