Baader-Meinhof Complex: One person’s terrorist is another person’s revolutionary


As the wildfires continued to burn around Los Angeles today, I went to see the new film “The Baader-Meinhof Complex, ” and 2 1/2 hours later, I left the theater feeling a little bit sad. Once again, idealistic people tried to change the world, and much violence and suffering was the result. I used to romanticize the RAF (Red Army Faction) when I was younger, but I don’t think I can do that anymore. Well, I guess it’s complicated…

I’ve always been interested in that volatile period of German history. I admired people like Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof for taking a particularly German responsibility to fight against fascism and repressive regimes. I remember seeing the “Wanted” posters in Berlin post offices back in the early 90s, and feeling elated because many of the mug shots were of young people associated with the Baader-Meinhof group (also known as the RAF, which disbanded in 1998). They were still at large.

When I first read Stefan Aust’s book about the group, on which the film is based, I thought Ulrike Meinhof was kind of a stick in the mud to Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin’s sexy revolutionaries, but watching the story unfold on the screen now, I can see how the Baader-Meinhof group needed her cool, cerebral words to balance out their increasingly hot-headed and violent actions. Even though it was difficult for me to watch some of the scenes, I was glad to see that director Uli Edel did not shy away from the violence. Some claim that this film glorifies terrorism, but I disagree.

The film raises a lot of interesting questions about terrorism that are still very relevant in 2009. What draws people to terrorism? What situations create the ideal conditions for these groups? In hindsight, the Baader-Meinhof group seems actually quite naive. Author Aust makes an excellent point:

For me the whole struggle from the very beginning of my research was realizing that the RAF had a quasi-religious character more than a rational political character. To think that in Germany the masses would overthrow the capitalist system was completely irrational. I cannot believe that they really believed that. Rather, they acted like political or religious martyrs to show that the state was as brutal as they thought it was. It was an experiment with their own–and others’–lives.

I wonder if Ulrike Meinhof would have been better off staying behind her typewriter instead of picking up a gun? Gudrun Ensslin teased her about her “theoretical masturbation” at one point in the film, but what did their actions accomplish?

Is this why today’s youth are so action-less? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it’s the small decisions I make in my everyday life that carry more weight: the people I surround myself with, the food I put in my body, the places I spend my money, the way I choose to spend my time, who I work for, etc.

As the character Gudrun Ensslin says in the film, “Americans like to eat and shop” and this keeps us complacent. Personally, for me, not shopping is pretty revolutionary in 2009. What would happen if we all transformed ourselves from consumers to creators? Writing a poem or planting a garden can be a revolutionary gesture in this world.


~ by Valerie Palmer on September 3, 2009.

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