Aust, Stefan. Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F.

Author:Michelsen, Niall
Position:Book review

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...

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