Sunday, January 29, 2012

Protesting the bad guys

On a warm August 13 night in 1970, I got it into my head that I really wanted to see how Germans do protests.  I had found my way to Berlin and had spent a couple of days soaking up the Cold War energy doing things like crossing the border at Checkpoint Charlie and visiting a tomb of an unknown soldier in East Berlin (trust me, there is nothing quite as attention-getting as German troops goose-stepping.)  East Germany was depressing beyond words and the Berlin Wall redefined ugly and stupid.  So when I heard there was going to be a demonstration against the Wall on its ninth anniversary, I hopped on the subway and got off at the station nearest to the announced protest site.

Within an hour, I had been gassed.  I had managed to attend more than my share of demos between 1968 and 1970 including several where gas was used but I had managed not to even get a smell of it.  In Berlin, I discovered this had mostly been dumb luck.  The police had decided the demo was over and anyone who was still around would be gassed.  They laid down a fog and the buildings kept it around long enough so everyone got a taste.

I took several hours to walk it off and I found myself in a bar with some young Germans who decided this careless Yank could use some help.  I soon discovered that Berlin could lay legitimate claim as the European center for the counterculture and that strategies for revolution were considered small talk.  Part of this was due to a ruling that allowed young men in Berlin an exemption from military service.  When my new comrades discovered that I had spent the first half of 1970 successfully applying for a conscientious objector status from my draft board, they decided to adopt me.  By that time, it was already too late to go back to the youth hostel so I followed them to a ratty apartment.

The conversation was soon butt-puckering intense because these guys were extraordinarily well-educated.  Most were informed by Marx but none had any illusions of how Marxism was actually being practiced two miles from their apartment.  As I listened to this intellectual tour de force conducted after midnight by some now seriously wasted young students in their second or third language, it dawned on me, "In Germany, even the hippies are serious."

Those young radicals never pulled off a revolution, but some of them would throw a major scare into the German establishment.  And the biggest scare would come from SERIOUS folks who called themselves the Baader Meinhof Faction.  Not surprisingly, these people were not especially interested in the theories of Gandhi.  These were the children of the folks who had made the Third Reich work.  They absolutely loathed their Nazi parents and had few compunctions about using terror and assassinations.  And because they were the children of the establishment, they knew who the bad guys were and where they lived and worked.  There are reasons why it took the rest of the world to beat Germany in the 1940s.  I discovered that night that the only thing more scary than Nazis are the children of Nazis who are utterly pissed off at their parents.

They made a pretty good movie about the most famous radicals of the era—Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader.  It came out in 2008 and was entitled The Baader Meinhof Complex.  Yes this is a movie, but it is a German movie about German historical events that many people actually know—so we can assume the history is mostly right.  The film starts with a demo against the Shah of Iran in Berlin that is set upon by both the German police and Savak thugs.  A West Berlin student Benno Ohnesorg was killed.  The protestors cried murder.  The police claimed "self-defense."  Some of the protestors came to the conclusion that the authorities were perfectly willing to murder them and that peaceful change had become impossible.  Soon the Red Army (Baader-Meinhof) Faction was born.  (One of the more interesting details about these radicals was that the big actors of RAF were Lutheran preacher's kids.  Gave me a minor rooting interest.)

So last Monday, Der Spiegel makes a claim that their new evidence shows that the protestors were right and that the police were lying.  This does not excuse everything the RAF did—far from it.  But it DOES validate their foundation story.

Of course, I could not have known any of that in August 1970.  But judging by their sophistication, my hosts that Berlin night probably knew a very great deal about the issues surrounding the underground war against the German establishment.  And since the German establishment had become very much a creature of the USA establishment, I knew what little I knew about RAF from news sources approved by CIA, State, and the Pentagon.  (Which means—less than nothing.)

We will probably see a lot of protests this spring.  People will get hurt.  And some people will come to the conclusion that peaceful change is impossible.  I would personally suggest that anyone who wants to try their hand at violence watch The Baader Meinhof Complex.  And as they watch try to remember, if the most serious young revolutionaries in post-war Europe could not make violence work, maybe it isn't a workable solution.

New Probe into 1967 Killing
Police Covered Up Truth Behind Infamous Student Shooting

The killing of West Berlin student Benno Ohnesorg by a police officer changed the course of German history by triggering the 1968 protests. Now research by prosecutors and by SPIEGEL has found that the fatal shot probably wasn't fired in self-defense -- and that the police covered up the truth.

The West German police covered up the truth behind the fatal shooting of a student in 1967 to protect the policeman who fired the shot that changed the course of German history, according to new investigation conducted by federal prosecutors and by SPIEGEL.

Benno Ohnesorg was shot dead on June 2, 1967 during a demonstration against the visiting Shah of Iran. The incident triggered the 1968 protest movement and was one of the causes that led to the left-wing terrorist campaign that dogged Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

New research indicates that the police officer who shot Ohnesorg, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was not acting in self-defense as he had said at the time. Kurras had insisted that he was being threatened by demonstrators brandishing knives.

A re-examination of film footage and news photos from that night, aided by modern image enhancement technology, has provided new insights into the case, though. One newsreel sequence shows a man calmly walking up to Ohnesorg with a pistol-shaped item in his hand. Investitators concluded: "The outlines suggest it was Kurras."

In addition, photos have come to light showing that Kurras's superior, Helmut Starke, was standing just a few metres away from Kurras shortly after the shooting happened in the courtyard of an apartment block in West Berlin. Starke had stated at the time that he had only seen Kurras well after the incident.

A further previously unknown photo shows Kurras resting his left hand on the shoulder of a police officer while firing with his right hand. The name of the colleague appears to have been kept out of the investigation files at the time. He was never questioned.

Three other police officers, who are believed to have carried on beating Ohnesorg even after he had been shot and lay dying, weren't questioned either. Their names remain unknown.

The most macabre cover-up happened at the city's Moabit hospital where doctors removed fragments of Ohnesorg's skull around the bullet wound and sewed the skin shut. The death certificate gave the following cause of death: "Skull injury through blunt force."

The doctor who issued the certificate told SPIEGEL that he "didn't do that based on my own conclusions but on orders from my boss at the time."

Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of parliament for the opposition Greens, said he was shocked by the findings. "It is worse than our worst suspicions at the time, our imagination didn't stretch that far," said Ströbele.

He added that there were "sufficient grounds for suspicion that the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg was a premeditated act with the intention to kill." more

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