February 16, 2003

Fischer & Kelly

"More unsavory background on Joschka Fischer," is how this article has been described by practically everyone who has linked to it, usually without further comment. Actually, it's pretty much the same unsavory background summarized in Michael Kelly's cribbed-from-Berman column. The novelty is that here the story is retold by a former Soviet bloc spymaster, who actually participated in the Soviet funding and abetting of German New Left terrorism.

This funding and abetting certainly occurred. Some of the terrorist youth were witting "agents," some unwitting dupes; some were sincere, ideology-addled naifs who actually believed in the revolutionary rhetoric of "liberation" and were blind to the evil of turning idle theory into murderous practice; some were common criminals who piggy-backed onto The Movement, dressing their sociopathology in fashionable Marxist trappings; some were cast in the mold of Europe's more "traditional" psychopaths who, mutatis mutandis, just liked the idea of killing Jews. Many, many, more were idle, passive supporters of this dark, dark side of hip culture, those who would never dream of murdering any "pigs" themselves, but thought that those who would, or who spoke as if they would, or knew people who went to meetings with people who might, were kind of cool. 60s-radical violence, with or without the Marxist-critical veneer, had a kind of glamor, especially from a safe distance. (Vestiges of this have persisted long past their sell-by date, and remain a part of the current version of hip culture, to be sure: Che T-shirts, "Tania" posters, Manson fan clubs, Arafat shawls, "anarchist cookbooks," etc. And even as late as my own childhood in the late 70s in California, you could still hear people saying "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh," at nuclear freeze-type events. Nostalgia, I guess.)

With regard to this "outer ring" of the chic-ly radical, we're talking about very large numbers of people indeed, including most of the heavy-hitting intellectuals of the era whose names can still be remembered on the street today; including many who became our parents and teachers, journalists, politicians, even right wing columnists, even high-ranking government officials, even, perhaps, heads of state. Of the ones who were closer to the "inner ring," not all were terrorists. Sometimes, the line between terrorist and terrorist apologist or sympathizer can be hard to pin down.

Fischer's association with the inner ring of violent radicalism was closer than most, no doubt. He certainly moved in these circles, knew many of the radical-terrorists, shared their warped worldview and their anti-Americanism. He participated in the pointless "political" streetfighting, the more odious now, perhaps, that it's clear, even to many of the participants, how morally bankrupt was the "cause." He threw some rocks, beat up some cops, hung out with people who did far worse. Maybe he did far worse himself. The issue has been raised, the evidence is ambiguous, the charges denied, the verdict inconclusive. Was he an "indirect product" of the Soviet bloc's "anti-American intelligence community," as he is described by Ion Mihi Pacepa? Sure, in a way, like countless others, many of whom were not, in fact, "KGB agents."

His "record" is nothing to be proud of. Even if Fischer wasn't actually a terrorist, Michael Kelly's most pointed jab against him is still sharp: by Berman's more sympathetic account, it wasn't till the events at Entebbe that Fischer started to question whether he had been on the right side. This staggering moral blindness or obtuseness was one that he shared with thousands upon thousands of others, but that doesn't make it right. I'm no great fan of Joschka Fishcher, and I have no intention of defending him. The milieu from which he sprang, his past involvement or association with the worst of the worst, are appropriate subjects for scrutiny, and moral outrage. Yet it seems to me that in proffering this lurid background as an explanation for the German government's position on the Iraq question, conservative commentators are doing what they so often accuse "the Left" of doing: substituting sentiment for analysis. The moral outrage is satisfying, but that doesn't make it accurate. And, in fact, I don't think it's accurate. Economic interests, financial deals, electoral opportunism, cultural and personal vanity, all are much more plausible ways to account for the self-defeating German position. Anti-Americanism in Germany is powerful enough that Schroder can derive political benefits from pandering to it. It does owe something of its character to the anti-American traditions associated with the generation of '68, but as one of many factors in a general cultural phenomenon rather than as a result of the sinister machinations of a Bad Foreign Minister. This larger phenomenon is far more interesting and relevant than "more dirt on Fischer," and I'd love to see someone who knows something about the subject address it seriously.

So what's that theory again? In 2003, the German Foreign Minister, who may or may not have been a KGB agent, finally succeeded in building "a new anti-American Berlin-Paris-Moscow Axis" as he had been planning all along since taking office in 1998; and Germany opposes US aims in Iraq because his "ingrained anti-Americanism is now spreading throughout the German government." Yeah, that must be the reason.

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 16, 2003 12:00 PM | TrackBack