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Hindsight turns German militants into T-shirt icons

On the 25th anniversary of the terror-filled 'German Autumn,' its perpetrators permeate pop culture.

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They were Germany's homegrown terrorists of the 1970s and 80s, who kidnapped and killed prominent establishment figures in the name of left-wing idealism. During the so-called German Autumn of 1977, the campaign of militant violence by the Red Army Faction (RAF) – and West Germany's heavy-handed response – shocked and polarized the postwar generation.

But 25 years later, in a unified, confidently democratic Germany, those wounds are healing. A host of new movies, documentaries, novels, and pop culture take the RAF, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, as their subject. The reexamination of this turbulent phase has sparked a lively discussion about Germany's political culture.

Younger generation views the elder

"The Red Army Faction wasn't just a group of terrorists," says Joscha Schmierer, the former editor of a left-wing magazine and now an adviser in Germany's Foreign Ministry. "It was the extreme-most expression of a generation, and it marked a constituent phase of the Federal Republic."

Mr. Schmierer sees the upsurge in interest in the RAF and the German Autumn as healthy "historical curiosity," a way for younger generations – and former East Germans – to understand his generation.

The RAF emerged in West Germany in late 1960s as the militant wing of the student-led protest movement. The protesters took aim, above all, at their parents' generation, those who had participated in World War II. The student radicals charged that their elders had failed to take to heart the lessons of the past, and that the West German state preserved many of Nazi Germany's structures.

The Red Army Faction militants went a step further, as did like-minded groups in postwar Italy and Japan, branding the state as a reincarnation of its fascist predecessor. The only way to change it, they argued, was by overthrowing it through armed struggle.


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