MunichAs nine more lives are added to an obscenely high European body-count courtesy of another angry young man dangerously detached from the empathetic interaction that enables civilised societies to function, it’s worth remembering Europe has been here before. That yesterday’s atrocity in Munich should have been carried out on the fifth anniversary of Andres Breivik’s chilling slaughter of 77 innocent people in Norway may imply this is all a recent development stretching back not much more than a decade. Granted, it’s certainly a barbaric new phase in the story; yet, while motivation, mission and cause may differ, even the location of the latest in 2016’s roll-call of indiscriminate assassinations already has, of course, a prominent blood-stained blot on its post-war history.

Forty-odd years on, it’s easy to forget those small groups of anarchists that sprang from the turbulent political maelstrom of 1968, those graduates and beneficiaries of expanding educational opportunities in an increasingly affluent Europe; whilst some simply settled for university sit-ins, placard-waving demos or forming idiosyncratic prog-rock bands, others crossed a line that carried them beyond the paramilitary pale. Prominent members of The Baader-Meinhof Gang (or Red Army Faction), ETA and the Red Brigades were the children of German Nazis and Spanish and Italian Fascists, taking the traditional rebellion against their parents to a gruesome new level. Confronted by ruling elites still containing veterans of the discredited regimes that had plunged the world into global conflict thirty years before, they viewed the post-war Western European democracies as a sham and embarked upon campaigns of terror that spanned the 70s.

But all were usurped by an outside organisation, Black September, a Palestinian group whose most infamous moment came with the massacre that marred the Munich Olympics of 1972.

Although it was effectively an isolated incident on European soil that had no parallel for decades, what the Black September group managed in 1972, taking eleven Israeli athletes hostage and eventually murdering them in the middle of the Olympic Games, an event that was supposed to show the world how far Germany had come since 1945, was something new. The world was watching and Black September were acutely aware of that. Although they were secular nationalists and religion had no real part to play in the atrocity they executed, they exploited media attention to their advantage in ways that subsequent terrorist groups where religion is employed as a cause have learned from.

Black September were far more organised and far more ambitious than their European contemporaries, becoming expert in the hijacking of aircraft in particular; indeed, they continued to perpetrate such attacks long after the likes of the Baader-Meinhof Gang had been imprisoned and/or killed. Whilst all this was going on in mainland Europe, Britain had its own terrorist problem in the shape of the IRA; whilst sharing little in terms of motivation with their continental comrades-in-illegal arms, the impact of the IRA on 70s Britain ran parallel with events in West Germany, Italy and Spain, giving the impression that Europe as a whole was at war with itself. The authorities responded to the new professionalism of terrorism by forming anti-terrorist agencies that specified in the unprecedented challenges facing the continent; one positive outcome was that countries confronted by these challenges co-operated to keep the anarchy under control, arguably cementing European unity with greater effectiveness than the Common Market and EU ever have.

While the more concise and focused demands of ETA and the IRA had an eternal attraction to some that made it possible for their ranks to constantly regenerate when death and imprisonment robbed them of long-term leaders, their 70s contemporaries seemed to belong to a particular post-war moment that burned itself out. However, having a mere two dominant terrorist organisations to lock horns with and then eventually neutralising their threat may have made the agencies formed to combat them quite complacent in other areas.

Just as the end of the Cold War provoked a false sense of international security, the respective ceasefires of ETA and IRA activities appeared to close a chapter on a particular kind of organised terrorism that modelled itself on an actual army, prompting a slight smugness and guard-lowering on the part of the authorities; it also possibly blinded them to the growth of ‘virtual’ armies that were far more inclusive and far more attractive to the disturbed individual in the bedroom.

There’s a sad irony that events in France and Germany should bookend a week in which the future of nuclear deterrents and Trident in particular has been vigorously debated. The astronomical cost of such weapons and the belief of governments in their vital importance both feel like a hangover from a completely different century now, a century of nation states whose enemies were other nation states. The threats posed by the national arsenals gathering dust almost seem an abstract irrelevance in a fluid, less rigid era of mass migration, rootless international identity and the unforeseen resurgence of faith over nation as a means of self-identification. All your aspiring Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini now needs is a computer and a gun. This is twenty-first century ‘Punk Rock’ war; anyone can do it – on public transport, on the street, in the mall.

© The Editor

2 thoughts on “WAR IN EUROPE

  1. There’s an irony in all the current ‘terrorism’ actvities that the first, and now conveniently ‘forgotten’, proponents of that approach were the ‘Stern Gang’, those extremist Zionists who, from 1940 onwards, conducted a wide range of novel terrorist outrages, mostly against British interests, to further their own political cause of an independent state of Israel. That most of the current Islamic-sourced terrorism owes its real origins to the very presence of the state of Israel in ‘Palestinian territory’ just shows how things can so often come full circle.

    The Stern Gang won their fight, as did the IRA, so you can’t blame the Islamists for looking to history and figuring that, if it worked for them, maybe it will work for us too. And with good reason, because modern Western society seems unable to accommodate any loss of life in the way that earlier folk did, so their governments will strain every sinew and make every concession, just to make it stop.

    Remember, on the opening DAY of the Somme battle, Britain suffered 60,000 casualties – in 14 whole years in Afghanistan, the British death toll was just 454 (one every 11 days), all of them paid volunteers, not conscripts – now compare and contrast the respective public reactions.
    That’s what the ‘terrorists’ know and they find it incredibly easy to create irrational feelings of terror amongst the modern populations of Western nations from a small number of random (and quite unpreventable) acts. They don’t need to do much, just create a feeling of terror by an implied threat and the soft West will be expected to succumb in due course. History is on their side.

    The real truth is that the current wave of terrorism will not cease as long as Israel continues to occupy the ‘stolen’ land which the Islamists so deeply begrudge it. Precisely how Western governments, subject to the competing pressures of powerful internal lobby groups and those external terrorists, will ever manage to square that circle remains a mystery – one which I do not expect to be fully solved in my lifetime.

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    1. Ironically, when putting this post together I looked back at one I wrote a few months ago called ‘Homeland’, which dealt with the origins of the Israel/Palestine conflict and Zionist terrorism via the experience of my ‘Uncle Joe’ during his spell as a member of the Palestine Police leading up to 1948. You might recall it… https://winegumtelegram.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/homeland/ I think the real significance of, say, Munich 1972 was the way in which Black September exploited the worldwide audience for the Olympics, making it the first real act of ‘television terrorism’. Now, of course, it is this here medium that is being exploited for the same purpose.


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