Sunday, May 24, 2009

Does this change anything?

In the last few months I have read a good deal about the much more frightening period of the international terrorist movement of the seventies. It all started with my seeing "The Baader-Meinhof Complex", an interesting but somewhat inadequate film, and writing about it for The Salisbury Review [full article in print only].

I re-read Jillian Becker's "Hitler's Children" and read Stephan Aust's account on which the film was based. At present I am reading Michael Burleigh's ground-breaking study of terrorism and culture, "Blood and Rage". Indeed, I am beginning to feel as if my life were filled with words about terrorists, terrorism and those who support both.

Going back to the German Red Army Faction, all those who remember anything about it will know that the violent protests, which eventually developed into the RAF were started by the shooting of a student, Benno Ohnesorg in West Berlin in 1967. He was demonstrating against the visit of the Shah of Iran (how that takes one back); there were serious clashes between demonstrators and supporters of the Shah; the police tried to control events and a police officer fired his gun as Ohnesorg rolled up on the ground trying to protect himself.

Karl-Heinz Kurras was tried for reckless manslaughter and acquitted for lack of evidence. To the overwrought students this proved that the state was out to get them. Among the most overwrought ones was Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader's girl-friend and one of the real organizers of the Red Army Faction.

The most likely explanation, it always seemed, was that Herr Kurras lost his head in the violent chaos that was going on. That may still be true.

However, there is some new evidence that adds an interesting twist to the story. It seems that Karl-Heinz Kurras was a Stasi agent, tasked with spying on the West German police. There is no evidence that he was ordered to kill Benno Ohnesorg or that he was ordered to kill anyone. But the outcome of his action was many years of fear and instability in West Germany and widespread sympathy for the enemy of the West, in this case East Germany. We are sill not rid of that incubus.

Would it have been any different if this information had been available at the time, asks Deutsche Welle. By definition, something like this cannot be known. More interestingly, will this piece of information change anything in our perception of what happened then?

More on the whole story and the unlikelihood of Kurras making a mistake at the time here.

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