Televisionaries : The Red Army Faction Story 1963 – 1993
By Tom Vague
Televisionaries is a fascinating chronology of events surrounding the formation and activities of the Red Army Faction in Germany. The chronology begins by setting the formation of the RAF in the context of three events : the bombing by the US Air Force of South Vietnam in 1963 and North Vietnam in 1965; the visit of the Shah of Iran to Berlin in the summer of 1967; and the attempted assassination of Rudi Dutschke on April 11, 1968. Many of the principal figures in the RAF are not involved in violence at the start. Andreas Baader is a criminal, in jail for motor vehicle offences; while Ulrike Meinhof is a journalist for Konkret and is described by the author as “Germany’s answer to Julie Burchill”. On the occasion of the Shah’s visit to Berlin, Ulrike pens an Open Letter to Farah Diba which gives an indication of her style of writing :
You say “Summers are very hot in Iran, and like most Persians I and my family travel to the Persian Riviera on the Caspian Sea.” Like most Persians? Isn’t that somewhat exaggerated? Most Persians are peasants with an annual income of less than $100. And for most Persian women every second child dies of starvation, poverty and disease. And the children, too — those who knot carpets in their 14 hour day — do they too, most of them, travel to the Caspian Sea in Summer?
During the demonstration against the Shah on June 2, 1967 a student, Bennno Ohnesborg, was shot dead. Televisionaries delights in detail, and we are told not only the name of the policemen who fired the shot but even his pistol calibre (7.65mm). Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ennslin meet (“incidentally, Gudrun Ensslin is a descendent of Hegel”) and begin to plant bombs in department stores. At her trial for arson on October 4th 1968, Gudrun explains :
We have found that words are useless without action!
This perhaps provides an explicit statement as to why the individuals involved took to arms. They were either dissatisfied with political action, or simply not attracted to it. As the Concept of the Urban Guerrilla puts it : “He (the guerrilla) can make concrete the agitation and propaganda which remain the sum total of left-wing activity.”
On July 8th 1970, the “June 2 Movement” is formed. At the start of the 70s there is war between the RAF, June 2 Movement and the German State. On July 15th 1970 Petra Schelm is shot dead by Police; on October 22nd 1971, during a shoot-out in Hamburg, Norbert Schmid (a policeman) is shot dead. The chronology of events becomes ever bloodier. Baader explains his viewpoint in 1973 :
The gun livens things up. The colonialized European comes alive, not to the subject and problem of the violence of our circumstances, but because all armed actions subjects the force of circumstances to the force of events. I say our book should be entitled The Gun Speaks!
The force of events inevitably leads the members of the RAF to prison and trial. The circumstances of their trial and their imprisonment indicate how a liberal state reacts when faced with committed opponents it can barely comprehend. There seems to be little doubt that various forms of psychological torture were employed to break the prisoners, who responded with hunger strikes and disobedience. Eventually a “mass suicide” took place, the circumstances of which remain somewhat open to question.
The writer of the book has a grim humour informed by the punk culture of the 70s. He seems to take delight in the fact that one of the US Soldiers killed in Heidelberg in a RAF bombing was the victim of a Coca-Cola machine falling on top of him… Elsewhere, commenting on the banning of the film Bambule made by Ulrike, because of her part in springing Baader from imprisonment, he asks : “Who killed Bambule? This I take, milord, to be a reference to the Sex Pistols’ song Who Killed Bambi? Referring to the CCC armed group he states : “The group shook their country (albeit Belgium) to the foundations, only to have their logo ripped off by Sigue Sigue Sputnik!”
Whether one should find humour in wasted lives is a moral question I leave the reader to decide. Perhaps he does it to make a point about modern society. Certainly the only time the author seems critical of the RAF is when civilians are killed; he never considers whether such collateral damage is inevitable if one runs around shooting and bombing in a city. I could not decide whether the book was a parody of commercialistic values and pop culture, or a product of them. Either way it is a fascinating read…. definitely a book for the beach!