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Bringing the War Home

Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies

Jeremy Varon
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 407
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  • Book Info
    Bringing the War Home
    Book Description:

    In this first comprehensive comparison of left-wing violence in the United States and West Germany, Jeremy Varon focuses on America's Weather Underground and Germany's Red Army Faction to consider how and why young, middle-class radicals in prosperous democratic societies turned to armed struggle in efforts to overthrow their states. Based on a wealth of primary material, ranging from interviews to FBI reports, this book reconstructs the motivation and ideology of violent organizations active during the 1960s and 1970s. Varon conveys the intense passions of the era--the heat of moral purpose, the depth of Utopian longing, the sense of danger and despair, and the exhilaration over temporary triumphs. Varon's compelling interpretation of the logic and limits of dissent in democratic societies provides striking insights into the role of militancy in contemporary protest movements and has wide implications for the United States' current "war on terrorism." Varon explores Weatherman and RAF's strong similarities and the reasons why radicals in different settings developed a shared set of values, languages, and strategies. Addressing the relationship of historical memory to political action, Varon demonstrates how Germany's fascist past influenced the brutal and escalating nature of the West German conflict in the 60s and 70s, as well as the reasons why left-wing violence dropped sharply in the United States during the 1970s.Bringing the War Homeis a fascinating account of why violence develops within social movements, how states can respond to radical dissent and forms of terror, how the rational and irrational can combine in political movements, and finally how moral outrage and militancy can play both constructive and destructive roles in efforts at social change.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93095-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Key Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    All over the world during the 1960s, movements led by the young radically challenged existing forms of political and cultural authority. With great optimism and energy, they attacked governments, militaries, institutions, ideologies, and common ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. The year 1968—that potent symbol of the 1960s as a whole—can be evoked by reciting the places where left-wing rebellion erupted with special force and drama: Paris, Prague, New York, Tokyo, Berlin, Saigon, Mexico City.¹

    New Leftists were not only implicitly united across national boundaries by their shared opposition to oppression, their commitment to democratic participation, and their...

  6. CHAPTER 1 “Agents of Necessity”: Weatherman, the Red Army Faction, and the Turn to Violence
    (pp. 20-73)

    To describe how one became a Weatherman, Bernardine Dohrn is reported to have said: “One day you’ll wake up and look out your window. And there, on your front lawn will be a great flaming W and you will know the time has come for you to be a WEATHERMAN!”¹ The initiation, in this account, was a moment of near-holy illumination. One did not so much choose to be a Weatherman as one was chosen by Weatherman.

    In May 1970, Ulrike Meinhof helped free Andreas Baader, imprisoned for an act of political arson, from a research institute in West Berlin....

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Importance of Being Militant: The Days of Rage and Their Critics
    (pp. 74-112)

    Until the Days of Rage, Weatherman existed primarily as an analysis, an impulse, a promise, and a threat. The group proclaimed action to be the great catalyst—the agony of the New Left and the riddle of imperialism solved. Violent confrontation in Chicago would overcome demoralization within the movement, greatly expand its base of support, and, most ambitiously, spark a second American revolution. With this exhortation to militancy, conveyed with a mix of heartfelt conviction and thuggish righteousness, Weatherman had aroused the curiosity, suspicion, and fear of the left and of those few within the mainstream conscious of its voice....

  8. CHAPTER 3 “Hearts and Minds”: The Antiwar Movement, Violence, and the Critical Mass
    (pp. 113-150)

    While Weatherman was attempting to fashion itself into a revolutionary vanguard by fighting in the streets and planning for sabotage, other activists were devoting their energies to the more immediate goal of ending the war in Vietnam through mass mobilization. Demonstrations in October and November of 1969 were the centerpieces of the antiwar movement’s fall strategy to show that the public had turned decisively against the war. Despite the desire of the organizers for unity around the message of peace, the demonstrations served as an occasion for intense debate among protesters over the nature of the war, strategies for ending...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Excesses and Limits of Revolutionary Violence
    (pp. 151-195)

    Following the Days of Rage and the antiwar demonstrations in Washington, notions of space—distance, height, location, and boundaries—defined the experience of the Weathermen. One Weatherman explained, “[W]e felt we had to be undaunted; if we ran into an obstruction, we had to leap over it or go around it; we could never just fall back.”¹ The group now sought to “bring the struggle to the next level” by inflicting “material damage” on America’s military-corporate apparatus. The transition from street fighting to bombing entailed more, though, than a tactical shift in an improbable war of liberation. Weatherman also intensified...

  10. Plates
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 5 Deadly Abstraction: The Red Army Faction and the Politics of Murder
    (pp. 196-253)

    Over the course of the 1970s, what turned out to be West Germany’s only war—that between the Federal Republic and self-styled “urban guerrillas” seeking its overthrow—grew dramatically in intensity. By 1976, the year the Weather Underground dissolved, the RAF’s leaders had been in prison for nearly four years. They were charged with bombings, attempted murders, and murders, stemming mostly from the 1972 “May Offensive,” in which the RAF targeted officials of the West German state and U.S. military personnel. Several dozen more members of the RAF and other guerrilla groups were in prison, accused or convicted of acts...

  12. CHAPTER 6 “Democratic Intolerance”: The Red Army Faction and the West German State
    (pp. 254-289)

    For the government of the Federal Republic, the RAF was an intolerable threat and had to be eliminated at all costs. This entailed laws that made support for terrorist organizations illegal and that prohibited speech thought to encourage violence; mobilization of great numbers of police; surveillance on a vast scale; harsh treatment of those suspected or convicted of violent acts; and restrictions on the RAF’s legal defense. These measures and the fierce antiterrorist rhetoric of politicians and the media created a climate of intense suspicion of dissidents in West Germany in the 1970s. What people remember about the era is...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 290-312)

    Jean-Paul Sartre described the animating spirit of the 1960s as the liberation of the sense of the possible, captured by the French students of May ’68 in the slogan “L’imagination au pouvoir.” Sartre credited the Vietnamese above all for this global emancipation of the imagination. He marveled, “Who would have thought that fourteen million peasants would be able to resist the greatest military and economic power on earth? And yet, this is what happened.”¹

    Radicals in the advanced industrial world drew inspiration from the Vietnamese in believing that revolution was possible in their own countries. To the Weatherwoman Naomi Jaffe,...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 313-360)
  15. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 361-374)
  16. Index
    (pp. 375-394)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 395-395)