Agent provocateur

The Economist reports:

THE death of Benno Ohnesorg stirred a whole movement of left-wing protest and violence. On June 2nd 1967 the newly wed student of literature joined a protest in West Berlin against the visiting shah of Iran. As he watched a commotion in the courtyard of a house into which police had chased some demonstrators, he was shot in the back of the head by a policeman, Karl-Heinz Kurras, who claimed he had been threatened by knife-wielding protesters.

This was a turning-point. In the eyes of many young Germans the state had unmasked itself as evil. Many joined what would become the 1968 student movement; some took up arms. “This fascist state wants to kill us all,” said Gudrun Ensslin, who went on to become a leader of the Red Army Faction terrorist group and died in prison in 1977.

Had she lived, she would be stunned to learn that Mr Kurras, now 81, had been a long-time agent of East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi. Historians trawling through the Stasi’s archives stumbled across 17 volumes chronicling Mr Kurras’s secret career.

I won’t shed a tear for the likes of Ensslin, who co-founded the Baader-Meinhof Gang (or Red Army Faction), Europe’s most infamous terrorist group. If one responds to the killing of an innocent by killing a lot more innocents, one had the makings of a terrorist all along. If not for this, something else would have have pushed her to become a terrorist.

But this is interesting, because this incident is a big part of the founding mythology of the Red Army Faction and other communist or anarchist groups. One, the June 2 Movement, is even named after it. This revelation puts that mythology in a substantially different light.

This concluding bit is odd, though:

The unmasking of Mr Kurras does not entitle Germans to pin the blame for Ohnesorg’s killing on East Germany. But it does remind them that the Stasi was at the heart of the regime’s nastiness.

It doesn’t? Why on earth not? It’s certainly in the nature of the Economist to try to be measured about everything, but come on. If the killing was done by a Stasi agent, it seems reasonable, even necessary, to pin it on the Stasi. If the Economist is saying that West Germany somehow facilitated the killing, they really ought to say how.

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