Mario Petri. Terrorismus und Staat: Versuch einer Definition des Terrorismusphänomens und Analyse zur Existenz einer strategischen Konzeption staatlicher Gegenmaßnahmen am Beispiel der Roten Armee Fraktion in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Munich: Martin Meidenbauer Verlag, 2007. 402 pp. EUR 49.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-89975-627-2.
Reviewed by Daniel E. Rogers (University of South Alabama)
Published on H-German (January, 2010)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
RAF Violence and State Response in Contemporary Germany
Specialists in German history will not find the appearance of another book on political violence in Germany since the 1970s surprising. In the new media, newspapers, talk shows, and museums the subject has recently received at least its fair share of public and scholarly attention. The violence perpetrated by the Red Army Faction (RAF) and similar leftist groups in order to achieve political ends is most often referred to collectively as "terrorism" or perhaps "terror." Our still inchoate historical discussion is too raw to have allowed much thought and reflection about our terminology. We have not yet begun to consider fully how our words say as much about us as they do about the events, forces, trends, and personalities our work seeks to describe. On one level, Mario Petri's book offers just such a first exploration.
Written in the discipline of political science, the work provides a lengthy explanation of terms and theories. The first section of the book thus presents a very helpful, readable introduction to such concepts as radicalism, extremism, and terrorism as seen in the light of contemporary political science. Petri's book further serves as a basic guide to the historical context into which the violence of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s erupted. While the thorough historical background section contains no surprises, it does serve to reinforce one of his main points: that the violence Petri describes, analyzes, and categorizes was sui generis, not least because it developed from a particular constellation of events and trends in the twenty years after World War II. Petri guides us through the Cold War, the development of NATO, the Vietnam War, the Grand Coalition of 1966-69, the "68 movement," generational conflict, countercultures, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, and the birth of the RAF in 1970.
The bulk of the second half of Petri's book is devoted to an exploration and analysis of state responses to the violence. Petri describes the goal of his work as "evaluating a previous form of anti-terrorism with regard to its progress and efficiency" (pp. 2-3). Later he adds that he wishes to determine if anti-terror measures proceeded from planning or as mere reactions to attacks. He analyzes in fine detail the advantages and disadvantages of new policies and laws, along with the steps and missteps of various state actors. Thus such well-known factors as the federal nature of Germany's police system, the concessions routinely granted to criminal defendants prior to RAF trials, data mining (the highly controversial "Rasterfahndung" pushed by Bundeskriminalamt chief Horst Herold), the use of human intelligence (informants), and the cutting of very generous plea bargains for those willing to name names (Kronzeugenregelung) are all brought together into an overarching analysis of the efficacy of the state's response.
As a political scientist rather than a historian, Petri feels at home not only analyzing the past, but also in making recommendations for the future. These include un-federalizing the police system to the extent necessary to respond to Islamicist violence, and recognizing that strategies that might have worked against the RAF may well be useless in a different context. His ultimate judgment on the state's response is that it was all too often ad hoc and reactive. The RAF may have failed, but not because the German state anticipated its next moves. It collapsed because it did not win any significant public following and ran out of hard-core self-styled urban guerrillas. The world it sought to change did not accommodate it or adjust to its members' demands. The rest of Germany coped as best it could until the RAF grew weary.
Petri's book is of manageable size, very readable, logically organized, and well researched. The bibliography of secondary and published primary sources is impressive; Bundesarchiv holdings were consulted for minutes of some government meetings and descriptions of procedures, for instance. But shortly after Petri completed his research much more become available, as the thirty-year exclusionary period on access to government documents lapsed. The Bundesarchiv has since made available millions of pages of government records from the later 1970s. While an interesting appendix contains primary texts mentioned in the book and transcripts of interviews conducted in researching it, Petri omits another essential item at the end: an index--not so much as even the slender Personenregister often found in place of a real index. As a result, it's harder to get an overview of his focus on prominent individuals, institutions, and concepts.
Petri writes from the perspective of many of us. He understands the problems against which the RAF rebelled, but he cannot accept violence. He avoids pejoratives in describing the RAF (he only once calls it the "Baader-Meinhof Group," avoiding the word "gang" [Bande], so common in English but such a clear political marker of liberal or conservative disgust with the RAF in contemporary Germany). He only rarely drifts into unnecessary sarcasm (for example, when referring to the GDR as "the workers' and peasants' state" [p. 289]). Thus, his book is a balanced and helpful resource for those seeking an introduction to the RAF's ideology and tactics, and to the state's halting and uneven responses.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Daniel E. Rogers. Review of Petri, Mario, Terrorismus und Staat: Versuch einer Definition des Terrorismusphänomens und Analyse zur Existenz einer strategischen Konzeption staatlicher Gegenmaßnahmen am Beispiel der Roten Armee Fraktion in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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