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All That is Certain Vanishes Into Air: Tracing the Anabasis of the Japanese Red Army


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When I was a child, I was told that when people died they became stars. I didn’t really believe it, but I could appreciate it. We three Red Army soldiers wanted to become Orion when we died. And it calms my heart to think that all the people we killed will also become stars in the same heaven. As the revolution goes on, how the stars will multiply!
—Közö Okamoto, interview in Israeli prison

The news item was nondescript. In a four-sentence summary, a Japanese news service announced that Osamu Maruoka, “former Japanese Red Army member,” died in the prison hospital at age sixty. A year earlier, he had unsuccessfully appealed for a suspension of his sentence on the grounds that he suffered from a serious heart condition.

The report included a brief précis of his life achievements, mimicking bullet points in a resume: a) Conspired with Palestinian guerrillas in hijacking a Japan Airlines plane over Amsterdam in 1973, b) Hijacked a JAL jumbo jet over India with four accomplices and forced it to land in Bangladesh in 1977, and so on.

The circumstances of Maruoka’s arrest were quotidian: he was apprehended in Tokyo in 1987, when he entered the country on a forged passport. I had been tracing the eleven JRA members who had been on board a hijacked plane that flew from Dhaka to Algiers in 1977, and nondescript finales were the norm. In the recordings of the negotiations between the lead hijacker (codename: “Dankesu”) and the hostage negotiator (Air Force Chief A. G. Mahmud), the hijackers (four initial companions, and six who were released from Japanese prisons as part of a hostage exchange) remain an obstinately ghostly presence.

Read the full article here.