Howard Zinn, Stalinist

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The young Howard Zinn

In 2003, Howard Zinn was described as “the most influential historian in America.” As of that year, his book A People’s History of the United States was selling 128,000 copies annually; total sales have now topped two million. What a remarkable coup this was for Zinn, whose parents were working-class immigrants from Russia and Ukraine and whose father worked as a fruit peddler and ditch digger. Had Zinn’s parents not emigrated to America, any child of theirs would have grown up as a peasant under Communism. And if that child had grown up to be half as outspoken as Zinn, he’d soon have ended up either in the Gulag or in front of a firing squad. That the son of such a couple could end up as a prominent historian and a wealthy man is a tribute to the reality of the American dream.

zinnbookBut Zinn himself didn’t see it that way. Indeed, perhaps the best way to sum up his life goal is to say that he was out to destroy Americans’ belief in the American dream. For Zinn was a Communist. And he wasn’t just any Communist. He was a very active Communist who belonged to a New York branch of the Party and attended Party meetings five nights a week between around 1949 and 1953.

And that wasn’t all. He taught informal courses in Communism to other Communists. He participated in various Communist front groups, such as the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee and the International Workers Order, and in a number of Communist-infiltrated organizations, such as the American Veterans Committee. Although, as noted, he ceased being active in the Party during the 1950s, his political views remained the same, as evidenced by his enthusiasm for the Castro revolution in Cuba.

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One of Zinn’s heroes

As many observers have noted, the timing of Zinn’s involvement in the Party is interesting. He wasn’t one of those who joined the CPUSA in the 1920s or 30s, when ignorance was still a credible excuse and some of Stalin’s worst atrocities remained in the future. No, he joined up after the Ukraine famine, after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and after the USSR’s postwar occupation of Eastern Europe. By the time he signed up as an agent of the Kremlin, it was clear to any well-informed Westerner that Josef Stalin was a thoroughly evil piece of work, fully on a par with Hitler, and that the people living in the Soviet Union and its satellites were the helpless, terrorized subjects of a monstrous tyranny.

Zinn would later go on to become a prominent academic and a leader of the anti-Vietnam movement. We’ve already written here about his friendly wartime visit to Hanoi with Father Daniel Berrigan, a fellow Communist. But it wasn’t till A People’s History came out in 1980 that Zinn became famous.

We’ll get to that tomorrow.

The Red Mitford

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The Mitford family

In the last couple of days, we’ve examined the lives of Unity and Diana Mosley, the celebrated British sisters who became friends and fans of Adolf Hitler. Today we’ll look at their sister Jessica (1917-96), whose love of totalitarianism, unlike theirs, had a crimson tinge. In 1937, Jessica – known to intimates as “Decca” or “Dec” – eloped to Spain with her “wastrel” cousin Esmond Romilly, who had decided to join the International Brigade and fight for the Soviet-supported Republican side. Two years later Jessica and Esmond moved to America, indifferent to the looming war until Germany invaded their beloved Soviet Union, an act that inspired Romilly to join the Canadian Air Force. He was killed in action in 1941, after which Jessica found a government job in Washington and married her second husband, a “’Red’ labor lawyer” (to quote Christopher Hitchens) named Robert Treuhaft.

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Jessica with her second husband, Robert Treuhaft

Like Jessica, Treuhaft was a Communist. She became a U.S. citizen not because she loved America but so that she could join the Party and work towards America’s destruction. She and Treuhaft moved to Oakland, California, where they took part regularly in Party activities. They remained active CPUSA members for fifteen years, staying within the fold even after 1956, when the Soviets invaded Hungary and Nikita Khrushchev spelled out the horrific crimes against humanity that his predecessor, Josef Stalin, had committed in the name of the Revolution. Jessica (who defended the brutal Soviet incursion into Hungary as a means of preserving the “socialist system” against a “fascist coup”) had two children, but later admitted to a friend that she was so “preoccupied with CP politics when they were growing up” that “while I was v. fond of them, I didn’t pay too much attention to them when they were little.” 

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Josef Stalin

When she left the Party in 1958, it wasn’t because she’d recognized its ideology as evil, but because she felt it had become “rather drab and useless.” Her issue with the Party, then, wasn’t philosophical or moral, but aethetic and practical. (Perhaps the real problem was that Stalin had died in 1953, and, after giving Khrushchev a few years, she finally decided that he just didn’t provide her with the same delicious frisson.) Though she would later say that she could scarcely imagine “living in America in those days and not being a Party member,” she was far happier in America than she’d been in England, which she considered unbearably bleak. (One can only imagine how bleak she might’ve found the Soviet Union, if she’d been forced to actually live there under the system she served.)

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Jessica Mitford in her later years

Her grisly 1963 exposé of stateside funerary practices, The American Way of Death, made Jessica even more famous in America than she’d been as a glittering young thing back in Blighty. She went on to write many other well-received books. When the USSR collapsed, she expressed neither joy nor regret. As with her Nazi sisters Unity and Diana, her politics didn’t keep her from making famous friends – including, in her case, Maya Angelou (herself a longtime fellow traveler) and Washington Post publishers Philip and Katherine Graham.

Nor have her politics kept writers and journalists from treating her with more respect and admiration than some might think she deserves. We’ll conclude this survey of the Mitfords tomorrow with a brief look at this very subject – namely, the tendency of some biographers, memoirists, reviewers, and sundry scribblers to treat the Mitfords’ love of totalitarianism less as a moral outrage than as a curious personality quirk.  

Yet again, the Rosenbergs

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Just over a year ago we revisited the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as spies in 1953. Back then, their case attracted worldwide attention, both because of the seriousness of the charge – they had played a key role in delivering the secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union, an action that entirely altered the balance of power on planet Earth – and because they were a married couple with two children. More than a few Americans were eager to see them pay the ultimate price for what was, unquestionably, treason; others opposed their execution, either because of a defensible opposition to the death penalty, or to the idea of making orphans of two small boys, or, less justifiably, because they actually viewed the Rosenbergs’ crimes as insignificant, or believed them (despite all the evidence to the contrary) to be innocent, or even, in a great many cases, because they regarded Julius and Ethel as heroes precisely because they were secret agents for Stalin.

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Tony Kushner

The notion that the Rosenbergs were heroes – or, at least, that Ethel, the junior partner in the spy operation, could somehow be regarded as a heroine – was a major animating tenet of the American far left for many decades after the couple’s execution, and endures to this day. (In Angels in America, Tony Kushner turns Ethel into a veritable saint.) The notion has even survived the opening of archives that have provided absolute proof of the Rosenbergs’ activities on behalf of the Kremlin. In 2011, faced with this mounting evidence, one of the Rosenbergs’ sons, Robert Meeropol, broke down and acknowledged his father’s guilt, while reasserting his mother’s innocence; but at the same time he expressed pride in both of them, saying that they had “acted with integrity, courage and in furtherance of righteous ideals.” Needless to say, those ideals, as Rosenberg expert Ronald Radosh pointed out at the time, included “forced collectivization of the land, the murder of hundreds of thousands, [and] the establishment of the Gulag.”

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol (pictured, pink shirt) and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, (pictured, blue shirt) received a proclamation from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. Pictured, left to right: City Council member Mark Levine, City Council member Daniel Dromm, Robert Meeropol, Michael Meeropol and Gail Brewer. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.
The Meeropol brothers holding copies of the New York City Council proclamation lauding their mother

In October of last year, in yet another example of the continuing far-left compulsion to idealize one or both of the Rosenbergs, the New York City Council issued a proclamation honoring Ethel on what would have been her hundredth birthday, praising her “bravery,” and identifying her as a victim of “anti-Communist hysteria.” As we observed at the time, such actions are the work of people who “still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless ‘hysteria.’”

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E. L. Doctorow

Unsurprisingly, the same people on the far left who have persisted in viewing the Rosenbergs as heroes have also depicted the Rosenbergs’ sons as victims. And, yes, they were victims – of their parents’ fanatical devotion to an evil ideology. But the aim on the far left has always been to paint them as victims of a vengeful, heartless America, of “anti-Communist hysteria,” of anti-Semitism, and of other systematic societal ills purportedly afflicting the West. The most notable instance of this effort has been E. L. Doctorow‘s 1971 novel, The Book of Daniel, whose memory-haunted title character is based on the Meeropol boys; the novel’s manifest objective is to blame the young protagonist’s woes not on the boy’s Communist parents but on their capitalist executioners.

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The Meeropol brothers

The spin continues. On October 16, 60 Minutes broadcast a segment featuring both Rosenberg sons. The title, “Finding Refuge,” suited the segment’s angle: it was less an objective report on the facts of the Rosenberg case than yet another effort to whip up public sympathy for Michael and Robert Meeropol. The boys (who are now elderly men) admitted that after decades of insisting on their parents’ innocence, they finally came to accept that their father, at least, was a full-fledged spy. But this doesn’t bother them: as one of the sons said, he finds it “more palatable” to see his parents not as victims but as politically committed people who acted on their beliefs.

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Anderson Cooper

Now, pause for a moment and reflect on that statement. If the son of a couple of long-dead Nazis had spoken in this admiring way about their “commitment,” you can bet that Anderson Cooper would have responded on-camera by sharply challenging the idea that there could be anything “palatable” whatsoever about Nazism. But Cooper let that one pass by without a challenge, reminding us that while (of course) admiring Hitler is universally recognized as utterly appalling, in the corridors of Western media power it’s still considered acceptable to admire people for their unwavering dedication to Stalin.

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Ronald Radosh

During his interview with the Meeropol brothers, Cooper reminded them of what the judge in their parents’ case had said: “The Rosenbergs loved their cause more than their children.” Cooper characterized this as “a very cruel thing to say.” No; it was a plain and simple fact. As Radosh, who was also interviewed on the program, underscored, the U.S. government did not want to have to electrocute the Rosenbergs: it was trying to use the threat of execution to pressure them to provide information about their spy network. But they wouldn’t talk. Their loyalty to their comrades – to their fellow acolytes of Stalinist totalitarianism, and, of course, to Stalin himself – was greater than their loyalty to their children. That, not the judge’s statement, was the cruel element in this story. Plainly – and, perhaps, understandably – the Meeropol brothers are still unable to accept the terrible reality that their parents loved Stalin more than them. They still insist on seeing themselves as the victims of their parents’ executioners; in fact they are the victims of nothing other than the breathtaking power of useful stoogery.

Raising Kaine

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Tim Kaine

We have to admit that until Hillary Clinton chose him as her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia was not on our radar. Yet a look back at various articles about him over the years has helped mightily to bring him into focus. Our attention was drawn, in particular, to the story of his youthful sojourn in Honduras.

A 2005 profile in the Washington Post put it this way: “teaching at a fledgling Jesuit school in El Progreso gave his life direction, inspiring him to public service and rekindling his devotion to Catholicism.” In a 2010 CNN interview, Kaine told Candy Crowley that he “was at Harvard Law School and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.” So he “took a year off and worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras.”

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Their new book

New York Times article by Jason Horowitz that appeared this past September 2 focused entirely on Kaine’s Honduras episode. Headlined “In Honduras, a Spiritual and Political Awakening for Tim Kaine,” the article, in familiar Times fashion, painted America as the bad guy (“Around him, the United States-backed military dictatorship hunted Marxists and cracked down on the Catholic clergy for preaching empowerment to peasant farmers.”) and Kaine’s Jesuit friends, who were devotees of liberation theology, as heroes:

Honduran military leaders, American officials and even Pope John Paul II viewed liberation theology suspiciously, as dangerously injecting Marxist beliefs into religious teaching. But the strong social-justice message of liberation theology helped set Mr. Kaine on a left-veering career path in which he fought as a lawyer against housing discrimination, became a liberal mayor, and rose as a Spanish-speaking governor and senator with an enduring focus on Latin America.

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Ken Blackwell

An article by Ken Blackwell that appeared in The Hill on September 9 helped put the egregious Times spin into perspective. Blackwell – a former mayor of Cincinnati, Secretary of State of Ohio, and ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights – summed up liberation theology very succinctly: its advocates preached peace, but ran guns. As Blackwell noted, documents since uncovered in the Soviet and East German archives have made it clear that liberation theology was nothing more or less than a cynical Kremlin tool, its purpose being to undermine papal influence among the Latin American masses and thus render them more susceptible to Communist belief.

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Father Jim Carney, 1982

One champion of liberation theology was too radical even for the other members of the radical religious community to which he belonged in pro-Soviet Nicaragua. Blackwell identifies this radical priest as an American Jesuit named Father Jim Carney. This is the same man who, as the Times explained, was such a hero to Kaine that the future senator “hopped off a bus in northern Nicaragua, walked miles to Father Carney’s remote parish and spent a memorable evening listening to the priest describe ‘both getting pushed around by the military and getting pushed around by the church.’”

What, exactly, made Carney a hero to the likes of Kaine? The Times, eager as it was to paint a picture of a noble liberal politician whose conscience was forged amidst the religious conflicts of Reagan-era Central America, delicately avoided the uncomfortable details. Blackwell didn’t. He spelled out the hard facts:

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Jose Reyes Mata

In 1983, Carney was part of a 96-man unit that invaded Honduras to bring the Nicaraguan Communist revolution there too. The insurgents were Cuban and Nicaraguan trained and led by Jose Reyes Mata, Cuban-educated, and Honduras’ top Marxist. Reyes Mata had previously served with Che Guevara in Bolivia.

Lest it be forgotten exactly what kind of masters Carney was serving, let us point out that Nicaragua was governed at the time by the Sandinistas – a group founded by KGB man Carlos Fonseca and funded lavishly by the Kremlin, Castro, and East Germany. As Blackwell vividly explained, moreover, the insurgency in which Carney took part was ruthless:

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Carlos Fonseca

Some prisoners were executed by being hacked to death, or by being flayed alive. Others had family members sexually assaulted in front of them. By every measure, the atrocities the Sandinistas committed were far worse than the dictatorship they had replaced.

What blocked them from total victory was the Reagan administration and the Catholic Church.

This, then, was the man whom Kaine was determined to befriend – and whom he has continued, throughout his political career, to cite as a personal moral exemplar and spiritual guide.

Baader-Meinhof: The legacy

raflogoThe Baader Meinhof Group, also known as the Red Army Faction (RAF), officially disbanded in 1998, after many years of relative inactivity. But it has never really gone away.

We’ve already mentioned the massive scale of support that the group enjoyed in its day among young West Germans. RAF members were also, as Michael Burleigh has put it, “the darlings of Germany’s left-wing cultural elite.” Among those who defended them publicly were such internationally famous writers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Heinrich Böll. When RAF leaders Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader fled for a time to France and Italy, Tennessee Williams reportedly played host to them. Marianne Faithfull’s 1979 song “Broken English” was inspired by the group.  

Then there’s Brian Eno’s 1978 song “RAF,” which incorporates “sound elements from a Baader Meinhof ransom message made by public telephone at the time of the Lufthansa Flight 181 hijacking.” Adorable.

In more recent years RAF has not only been remembered in films (as we saw yesterday) but also celebrated in song and story – and T-shirt.

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The “Prada Meinhof” T-shirt

Aside from Che Guevara T-shirts, the “Prada Meinhof” T-shirt is perhaps the famous sartorial example of what has been called “terrorist chic.” A 2005 exhibit at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin drew widespread criticism. “The RAF’s terrorism is downplayed, if not even glorified,” Friedbert Pflueger, a member of the German Parliament, told the Washington Post after viewing the exhibit, adding that it made “no distinction between culprits and victims.” Another source has noted that “photographs of Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof’s suicides feature in New York’s Museum Of Modern Art’s permanent collection.” Ulrike Meinhof’s story, moreover, has figured in the work of Nobel Prize-winning authors Günter Grass and Elfriede Jelinek. 

If the RAF’s members were outraged that many former Nazis remained ensconced in the West German government of the 1970s, today’s Germans have reason to be outraged that their current cultural, media, and political elite is packed with people who, in their youth, cheered on the RAF. As a 2009 article observed, “many people from the protest movement went into German institutions as judges, lawyers, journalists and politicians, and…had far more impact than Baader-Meinhof’s violence.” 

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Bettina Röhl

In 2001, for example, Bettina Röhl unearthed an archival film clip in which Joschka Fischer, who at the time was German Foreign Minister, could be seen beating up a cop in 1973, when he belonged to a Marxist group called the Cleaning Brigade. Röhl also claimed to possess taped witness accounts attesting that Fischer, back in the 1970s, had been a leading figure among far-left militants in Frankfurt, had advocated the use of Molotov cocktails, and had led a gang of bullies “who would come in and beat up his opponents or anyone standing in his way.” Other sources, meanwhile, alleged that Fischer had hidden RAF terrorist Margrit Schiller in his flat.

BRU102 - 20021025 - BRUSSELS, BELGIUM : German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer pictured during a news conference prior to the second working session at the European Council building in Brussels, 25 October 2002, the second day of the European Summit of Heads of State and Government, due to prepare the financing of the enlargement. EPA PHOTO BELGA/ BENOIT DOPPAGNE
Joschka Fischer

But Fischer wasn’t alone. As Röhl put it, he was just one of many Germans of his generation who suffered from the “Baader-Meinhof complex” – meaning that they were “traumatised by the roles they played during the student demonstrations” and “horrified by the recognition that they enjoyed the violence and are somehow nostalgic for it.” Röhl noted that in an interview with her years earlier, Fischer had bragged about the non-violent activity of his youth, clearly wanting her had “to see him as a hero of the 70s.” Such, indeed, is the mentality of many members of today’s German establishment.  

Baader-Meinhof: The Stasi connection

The Baader-Meinhof Group, otherwise known as the Red Army Faction (RAF), represented itself as a small, independent group of heroes taking on not only West Germany but the entire American Empire. In fact – as has been increasingly well documented in the years since the fall of the Iron Curtain – they were far from independent.

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1981: bombing of Ramstein AF Base

After German reunification in 1990, massive East German archives were opened and discoveries began to be made. One of those discoveries, made in 1991, was that a 1981 RAF attack on a U.S. Army base, which included a failed attempt to kill U.S. General Frederick Kroesen, commander of American forces in Europe, was in fact a joint operation with Stasi, East Germany’s brutal secret police. Stasi officers, it turned out, had trained RAF members to use anti-tank grenades and had also supplied them with the grenades. Later information showed that the Stasi also trained RAF members responsible for the 1981 bombing of the U.S. air base at Ramstein, which wounded 17 people.

These revelations severely damaged the RAF’s reputation among its many West German fans. But they were just the beginning.

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Bettina Röhl

As we noted yesterday, one of Ulrike Meinhof‘s daughters, Bettina Röhl, went on to become a journalist herself – and a fierce critic of the RAF. Röhl, who was ten years old when Meinhof was captured and incarcerated, and fourteen when she committed suicide in prison, published a book in 2006 about the RAF that was sardonically entitled Making Communism Fun.

Among Röhl’s revelations, based on archival research, was that konkret, the far-left magazine that was published by her father and edited by her mother, was for many years wholly financed and directly controlled by the East German government. Far from being a free voice of dissent, in other words, it was, at least in the early 1960s, an out-and-out East German propaganda organ, and Röhl’s father was, in Bettina’s own words, a bought-and-paid-for “useful idiot” who accepted 40,000 deutsche marks per issue for following the Honecker regime’s orders. Later, Röhl was able to document the regular transfer of funds from the East German government to the RAF.

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1967: death of Benno Ohnesorg

In 2009, further archival studies forced a total rewrite of the event originally cited by the RAF as having triggered its founding. In 1967, the shooting by a police officer of university student Benno Ohnesorg at a demonstration against the visiting Shah of Iran outside the opera house in West Berlin had solidified young West German leftists’ hostility toward their government – and had intensified their belief that things were better on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The 2009 revelations, however, showed that Karl-Heinz Kurras, the cop who killed Ohnesorg, was in fact a Stasi spy and a member of the East German Communist Party. There’s no definitive evidence as to motive, but as at least one observer has pointed out, the likely reason for Ohnesorg’s murder is that “Kurras on his own or under orders from the Stasi decided to give the left wing a matryr to mobilize them.”

ARCHIV: Der angeklagte Rechtsextremist Horst Mahler wartet vor dem Landgericht Muenchen (Bayern) auf den Beginn seines Prozesses wegen Volksverhetzung (Foto vom 12.01.09). Der Rechtsextremist und fruehere NPD-Anwalt Horst Mahler ist vom Landgericht Muenchen wegen Volksverhetzung zu einer sechsjaehrigen Haftstrafe verurteilt worden. Der Vorsitzende Richter Martin Rieder begruendete am Mittwoch (25.02.09) das hohe Strafmass damit, dass der Angeklagte "voellig uneinsichtig und unbelehrbar" sei. Zudem koenne das umfangreiche Gestaendnis Mahlers zu Beginn der Verhandlung nicht strafmildernd gewertet werden, da er keinerlei Reue erkennen lasse. Zu seinen Gunsten koenne lediglich das Alter des 73-Jaehrigen angefuehrt werden. "Der Angeklagte ist sogar stolz auf seine Taten", sagte Rieder. (zu ddp-Text) Foto: Joerg Koch/ddp
Horst Mahler

In 2011, the Guardian reported that Horst Mahler, one of the RAF’s founders, had reportedly been a paid Stasi informant until 1970. (By the way, in what may be regarded as a reflection of the ideological confusions that marked most of the RAF’s high-profile members, Mahler later became a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier.)

Over the years, the picture has come ever more sharply into focus – and the role of the Stasi in the story of RAF has loomed larger and larger. It was, for example, the Stasi that smuggled RAF leaders Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader back into West Berlin after they’d spent some time laying low in France and Italy, waiting for things to cool down back home.

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A wanted poster showing RAF members

The Stasi’s involvement grew with the rise of the so-called second and third generation of the RAF, who came to the fore after the first generation were sent to prison (and the top names committed suicide). Thanks to Stasi training, this new wave of RAF members were able to carry out more professional-quality acts of terrorism. Many of these later RAF members eventually retired in East Germany, where they were given new identities and rewarded with lifestyles that ordinary East Germans could only dream about – only to be arrested, tried, and imprisoned after German reunification.

In short, it’s clear by now that the RAF was, when you come right down to it, a Stasi operation. But this aspect of the RAF story is still often overlooked – for example, in the 2008 German movie The Baader Meinhof Complex. We’ll get around to the movie tomorrow.

Theory into action: Baader-Meinhof’s depredations

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1968: Baader and Ensslin explode a department store in Frankfurt

All told, they’re considered to have been responsible for thirty-four deaths and scores of injuries. At their height in the 1970s, they bombed several U.S. Army installations, a police station, a judge’s car, the headquarters of the Alex Springer publishing house, and the West German embassy in Stockholm. They assassinated several bigwigs and, in doing so, also took the lives of a number of policemen, chauffeurs, and other bystanders. The worst year of all was 1977, when, during the so-called “German Autumn,” they murdered West Germany’s chief federal prosecutor, kidnapped and killed its leading industrialist, and, in collaboration with a Palestinian terrorist group, hijacked a Lufthansa commercial flight.

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1972: car bomb in Munich

Why did they do all of this? Much has been said and written about the impact of Nazism and the Holocaust upon the first postwar generation of West Germans. They felt rage at their parents for not standing up to Hitler. They felt guilt over the Nazi era, which they tried to relieve by casting America as the new fascist empire and themselves as its virtuous anti-fascist opponents. That they could look at the free countries of the West and see a continuation of Nazi tyranny, while looking with indifference, or even a degree of admiration, upon the truly tyrannical regimes just across the border in the Soviet bloc, is only a measure of just how twisted a psychological impact the shadow of Nazism had upon many young West Germans of the 1960s and 70s.

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1977: Federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback assassinated

But the members of the Baader-Meinhof Group, which called itself the Red Army Faction (RAF), weren’t content just to sit in their college dormitories, rant about the evils of America and capitalism and their parents’ generation, and attend the occasional far-left demo. They convinced themselves that the evils of America and its puppets in Bonn justified the most extreme kind of violence. After all, America was killing people in Vietnam. Many West German leaders were ex-Nazis. As far as the RAF was concerned, killing soldiers, bankers, jurists, executives, and police officers was a matter of an eye for an eye. Somehow it didn’t seem to occur to them that their view of these victims as subhumans deserving of coldblooded extinction was altogether too reminiscent of the Nazi ideology that they professed to despise.

Like many far-left European youths of their day, the RAF’s founders identified with obscure radical groups in distant corners of the globe. “Their role models,” as one observer has noted, “were the Tupamaros – the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional in Uruguay – which since the late 1960s had resorted to kidnappings and assassinations in its fight for social justice.”

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1978: Hanns-Martin Schleyer kidnapped and killed

Nobody played a greater role in formulating the RAF philosophy than Ulrike Meinhof. Prior to joining the group, Meinhof had been a prominent journalist and editor for a left-wing monthly, konkret, to which she contributed endless theoretical justifications for radical violence. She was, perhaps, the group’s most puzzling figure. Though an active member of West Germany’s illegal Communist Party, she also led a relatively bourgeois life, marrying Klaus Rainer Röhl, the publisher of konkret, and having twin daughters with him.

Not long after divorcing Röhl in 1968, however, she met various members of the RAF, and allowed herself to be drawn into a plot to spring Andreas Baader, who was then behind bars. As a credentialed writer, she managed to persuade a court to let Baader be escorted from his prison to an institute for social research where she could talk to him in connection with a book project. The two met up as planned, and three group operatives broke into the institute, shot a librarian, and left with Baader through a window. Meinhof, who had supposedly planned to stay behind and profess no involvement in the conspiracy, apparently changed her mind at the last minute, following her new confederates out the window.

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Klaus Rainer Röhl and Ulrike Meinhof

Although she sought to represent herself, in her countless articles, as a profound student of radical political theory who’d done a great deal of deep thinking about how to translate theory into practice – Meinhof seems to have been, at best, something of a flibbertigibbit. After leaping out that window, she phoned a friend to pick up her daughters at school. Later, she arranged to have them kidnapped and sent to a camp for Palestinian orphans, but the girls were rescued and returned to their father. One of Meinhof’s daughters, Bettina Röhl, grew up to be a journalist herself – and an uncompromising critic of her mother’s cockeyed ideology, terrorist activities, and horrible parenting. We’ll look into that tomorrow.