The Pacifist and the General
Mini Teaser: It was an unlikely alliance, and they were an odd couple: she the Friedensengel, the Angel of Peace, with an elderly, taciturn aide-de-camp at her side.
Their bodies were found in their little terraced house in Bonn just a year ago, on October 1, 1992, when the neighbors--who had been puzzled that they had seen nothing of them, none of the usual rushing in and out, for a train, for a plane, in almost three weeks--used their spare keys to get in and take a look. The scene and the smell were nauseating. When the police arrived they had some difficulties identifying the bodies which were in an advanced state of decomposition. Petra Kelly lay in her bed, the bullet having pierced both temples and lodged itself in the mattress. Gert Bastian, the former Panzergeneral in the German Bundeswehr, was crumpled on the floor in the hall, having killed himself with the second cartridge in his double-barreled Derringer 38, the bullet entering his skull from above, high on the forehead, leaving him unrecognizable.
The autopsy was quickly done, and it was pronounced officially to be a "double suicide," although this was not literally true. No farewell note, no direct evidence of a "pact" was ever found. Petra Kelly had been killed in her sleep. The General had then left the bedroom, grasped his weapon with both hands ("like a professional," an expert noted), and did what he had told many friends he would do when the time came to "make an end of it" for both of them (how often had she said she could not live without him...) She was forty-four when she died; he was sixty-nine.
The whole Left went into mourning. Petra had been "Queen of the Greens"; the most famous voice in the Peace movement; the most familiar face in the Feminist campaign; the most fervent figure in a hundred operations against Nuclear Energy, Poverty in the Third World, American War-Mongering; and, always in the first row of banner-carriers, in a thousand engagements on behalf of the Rain Forests, the Ozone layer, the Whales, and Undernourished Children everywhere. Gert Bastian was the most prominent European defector from the NATO military establishment, a three-star German general who had commanded an armored division. He took leave of his 10,000 troops and 700 tanks when, on his "road to Damascus," he abjured the Cold War, dismissed the threat of communism and Soviet expansionism, refused to go along with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's decision to modernize Western forces with Pershing and cruise missiles, and joined forces with Petra Kelly to make peace (and love) not war.
It was an unlikely alliance, and they were an odd couple: she the Friedensengel, the Angel of Peace, with an elderly, taciturn aide-de-camp at her side. Born Petra Lehmann, she had been adopted and taken to the United States by her mother's new husband, a Lieutenant John Kelly; and her "Americanism," combined with the "Prussian" soldierliness of her live-in companion, was enough to win them star billing on the global circuit. When, in March 1983, the Greens succeeded in winning some twenty-eight seats in the Bundestag (ten of them women, with Petra in the lead), there was in every new protest strike and mass demonstration a special triumphalist note.
There was a whole world to win, and they were on their way. I saw them in Frankfurt, sitting down and blockading the new runway of the old airport and calling for an end to insidious noise in the endangered countryside. Petra and the General were in Hiroshima, demanding compensation for the third generation of radiation victims. They attended the fiftieth anniversary in Spain of the bombing of Guernica; the tenth anniversary in Paris of the '68 student seizure of the Sorbonne. They collected a million signatures to help the Peace campaign against "the Bomb," and organized 100,000 personally written letters to be posted to their East German friends (though they never arrived, for the Stasi were ordered "to intercept and destroy.") They met Gorbachev in Moscow and chatted with him about human rights, and confronted Honecker in East Berlin with Petra provocatively clad in her thin, white T-shirt, flashing the cunning biblical message to convert swords into ploughshares. They turned up in Stockholm for the meeting of the Green International, and in Los Angeles where she rang out the message in her fluent English. He turned up by himself in Lyons to give military testimony in the trial of Klaus Barbie, but they were united in East Berlin for protests against the 750th anniversary of the old Prussian capital. He, with his German General Staff experience, was coming along just fine as the impresario of a world-wide movement which began as a utopian crusade and was fast turning into political tourism. Her diary records her as having been, in that same year, in The Hague, Geneva, Helsinki, Munich, Tokyo; and with every invitation there had to be two air-tickets and a double-room hotel reservation.
Their final conference was in the last days of September 1992, in the Berlin Hotel Kempinski; it was devoted to the "Victims of Radiation," and she was putting forward a Chernobyl doctor named Vladimir Chernosenko as a candidate for the "Alternative Nobel Prize." Robert Jungk, a conferencier in his own right, said, "She always had a cause," as if he had ever run short of urgent campaigns; they all thrived on pieces of the action. The week before they had all been crowding each other in Salzburg for the "World Uranium Hearing." Jungk now regrets that a depressed Petra had not been called on to speak at her last appearance.
They checked out early from the Hotel Kempinski and drove homewards to the Rhine in their little vw Golf, making a detour for the old concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, where they placed bouquets of flowers. It was their last signature. The next morning Bastian broke off an unfinished letter, stopped in the middle of a word, and, leaving the typewriter running, reached for the Derringer which he kept in the desk, wrapped in one of his old General Staff suede-leather gloves, and signed off what the first biographer calls "eine tödliche Liebe"--a deathly love, a deadly affair.
In the days and weeks that followed--marked by memorial meetings to praise the martyrs, marred by lingering police investigations for additional clues--the emotional shock intermingled with the political scandal. For her comrades and friends there were bitter personal questions: How could she leave us? Why not so much as a farewell note or a political testament? Resentment turned against her lover, the gunman. What could it have been other than his egoism, the old macho Adam in an ailing soldier, which made him take her along with him? Others went further, allowing themselves the suspicion that he had been hiding something, mortally afraid of some sinister secret, and that he had been about to be exposed (as a KGB agent, or an East German spy, or a Stasi informer).
The accounts in the press and in the popular magazines and supplements varied wildly in accent, from "pure Le Carré" to "sheer Shakespeare." The last act in the Tannenbusch house was likened to the bedroom scene between Othello and Desdemona, and the double death of Romeo and Juliet. The feuilletonistes, that huge army of literati deployed on the commanding heights of the German media, rushed forward irresistibly with bookish ironies and allegedly eerie similarities. The romantic desperation of the double-suicide of Heinrich von Kleist. The bullets that killed all of Petra Kelly's heroes: Rosa Luxemburg; Gandhi; President Kennedy (and his brother); Rudi Dutschke; John Lennon. The charred unrecognizability of poet Ingeborg Bachmann's corpse (but it was smoking cigarettes in bed that killed her). Where the literary parallels wobbled a bit, the psychoanalysts slithered to the rescue, and one doctor in Munich came up with a post-mortem on the basis of a book he had written on "The Killing of Intimate Partners" (Die Tötung der Intim-Partner). Little or no evidence came to light to support either the theses of political conspiracy or to lend substance to the psycho-babble.
Valentine Queen to Green Queen
There are great and classic fault-lines in the life and death of Petra Kelly. For one thing, I find it difficult to make out what was "American" in her spirit and style, and what was "German." I first started following her career some twenty-odd years ago, when she was a bit of a girl in Washington, dc--the popular student leader at American University who cheered on Bobby Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and Martin Luther King, and who commanded a full-page feature in the Washington Post (March 30, 1969) for so doing. She struck me as "very German" on the American scene. Her intense foreign aspect, with such rare campus talents as utter seriousness and day-to-day discipline, may have predestined her for greater things than did the lives of Mario Savio of Berkeley and Mark Rudd of Columbia. Yet when she returned to Germany and became the ill-starred Joan of Arc of the collective antinomian movement to save the world from war and assorted other evils, she appeared on the old-world stage to be "very American" indeed. Petra herself once said (but then on this, and much else, she was not a very reliable witness) that "I live in two worlds--Germany has given me my principles, my philosophy, and formed my views...But here in the States I have to a certain extent 'found myself'..."
What could that "self" have been? Surely, at the outset, a certain lively girlishness. In her American high school in Columbus, Georgia, she became a Valentine queen, a majorette, and an honor student. "I want to let everyone know," she wrote in 1963, aged sixteen, "how much I love the U.S.A....America has fulfilled all my dreams." Her step-father, Lt. Col. Kelly, was serving in nearby Fort Benning, and she wanted, if they would have her, to join the rotc. But within a few years Hiroshima became for her the image of a nightmarish USA which had mass murder behind it, military genocide before it, and was afflicted forever by a political paranoia. Love (if that is what it was) turned easily into hate, and America became the symbol of Evil, of an infernal enemy in which she believed totally, as befitted a transplanted convent girl who once wanted to become a Dominican nun in the African jungle.
The bitter teen-age disappointments of the late 1960s came bit by bit, on the installment plan. She could hardly cope with her "emotional involvement" in the murders of the two Kennedys whom she worshipped, so much so that "I can hardly look at the PT-109 pen, my dear possession...." Hubert Humphrey was one of her last hopes. She corresponded with the Vice-President, followed him on his campaign tour, greeted him at airports. But then he lost. She sobbed at Nixon's electoral victory, and angrily withdrew her application papers for U.S. citizenship.
But it was LBJ, almost personally, who had delivered the unkindest cut of all. I once heard her tell the story (one of the stories with which she sketched her hagiography, marking all the stations-of-the-way); it was on a television talk-show, and it sounded as if she was intent on becoming a legend in her own prime time. In her Washington college days she had become acquainted with the Walt and Elspeth Rostows. Walt had once spoken to her class at the School for International Service (where she was awarded a B.A. cum laude). Petra had as always asked provocative questions and he had as always given eloquent answers; she became an occasional guest at the Rostow house on Lowell Street. One night she had been holed up there, since the street turbulence had become alarming, and she slept in the Rostow library. She was awakened, she said, around midnight by Professor Walt Whitman Rostow himself, coming in to answer the "red telephone" on his desk; President Lyndon Baines Johnson wanted to consult with his chief security adviser on the next day's bombing agenda for Vietnam. As Petra told it, she lay under her covers on the library couch and was chilled to hear the "cold and cynical" tabulation of targets--Vietnamese towns and villages-- for destruction by the U.S. Air Force. She was shocked, outraged, and humiliated by a feeling of impotence-- "I felt the nearness of that red button...and I was so helpless." Yet now she knew what it was that she was called upon to do--to help end this "dirty little war" and then to banish the prospect of any other manic U.S. president going on to "nuke" the world.
Now as I have it from Mrs. Elspeth Rostow, who had put her up for the night (and who was her seminar director at the university), there was no desk in the library and no "red telephone." There was a direct line to the president but it was white, and it was located on the floor above. "At no point," the Rostows assure me, "did LBJ discuss such matters as 'bombing agendas' over that wire. The entire question is absurd." One of Petra's biographers has observed: "It was a scene of such unreality, this phone-chat about War, for the horror-chilled girl, that she questioned for a long time whether she had really experienced it or only dreamt it..." Small matter. For Petra Kelly and kindred illuminated spirits, dreams (and nightmares) are where realities always begin.
When she finally decided to re-cross the Atlantic it almost seemed to be a perverse repatriation of some lost Henry James heroine: a Daisy Miller who preferred to save something in the old world; an Isobel Archer who has diffuse ideas about illegitimacy and loyalty; an Olive Chancellor who was incandescent with "the only sacred cause...the great, the just revolution...sweeping everything before it...the greatest change the world had seen..."
The Jamesian ambivalence was endemic. Where was innocence, where guilt? Philosophy came from Europe, personality was born in America. Or it could be the other way round. Once back in Germany she once told a reporter in Bonn that "I didn't get my ideas here--I got them there and brought them back with me." The lady from the Wall Street Journal was so convinced that she wrote summarily: "Miss Kelly is a product of America itself." The front-page headline argued: "Armed with Ideas Acquired in U.S., She Articulates Unease of Many Germans" (January 24, 1984).
What ideas could they have been talking about? In her academic success story on both sides of the Atlantic--scholarships, stipendia, prizes--all of her mentors were quick to praise her alertness, engagement, tirelessness, volubility, etc., but no one mentioned what she had read, where her attitudes had come from, why her mind developed in certain directions. She was no intellectual. She simply mixed and mingled with abstractions, and was on speaking terms with every idea around. She stumbled across Emma Goldman, ignored her anti-Soviet animus, and became convinced that "women in marriage are like prostitutes." She read a few pamphlets by Karl Marx, became for a season a Marxist, but then learned to dismiss the old man as "a typical male theoretician." Her favorite writer, she confessed, was somebody called Kahlil Gibran; and among women she listed, strangely enough, Anne Morrow Lindbergh (whose World War II reputation as a sentimental wave-of-the-future fascist-sympathizer hadn't quite reached her.)
To be sure, she brought the playful twist of ironies on to herself by being so "Proustian" when she replied to the questionnaire (based on Marcel Proust's own questions) submitted to her by a Frankfurt newspaper (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 7, 1983). Among her heroes in real life? Gert Bastian. How would she prefer to die? "Not alone--in the closeness of those who are close to me."
The Old Soldier
Two years later Gert Bastian completed the same questionnaire (February 15, 1985), and with, inevitably, the same temptations to bluff a little and pretend a bit (and in the end to reveal what you most want to conceal). The former Panzergeneral replied, naturally, that the "greatest misfortunes" were War and Violence, and that he had "the greatest contempt" for "every species of brutality." How did he want to die? "Quickly and without pain." His dream of happiness? The abolition of all the world's injustices. He liked to think of himself as exemplifying his "favorite virtues," namely, reliability, dependability. Although he himself was a loyal soldier in the service of the Third Reich, he recorded his dissident admiration for General Seydlitz's wartime defection to the Soviets after Stalingrad. Was it only bizarre coincidence that he spoke of Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim as a "favorite hero in fiction?" Or was it a paradox, born of a lurking moral contradiction, for the military officer who prided himself in his old perseverance and new gentility to choose a figure who deserted his post, failed to do his duty, and escaped into a mock-heroic cowardice?
Neither before nor after he met Petra Kelly--leaving his wife and two children, and moving into a small house in Bonn where, as newly elected members of the Bundestag, they would establish the headquarters of their abolitionist practice--would Gert Bastian define himself any more precisely. At nineteen he had volunteered for Hitler's Wehrmacht, was wounded on the Eastern front, taking a Russian bullet in his right arm and a piece of grenade in his skull. On the Western front he was scarred by a burst of American machine-gun fire. As a peace fighter in mufti he was now erect, taciturn, and composed, his steely appearance making him look stalwart and unshakable. As a military expert he proved useful in the Bundestag when the Green-pacifist faction had to act as if it had an alternative defense policy.
Nothing seemed to become the General as much as his early retirement. Old soldiers don't like to fade away, and now he was self-redeployed into what purported to be the center of a worldwide struggle, organizing little victories, planning huge campaigns and counteroffensives. One day he was lunching with Havel in Prague, the next he was having a night out with Jane Fonda. (Petra didn't like her or her aerobics: "She's got a lot of capitalistic input.") He must have enjoyed the big time, although on the circuit he had to be careful and watch his language--as his son has reported, the General was always fond of homely old-fashioned sayings like "Weakness must be eliminated." An old family-album photo shows him, hands clasped nicely, sitting on the living-room sofa, next to his mother, under a mounted rifle on the wall. How the Waffennarr, the gun-buff, loved his weapons! At home he used to indulge himself in target practice, and always had a hand-weapon close by, in his desk drawer, in a glove compartment--all kinds of pistols and revolvers, all properly licensed.
And how did Petra take to living in the shadow of a gun? She had homely sayings of her own, the most famous of which was Frieden schaffen ohne Waffen! It was a jingle about making peace without weapons, and she had worn out innumerable T-shirts with the message emblazoned on her trim figure. Ideology apart, she had anxieties about weapons, a panicky fear that they could and would hurt people, or her. But evidently not every sword needed to be converted into a ploughshare, and Petra Kelly tried to make her peace with the General's hobby. Or was she just making an exception for deadly weapons that could contribute to her personal protection? Some see it as Petra's private pragmatism; others as hypocrisy, an example of the fearful pacifist's double-think.
Bastian conceded to a Playboy interviewer that he had been "happy, very happy to be a soldier." And now he was as pleased to be the armed adjutant, always living on the alert, an embattled role which he softened with a related devotion to gallantry, for he was in the oft-repeated German phrase, "ein Kavalier der alten Schule (a cavalier-of-the-old-school)." The dismal prospect of being a retired old-age pensioner in a little Bavarian house had apparently been put definitively behind him; he was now a world-traveller, being interviewed and photographed, talking at press conferences, presenting petitions, crying out for the world to be set right, helping to save the mankind he had once been committed to destroy.
Occasionally it became even too much for a disciplined old man, addicted to service and sacrifice. Petra was often--some say most of the time--nerve-wracking to be with: temperamental and hysterical, prone to fevers and chills, obsessive and impulsive, plagued by recurrent kidney ailments and metabolic palpitations, wild in her dietary eccentricities, childish in her sudden whims and fancies, blithe about her sexual adventures. Being impresario of the peace movement didn't always sanctify all his staff-sergeant burdens, the endless boring administrative details of getting tickets, hailing taxis, organizing box-lunches, checking in and checking out of hotels in time to make overnight trains and intercontinental planes. They had been together for a marvelous decade now, but at times it was too much. Their American friends referred to it as "togetherness," the Germans as a "symbiotic relationship," in sickness and in health, with or without sex, in euphoria and in despair. He wanted her to have psychotherapy; but she had no free time. He wanted some mornings to sit down for breakfast in the kitchen; but her papers, in her very own hectic way, were spread out on every available surface. And still they wrote love letters to each other, left affectionate memos, scribbled endearing notes: "I adore you, my happiness, my sun, my rock...."
To one of Petra's intimate friends, a Tibetan doctor called Palden Tawo (he furthered Petra's enchantment with the Dalai Lama, although the cause of the restoration of an old Tibet theocracy sat rather uneasily in the Green theology), General Bastian wrote one of the most remarkably forlorn letters between two lovers of a shared mistress. The General grimly concluded that the triangle was just not holding up and indicated that he was thinking of breaking out, of leaving: "besser gehen als zugrunde gehen (better to go than to go under)."
Could he, then, muster the strength to retire again, to withdraw from Peace as he did from War? For if playing at war was hell, fighting for peace was becoming increasingly difficult. The "bourgeois West" had taken up the burden of environmental concerns while the socialist East continued its record of ecological ravages. The Greens, who had concentrated on Western deficiencies and not on Eastern failures, declined in popularity. By 1989 it had become clear that Adenauer and Kohl, Reagan and Bush had won the Cold War--peace had broken out, and rendered pacifism superfluous. Petra Kelly was not even chosen to run again for the Bundestag on the alternative party ticket; and General Bastian, who had been sitting in his last parliamentary session as an "independent," a maverick loner, was also unemployed and became a slightly ridiculous figure with his dire peace-loving prophecies of an American-instigated nuclear disaster. The crusade to prevent World War III had petered out, and much else with it. They had little income and no longer enjoyed the official services without which in our time no state-subsidized revolutionary movement can conceivably operate. The well-equipped Bundestag offices, to which the rump Green fractions still had access, were rudely closed by her comrades to Petra Kelly, who had been used to faxing and xeroxing her messages to the world. She began doing a tv program, moderated a few shows and then the series was abruptly canceled. As the producer said, "We wanted a program, and she was too programmatic" (zu sendungsbewusst fŸr unsere Sendung).
The General had two new post-Cold War ideas, both seriously marred by his characteristic lack of political sensitivity. They both came to naught, leaving him--and he was already troubled by dark medical reports from his doctors--facing oblivion.
The first idea was to recoup their losses by joining forces with the ex-Communist Party, now called the "Party of Democratic Socialism" and led by Gregor Gysi, the slightly heretical son of an Ulbricht henchman. It has been confirmed that Bastian talked to Gysi, was offered a certain electoral place and a sure seat--the PDS did win eighteen seats in the current Bundestag--without even having to join the party officially. As Gysi explained, "It would have been useful to have on our side two such charismatic figures...brainy characters who knew their way around the West..."
Petra was uncertain, reluctant, and their friends in the old dissident movement in the ddr, those hardy souls who had protested and demonstrated in 1989 against the old rickety regime, were horrified to think that their Western friends would now think of helping to camouflage and refurbish the survivors of the old guard. BŠrbel Bohley, a protagonist of the East-German anticommunist opposition, was sensible and vehement enough to deflect the duo from the PDS option. Bastian regretted the lost opportunity to maneuver themselves to center-stage again and he is quoted as saying, "If only I had taken Gysi's offer I'd be a Bundestag member and we wouldn't have these worries...." The pair remained dejected, rejected, desperate.
The General's second idea was even more short lived and hare brained. In the Left's panic and disarray in the wake of the end of communism and the Cold War, a number of prominent German intellectuals (Wolf Biermann, Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, Martin Walser, Botho Strauss) moved away from the left, even defected to the "American" cause of defending Kuwait (and protecting Israel) and punishing Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But Petra and her General, still trapped in the old world disorder, remained "anti-War," and against "the Bomb," in the spirit of down-with-Pentagon militarism. General Bastian came up (according to a Green friend) with the splendid twilit Wagnerian notion of protesting the Gulf War by flying down to Iraq, placing themselves into the bombing area amongst the innocent victims, and accepting the risk of getting hit. Was this the last exit to martyrdom, a final chance of dying heroically together for the common cause? Petra vetoed it, though whether she actually said, "I'm too young to die," as reported, is doubtful.
In March 1992 a near-fatal accident happened. It was in Munich, and Petra together with Gert Bastian had been late checking into the Hotel Eden Wolff at the Hauptbahnhof. He was on edge, for they were hours off schedule, and he had an appointment with Frau Bastian, his separated but still-devoted wife. It was to take place at their Bavarian house, and his son and daughter would also be there, waiting. One damned thing after another prevented him from getting away. Finally, when it seemed possible for him to leave, Petra requested (with the studied urgency which came softly and naturally to her) a bowl of fruit. She had a prejudice against room-service, and knew that fresh apples and oranges would be available in the market across from their hotel. The General was always glad to run errands for her, even when under hectic pressure. He ran out of the lobby and on to the Station Square where he was promptly hit by a passing taxi, crumpled on to the road, and after a seven-hour operation in a Munich clinic (on what happened to be his 69th birthday) he was confined to a wheel-chair and could never walk properly again. For ordinary pedestrians (as a reporter wrote), schlimm genug, bad enough, but for a professional soldier, a German general! He was a wreck: looked it, felt it, with pills in his pocket against his terminal fears, and a newspaper-clipping in his wallet giving first-aid advice on what to do in a cardiovascular emergency.
The last time I caught a glimpse of Petra Kelly and Gert Bastian was in the spring of last year, a short time before their deaths, when they came, to a meeting in Berlin. I nodded a distant greeting to the limping General but he turned stiffly away. Petra was scurrying behind him to her place on the platform. Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt, the director and the guru of the "Checkpoint Charlie" Museum, (just on the old Berlin Wall frontier), had called another of his East-West encounters, trying to confront for whatever political, moral, or even religious results might emerge, Opfer und Täter, victims and culprits. The cast usually comprised ex-Stasi officers and ex-political prisoners, coming together for an appalling several hours in a dramatic exercise of "mastering the past." In part confessional, in part mock trial, these occasions were charged with penitence and reproach, recrimination and relapse.
This time there was a Stasi scandal involving the Greens. Historical researchers leafing through the miles of underground Eastern archives, had discovered that a prominent member of the Greens had been a political spy for the Honecker-Mielke intelligence service. He had been particularly close to Petra Kelly, and there were a hundred confidential reports, transmitted with weekly regularity, detailing her political plans and gossipy intrigues. In some compelling cases the Stasi were informed only minutes after Petra Kelly had returned from a Berlin Wall crossing and promptly briefed her friends on what the Eastern dissidents told her. The revelation had thrown a shadow over the integrity of the whole movement. In the cat-and-mouse game between Petra and the DDR , she had thought she was playing with them; but it was now clear that they had been toying with her.
Above the platform on this occasion there hung a huge blown-up photograph of the classic Green moment when Petra in East Berlin had famously out-foxed President Eric Honecker in 1983; or so she had thought. Once in the presidential palace and in the august Bolshevik presence she had slipped out of her jacket--a stratagem she had picked up from naughty Oriana Fallaci, who once disrobed in an interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini--and stood there in her T-shirt, sporting the usual pacifist slogan, one calculated to irritate the hell out of the Stalinist leader who had been denouncing all such sentiments as a mortal danger to the Soviet bloc. Also in the photograph were General Bastian, looking somewhat out of place, and, to the right, the grinning Green M.P., Stasi agent, and Kelly confidant, Dirk Schneider who had in point of fact recommended the meeting to his East German masters and helped set it up. In the middle stood the nattily attired Prime Minister; another snapshot shows him with a sly smile on his face.
For Petra Kelly the exposure of an informer in her intimate circle was more than a political embarrassment, it was a personal catastrophe. It not only cast her into a deep depression, but unsettled basic certainties about her role and mission, as if Joan of Arc had discovered that the French were delivering the kindling-wood for her stake in Rouen. I watched her at close quarters for almost two hours. She confessed her shock and bewilderment, spoke of her "pain" and "spiritual paralysis," turned to argue and plead with the villain, Schneider, who now sat several chairs away on the platform. How could comrades do that to each other? But it is difficult to sound indignant or outraged when, in the German language's familiar tense, you are still on an intimate "per Du" with your friendly neighborhood spy. (The General was more to the point and asked, as if he were conducting a court martial, how much money had the scoundrel been given for betraying his friends.)
When Petra spoke she was unusually breathless and agitated; when she was quiet she sat sullenly, holding her head low, rarely lifting her eyes to her "Checkpoint Charlie" audience, trying to control her shaking hands. The sordid betrayal which had wounded her was, to be sure, only one of a hundred, even a thousand, similar routine-exercises which had in their time entrapped Chancellor Willy Brandt, every Ministry in Bonn (including the highest keepers of NATO secrets), and almost every major newspaper and magazine publisher in Western Germany. General Mischa Wolf (son of the famous communist writer, Friedrich Wolf) had run a network of such ingenious operations.
As Petra Kelly told the story of the fateful meeting, she, the General, and Schneider were to rendezvous at the Cafe Möhring on the Kurfürstendamn before taking their hired Mercedes-Benz limousine through the Honecker-approved Berlin Wall crossing. But Dirk Schneider had been incensed at such a decadent, de luxe mode of transport and had insisted that they go by bicycle and on foot. Petra at the time credited the objection as sincere, but now she knew that Kirk had only wanted to prevent her delivering the Mercedes' trunk-full of "dissident literature" to the courageous Havemann family in their East Berlin isolation. Or had this been the only reason? She had, after all, just come out of the hospital and was barely recovered from a kidney operation. The day had been cold and pouring rain. Hadn't she been right in trying to protect herself? And what had they been trying to do--kill her? She casts a withering glance at the traitor , the would-be murderer, a few chairs away to her left.
Dirk Schneider--fortyish, a handsome, bearded, bull of a man--spoke in his turn, referring to his duties as a loyal secret-intelligence employee of a sovereign German state, and explained that his behavior was all in the service of peace and progress. He affected to wonder at what the excitement was all about; he had never "spied" but only reported what he had experienced, like some free-lance stringer doing some harmless leg-work for the home office. He had always been "honest" and "above-board"--except, he conceded after a gale of laughter, except for this one deviation; but then nobody was perfect. (Dirk Schneider has subsequently re-joined his old comrades as a member of the re-named SED, now the PDS, and has adjusted to the rhetoric of "democratic socialism." He continues to dismiss the "moral" problem of "remorse" as utterly irrelevant--and anyway, he snaps, the sums that he was paid for his services were so inconsiderable as not to be worth mentioning.)
The Political Tourist
Will history remember Petra Kelly? In the long run, hardly, though some Germans, may continue to give her a sentimental little place in the pantheon of "heroic characters" who gave some much needed relief in the dull, worthy landscape of the post-war Bonn republic. For all that, she was memorable, unforgettable. She was a flamboyant melange of the reasonable and the absurd, the clever and the obtuse; and one could never know, in a conversation or an interview, whether she would score with her charm, or quickness, or modesty ("after all we don't have all the answers to every question"), or girlishly give the whole show away with her homemade, helter-skelter utopianism.
Once, at the height of her fame and self-confidence, I heard her say (to the dismay and despair of her more thoughtful sympathizers) that her electoral successes wouldn't change anything in the Green strategy and tactics, which were rooted in an utter contempt for parliamentarianism and a devotion to the Street, die Strasse, where the "real action" was. Suppose the growth of the Greens would undermine the social democrats and help the hated Enemy on the Right into power? Wouldn't that be short-sighted?
Petra remained indifferent to the question of power, its responsibilities, and corruption. She could not be bothered to take such tactical factors into consideration. She would keep her eyes focused on the main issues which remained War-and-Peace, the poisonous Atom, the American Bomb, Third-World poverty, etc. etc. The prospect of the ruin of the Bonn republic moved her as little as the destruction of Weimar did to the militant Left spirits in 1933, when they refused to compromise with the social-democratic "social-fascist" bosses or the "bourgeois-Bruenings," even at the risk of allowing the Nazis to come to power. After all, as they said, "Nach Hitler, uns!"-- after Adolf it'll be our turn. For a few fleeting moments, in the fearful tumult and shouting of the 1970s and 1980s which the Ulrike Meinhofs and Petra Kellys had instigated, Bonn seemed to some to be in some danger of going the way of Weimar.
Not to worry. Petra Kelly felt very comfortable and secure in the grab-bag of ideas and ideals which she said constituted "my dream...my utopia." It had a little bit of Marx (socialism); of Thoreau and Tolstoy (civil disobedience); of Gandhi and Martin Luther King (peaceful non-violent resistance); of Rachel Carson (DDT); of Baader-Meinhof and the IRA (hunger strikes); of Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, and Bella Abzug (feminism); of Willy Muenzenberg (total agit-prop); of Albert Schweitzer (save the sickly); of Billy Graham (save the world). . .
Occasionally she would concede the doubts that troubled her and threw shadows over the movement that entertained a hundred slogans and a thousand on-going campaigns. She was alarmed at the demonstrators who went into battle with the police, armed with stones, knives, and baseball-bats. She disapproved of the egotistical Green parliamentarians who didn't want to give up their seats and yield to the principle of "rotation" (until it dispossessed her). She was caught between her "anti-Party's" warring factions--Realos, who were prepared to make pragmatic concessions in order to get their hands on more governmental power (and funds) and the "Fundis" (fundamentalists), angrily eager to expel and anathemize anybody who departed an iota from fundamental doctrine.
What, then, was essential? What constituted the sacred principle, the holy writ? The "dream" is hard to formulate, for it was something beyond capitalism and communism, neither East nor West, nor left nor right, but an eternally elusive "Third Way." She was hurt when accusations flew (from the Realos) that Moscow was getting a hand in, and (from the Fundis) that "bourgeois reactionaries" were infiltrating. She was intellectually naive--or vain--enough to be convinced that her haphazard collection of "emancipatory" ideals would do service as a coherent and convincing ideology. She was always warning against "opportunistic pseudo-reformism" and, equally, against "demagogic pseudo-revolutionism."
Her mind was simply not made for ideas. Her small, frail body, afflicted by ailments and anxieties, was made for accelerated bursts of nervous energy, and she was never so happily stable as when she was doing something and crying for the world to hear that so much more was waiting to be done. She had been seduced by the old anarchist catch-word of "the propaganda of the deed," and she knew--she had it from her media-cunning friends in '68 Paris and her street-wise fellow-marchers in the U.S. civil rights campaign--how to make the main item in the evening tv news. But her analytical powers didn't hold out very much longer than a sound-bite.
As an activist she was compulsively restless, and in the jet-set world of political tourism she had (as the old phrase goes) an infinite capacity for taking planes. As a speaker she was not naturally eloquent, but what is usually mistaken for "charisma" always emerged in and out of the mumble-jumble of apocalyptic injunctions: her intensity, personality, deep commitment, vaguely tragic aspect. In her anti-NATO tirades in which she would denounce the American "containment" policy by pronouncing the standard German word for it, Abschreckung, in such a way that you could see the Schreck, the fright. And indeed she almost looked terrified on such occasions, so much so that the dark shadows under her eyes turned even blacker.
Her tiny dolorous figure and her handsome head, pert rather than pretty, with her sharp features softened by a toothsome smile and darkened by a pale melancholy mien: all of these together made up her most persuasive argument. It was a face that launched a hundred causes, and when Time-Life was compiling its list of the world's worthies of the whole twentieth century, it gained for her a photogenic place of honor. Everybody talked in those days of "body language"; Petra Kelly spoke it.
The Gun in the Suede Glove
Among the mourners was every groupuscule that had ever raised its voice for a better world: Russian dissidents, American vietniks, French veterans of '68-in-the-Sorbonne, assorted feminists, ecologists, and pacifists. All joined together to pay their last respects to the true martyrs of their collective cause. "Why did you leave us so soon?" one woman wailed at Petra's bier. "Leave?" muttered another, "She had her bloody head blown off!"
The police stayed with their official conclusion that it was an open-and-shut case, with no hint of any kind of foul play involved. But for some Greens (among them, a leading figure named Lukas Berkman, one of Petra's lovers and her first mentor into the brave new world of German ideology) the suspicion of some Stasi influence, or even involvement by some remnant of the KGB, was not to be dismissed out of hand. Who else, except possibly the CIA and/or the Pentagon (and they haven't been heard much from lately), would want to cut short such rich and valuable lives? Gert had been busily working for Petra to get the Andrei Sakharov Prize (from a Los Angeles foundation) and to win a seat for her in the European Parliament; she had been offered academic chairs by the universities of Hawaii and Washington; she had a series worked out for the BBC; and her diary had more than 300 full-up entries for the next year... Indeed she was too busy to die.
Her feminist comrades took it all rather more personally, and knew that it was gender and not intrigue that was at the root of the tragedy. They conceded that she must have been a difficult, nerve-wracking person to live with--but since when did that call for capital punishment? In her book, the very first on the subject, Alice Schwarzer--editor of Emma, the house-organ of radical feminism--fiercely over-interprets every tiny double-entendre which might link masculinity and murder. Petra writes a harmless post-card and scribbles a last message: "For a Future without Violence," and Alice asks, like a ponderous prosecuting attorney: "Whose future free of violence? What violence is she afraid of? Those of the super-powers? Or that of her live-in lover?"
To a pride of feminist lionesses and frustrated ideologues were added a flock of psychiatrists, avid to substitute analysis on the mortuary table for therapy on the couch. One reiterated the expertise of his authoritative scientific study of "the killing of intimate partners." Others offered: the General as a masculine protector or the idealization of the disappeared father; the child-girl traumatized by loss and early separation.
A Hamburg psychiatrist even came up with a supernatural vision of Petra and Gert meeting in heaven and discussing their end. Few paid attention to the Schadenfreude of the "monstrous regiment" or to the psycho-babble of the therapists and the paranoia of the "homeless Left."
The whole dossier on the "double suicide" was closed with the medical affadavit submitted by the General's son, Dr. Till Bastian, who was outraged by the absurd murder theories. The General was a sick man. The 1st of October 1992 began as an ordinary day in the life of Petra Kelly. She had gone asleep at five, just as General Bastian was getting up to go about his duties as the household major-domo. He wrote some letters, and posted them. He began another, and then, Dr. Bastian hypothesizes, the attack came, the terminal myocardial infarction. He interrupted the last letter, left the typewriter running, and reached for the Derringer inside his suede glove in the desk drawer. Hadn't Petra always said she could not live without him? Hadn't he promised to protect her in a cruel world she never made? Dr. Till Bastian assumes that the first "ischaemic attack" quickly intensified and, in finishing his double duty, the General stumbled, knocking books off the shelf in the hall. But still, "like a professional," he managed to control the aim of the second cartridge. Three weeks later they were found in their little home, once the frenzied provisional headquarters of a world-wide utopian revolution, and were officially pronounced dead and gone.
When the police opened the General's black synthetic-leather attache case it included a whole file of clippings about Petra Kelly, some going back five and ten years, all part of his heroic period. There was also his passport and a copy of a letter which requested the extension of the official permission to carry a weapon, i.e. the Derringer 38 (#L290). One further item, a dagger (made in Lapland), turned investigative reporters of the feminist persuasion ecstatic, for here was the true insignia of the General, a man of war who could never turn his back on the sword by which he lived and would die. One waxed eloquent: "The though of killing must have accompanied him all his life...And the loving Petra allowed herself to be companioned by an ex-soldier armed to the teeth!"
When the coroner removed Petra Kelly's body from the bed-room, he noted on her night-table several books in which she had been reading. One was an edition of Goethe's classic letters to his most famous mistress, Frau von Stein (and they were not without their bitter-sweet tensions of jealousy and betrayal). The other was a popular paperback of do-it-yourself psychology, "Die Angst aus heiterem Himmel: Panikattacken und wie man sie uberwinden kann," or: "Anxiety Out of the Blue--Attacks of Panic and How to Conquer them."
The police investigators, with their possibly prim and formal rules of evidence, thought the clipplings, and the dagger, and the books, and the passport number (which the General had been delinquent in submitting to the Green/Stasi inquiry), to be quite irrelevant. Perhaps they were.Essay Types: Essay