Aust, Stefan. Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Michelsen, Niall
Pub Date: 09/22/2010
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Fall-Winter, 2010 Source Volume: 85 Source Issue: 3-4
Topic: NamedWork: Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Bell, Anthea; Aust, Stefan
Accession Number: 247971694
Full Text: Aust, Stefan. Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F. trans, by Anthea Bell. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. xxi + 457 pages. Cloth, $29.95.

Baader-Meinhof chronicles the activities of this West German terrorist organization that officially existed from 1970 to 1998. The group gained international notoriety and attention with high-profile kidnappings and plane hijackings. The author presents a narrative history of the group and its dominant members (particularly Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, and Gudrun Ensslin), providing abbreviated political biographies of them before they turned to political violence. The bulk of the book is devoted to the period from 1970 to 1977, which covers the birth of the organization (later renamed the Red Army Faction) through the group suicide of its incarcerated leaders carried out in Stammheim Prison. Another narrative thread focuses on the group's interaction with the West German state. In the process, readers get rich accounts of hostage taking (and keeping) and of the West German approach to anti-terrorism.

Despite the book's title, the narrative is not filled with 'T' or "we" but is almost always in the voice of an outsider. The author knew many of the founders of Baader-Meinhof quite well as he traveled in the leftist circles of West Germany at the time. However, Aust is not the main character in the story; he relies on his knowledge and on extensive archival research, including an examination of the East German Stasi files, which became available to researchers after the Cold War ended, to fill in the missing pieces of the historical puzzle and to provide the reader with new glimpses into a secretive world. The narrative style is not given over to long discussions of ideological or psychological matters. Instead, the book is written in a manner that crosses Dragnet ("Just the facts ma'am") with a daily newspaper reporting style. The book carries the reader along a path which many will recognize dimly towards an end which is prefigured in the Preface. Chapters are typically a few pages long, making the reading experience pleasurable.

This book does not provide a detailed or systematic expose of Baader-Meinhof's underlying political philosophy; however, it does convey the essence of the group's political position. In its view, the West German government was complicit in the American War in Vietnam. That conflict, as they saw it, was immoral, and many innocent lives were being lost daily. The complicity of the West German government was a symptom of how a modem state could persist in such activities even in the glare of publicity and the vocal condemnation of domestic and foreign critics. The government's intransigence served as evidence that normal political measures would fail to end an immoral war and the loss of innocent lives. The decision to take violent action was seen as the only moral response to such immorality perpetrated by such an immovable object as the West German government.

While reading this book, this reviewer simultaneously read Lone Wolf, an account of U.S. terrorist Eric Rudolph, written by journalist Maryanne Vollers. The juxtaposition of these very different stories and narrative styles allowed this reviewer to conduct an armchair comparative analysis of sorts. What unites these disparate cases, it seems, is the deep political motivations behind their respective actions. Here one finds a disturbing truth that emerges from these pages and from similar accounts of modern and contemporary terrorism, namely, these acts, which are roundly condemned as immoral, are typically motivated by powerful moral arguments, which the perpetrators see as equivalent and opposite to the very immoral acts committed by their enemies. They see their acts as equivalent by claiming the fight to use violence in the pursuit of political goals, just as their state enemies. They further see their acts as opposite in that the state is immorally killing innocents while they are defending the innocent. And in their efforts to do so, they consciously recognize that their lives and freedom were very much at stake. This is coupled with a recognition that the perpetrators of these 'cowardly acts' understand that they are not likely to emerge from the struggle free or alive.

These observations raise troubling and immensely interesting questions for behavioral scientists and theorists alike: What is the moral act in the face of organized and persistent state immorality? Reading this book and other dispassionate accounts forces readers to move beyond the overly facile condemnations of 'cowardly acts' and into the more uncomfortable position of acknowledging the often sensible political positions animating the actors, without legitimizing their actions.

This book joins a small number of other works dedicated to the study of Baader-Meinhof since that terrorist organization emerged onto the world scene in the 1970s following its headline-grabbing acts. It also contributes to an understanding of West German politics during this period of the Cold War, and to the much larger field of terrorist studies. Its contribution will be valued by anyone wishing to perform a comparative analysis of terrorist organizations across time, location, and/or ideology.

Niall Michelsen, PhD

Associate Professor

Department of Political Science and Public Affairs

Western Carolina University

Cullowhee, North Carolina
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