Friday, July 08, 2005

Going Ahead with Life

My thoughts are still on the London bombings. Unlike the September 11th attacks on the United States and the Madrid bombings, I somehow expected some sort of attack on Britain. Maybe it was that film I saw on PBS about the terrorists who set off the dirty bombs in London. Or, perhaps it was that it seemed “logical”—if terrorists can be logical—that Britain, and especially London, would eventually be targeted, but I had this feeling the sooner or later something like the attack on the London would take place.

I take terrorism seriously. In one way or another, it has affected my life for over thirty years. About fifteen or so years ago I read a book by Walter Laquer entitled Origins of Terrorism. The reason and origins of my reading that book went back to events that took place some twenty or so years before.

When I was an army officer stationed in Germany in the early ‘70s, the terrorists called themselves “urban guerrillas.” We called them the "Baader-Meinhof Gang.” They were led by Andreas Baader, whom someone described as a juvenile delinquent who was addicted to violence. The other leader/namesake of the gang was Ulrike Meinhof', who helped Baader escape from police custody in 1970. Together with other gang members, they rampaged though the then West Germany and made my last months as an active duty army officer a kind of apprehensive hell.

That last year I was the S-2 (intelligence and security) of an armor battalion. One of the contacts I had was a Colonel Stahl of the West German police. As the bank robberies and bombing perpetrated by Baader-Meinhof continued through the early 1970s, he kept me updated on the attempted to capture these guerrillas. By the spring of 1972 I was aware that the German authorities were closing in on the gang. Thus, the shootout between the gang and German authorities that took place near Frankfurt on June 1 came as no surprise.

What did come as a surprise were the personal repercussions that shootout and the capture of Andreas Baader had on me and my family. With less than a month remaining in my tour in Germany, I learned from Colonel Stahl that the members of the Baader-Meinhof gang who remained at-large had threatened to kidnap and execute an American dependent every day until Baader was released from jail. To the best of my knowledge, that never happened; however, the threat created an alarm in my mind.

I was living with my wife and one-year-old son in a small and rather isolated German village a few kilometers from the U.S. base. The information regarding the threatened kidnapping of dependents was not openly known, although security around the base and in the housing areas was increased. My reasoning told me that, if dependents were to be objectives of the terrorists, the logical targets would be those living outside the areas where security was high, such as in rather isolated German villages. With less than a month remaining in Germany, I was unwilling to put my family at risk. Thus, we gave up our off-base apartment and moved on base into a single room at the officers’ club. That was crowded and uncomfortable living, but it was safe.

As I reflect on those days and on the acts of terrorism that have taken place during my lifetime, I realize how evil these terror campaigns are. That they come without warning and target the vulnerable and innocent creates a kind of intimidation that, if one dwells on it, can make life almost insufferable.

That brings me back to the London bombings. I think the British, especially after their experiences with IRA bombings, were well aware of the possibility that what did happen could happen. Yet, they appear to have gone ahead with life without being intimidated. I respect that. I also mourn for the dead and pray for the survivors. And I realize that for everyone living in this age, the intimidation of the unending threat of unexpected violence has become a terrible part of life.

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