The Changing of the Seasons, part three: The German Autumn
The Power of We has its ugly side, too.
The protests of the late 60s weren't all flowers, beads, and peace, man! They could get ugly. Growing impatient due to a perceived lack of progress (or social change) of peaceful protest , and with authorities and governments cracking down (often violently) on peaceful protests, some groups of protesters took matters into their own hands.
Some groups, such as the Youth International Party ("Yippies"), resorted to civil disobedience, pranks, petty crime, and minor sabotage.
Other groups mobilized, grew more and more militant, got armed, radicalized, and attacked.
You've probably heard of such radical groups as the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Black Panthers. Many such groups existed or still exist, in some way shape, or form.
One that has always stood out for me was the Baader-Meinhof group, known by their formal name, the Red Army Faction. Apart from my love of all things German, I was originally drawn to study the RAF by the writings of the group's half-namesake, Ulrike Meinhof. While researching radical groups from the 1970s, I came across an article titled "The Urban Guerilla Concept", written by Meinhof and translated from the original in German.
I read the article. Then I re-read it. I was equally intrigued and horrified by what she had to say, what went through her head, how the group related (and responded) to their contemporaries in the "struggle". I was so intrigued that, when I heard that her book Everyone Talks About the Weather... We Don't had been released recently in English, I hopped the first bus downtown to pick it up.
The book was a fascinating read. It truly gave a sense of her (and later, the group's) reasons, motivations, and of the sociopolitical states of Germany(s) at the time. It was certainly a lot different from other radical texts I'd read, from the disturbing Anarchists Cookbook, the near-comedy of Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, and the hundreds of poorly written textfiles I'd gotten from BBSes and the net. These people were serious...
...and fucking scary.
I won't go into details as to the group's roots, motivations, and history (and those of its many offshoots and successor "generations"), suffice it to say, they were responsible for a wave of bank robberies, bombings, kidnappings, hostage-taking, and murder that lasted nearly thirty years. The RAF's activities peaked in the mid-70s with the deaths of its founding members and the subsequent events of the German Autumn, with less and less activity in the following years.
What truly frightened me was that, at one point, the group had the approval and (tacit) support of a quarter of the West German population for a few years, identifying with their struggle against Western (American) Imperialism.
Condoning death, destruction, and extrajudicial killing in the name of social and political change.
What change was wrought?
Was it positive change?
Did you win?
This is the ugly side of the Power of We.
(To be continued)