All photos by Zara Brown, member of the US delegation.
On the second day of International Week local supporters of the campaign gathered for the musical event, Wake Up Call Germany!
To see more of Zara Brown’s pictures from Day 2 click here.
By John LaForge
BÜCHEL AIR BASE, Germany — The juxtaposition of nuclear weapons and ordinary farms is the same here as at home in the United States. Just outside this jet fighter base — where a peace camp focused on ridding the site of its US 20 nuclear bombs has been set since March 26 — farmers plant corn and beans right up to the fences. Likewise in “the states,” nuclear submarine bases, bomber bases, and land-based missiles are placed in farmland too, where the hard-scrabble struggle to produce food is mirrored against the gargantuan waste of limitless military spending — in this case maintaining weapons that can never be legally put to use.
This week, local farmers are harvesting oats, cutting swaths 4 to 6 meters wide with their groaning, screeching combines that look something like giant, hammerhead sharks, or long-extinct dinosaurs. Just like at home, the combines are followed, if the weather holds, by heavy balers that bind up the straw; and just like in the Midwest, jet fighters overhead practice war fighting in the same sky that warms and waters the crops. On the edge of camp, holstein cows meander near the paved bike path, ignoring the spray-painted warning: “Attention! Here Begins the Atomic War Zone.”
The noise of heavy farm machinery is a relief from the howling roar of the German Tornado jet fighter-bombers that scream off the runway most weekdays. The jets shriek like rockets all day long and well past dusk. They reportedly burn through €50,000 ($59,000) every hour they’re airborne. Farmers can rightfully cringe. How many of them can expect to make that much in a year — even though they work harder, longer hours and actually produce something?
The peace camp, with its theme “Büchel is Everywhere,” reflects and teaches these stark contrasts and lost chances every moment of every day. The modest camp has a large cook tent, a kitchen run on bottle gas, tables, chairs and cookware for 40, a makeshift shower, chemical toilets, and a wood fire for evening gatherings. This summer’s climate is just like Wisconsin’s or Minnesota’s — although the local weather includes the “heat” of 20 US Air Force B61 hydrogen bombs deployed in bunkers across right down road. The Bombs make for a sort of raised temperature that permeates the consciousness — unless you’re in denial. Farm machines chug across the fields at a mile-an-hour; the jets howl across the sky at 921 mph — 1,490 mph when up high).
Political, ethical, and practical opposition to US nuclear weapons in Germany goes back decades. In 1997, peace researchers discovered the deployment of 20 Cold War era B61s here and began raising hell. Legally, the bombs are a clear violation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) — which is binds both Germany and the United States. Article I prohibits nuclear weapons from being transferred to or the accepted by any other state. The NPT, and Germany’s post-war constitution, have been the legal foundation of anti-nuclear civil resistance actions at Büchel because German law is especially keen about the horrifying results of obeying unlawful orders.
Condemnation of the US H-bombs and Germany’s part in the Tornado’s “nuclear mission” — German pilots train to “deliver” the US Bombs — is nearly universal, crossing party lines and cultural divides. Even skin-head neo-Nazis offered (unsuccessfully) to be part of the “US Nukes Out!” campaign. So hot a potato is the status of illegal US nukes here that the base commander himself, “Oberstleutnant” Gregor Schlemmer, chose to leave of his office and come out to an active blockade of his main entrance July 18 to greet members of our US delegation. NATO ministers, former heads of state, and dozens of retired military officials have all called the US B61s “Cold War relics” that no longer serve any purpose. Almost 90% of German adults what them gone. Perhaps commander Schlemmer feels the weight too, and looks forward to retiring and maybe doing some farming.
Peace camp participants watch the grain being brought in under the harvest moon and recall the hundreds of activists, dozens of nonviolent actions, and scores of news reports that were brought together by the 20-weeks from March to August. Blockades, vigils, concerts, “go-in” actions, and marches have forced the reluctant media to take note of US nukes in Germany.
Of course nuclear weapons are the last thing people want to contemplate, especially in summer, so it takes some focused inventiveness to get the media to face the Bomb. A final blockade is planned for August 9, the anniversary of the US atomic attack on Nagasaki, Japan. Beyond that dreadful consideration, and the close of camp, German abolitionists plan to focus on pushing the ouster of US nukes as an issue in September’s national elections. And from both sides of the Atlantic, organizers are working to cancel US plans to deploy a new B61 in Europe, and to spend $1 trillion over 30 years making new Bombs, rather than retiring them all permanently and getting on with joining the new international treaty ban.
From inside and outside the air base gates, farmers and nuclear war gamers alike, oberstleutnants and agronomists, may agree that ploughshares are needed more today than illegal bombs.
“The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.” — Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, WWII Air Force Commander of the 21st Bomber Command, Sept. 20, 1945.
By John LaForge
With President Obama’s 2016 visit to Hiroshima, reporters, columnists and editors generally stuck to the official story that “the atomic bomb…ultimately spared more Japanese civilians from a final invasion,” as Kaimay Yuen Terry wrote last year in the Minneapolis StarTribune, or that, “Without it, more Japanese would have died in a US assault on the islands, as would have tens of thousands of Americans,” as Mike Hashimoto said in the Dallas Morning News.
“The dropping of the bombs stopped the war, saved millions of lives,” Harry Truman wrote in Truman Speaks. Oddly, historians have found no record of any memo, cable, projection or study, military or civilian, where this estimate was suggested to him. In his book The Invasion of Japan, historian John Ray Skates says, “… prophecies of extremely high casualties only came to be widely accepted after the war to rationalize the use of the atomic bombs.” Historian Martin J. Sherwin has “cited a ‘considerable body’ of new evidence that suggested the bomb may have cost, rather than saved, American lives. That is, if the US had not been so determined to complete, test, and finally use the bomb, it might have arranged the Japanese surrender weeks earlier, preventing much bloodshed on Okinawa.”
Obama, uttered not a word about the controversy, and merely embraced the rationalization, cover-up, and nostalgia that guarantees the US will never apologize for the needless and experimental massacre of 200,000 Japanese civilians. As Mr. Hashimoto wrote, “No apology [is] needed for sparing lives on both sides…”
The New York Times reported vaguely that, “Many historians believe the bombings on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, which together took the lives of more than 200,000 people, saved lives on balance, since an invasion of the islands would have led to far greater bloodshed.”
Many historians may still believe this, but the majority do not. In 1990, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Chief Historian J. Samuel Walker, wrote, “The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it,” Walker wrote in Diplomatic History.
Historian Gar Alperovitz wrote in Atomic Diplomacy five years earlier, “[P]resently available evidence shows the atomic bomb was not needed to end the war or to save lives — and that this was understood by American leaders at the time.” Further declassification made Alperovitz’s history, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb: and the Architecture of An American Myth (Knopf, 1995) even stronger on this point.
Admirals and Generals Debunk the Myth
Contrary to Gov. Sarah Palin’s claim that Obama’s visit to Hiroshima “insults veterans,” the fiction that the atomic bombs ended the war is the real insult to the veterans who fought and won the war against Japan. The official myth that incinerating Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan’s surrender ignores, obscures and dishonors the fact that combat veterans and bomber crews defeated Japan themselves well before August 6, 1945 — by fighting and dying in dangerous bombing raids and in terrible battles for Midway, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and elsewhere. Dozens of high-level military officers testify to this fact.
Most ranking officers who directed the war in the Pacific agree that the atom bombs were inconclusive. Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, Commander of the 21st Bomber Command, speaking publicly and on the record Sept. 20, 1945, said unequivocally: “The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb.” Pressed by a stunned reporter who asked, “Had they not surrendered because of the atomic bomb?” Gen. LeMay — who directed the destruction of 67 major Japanese cities using mass incendiary attacks — said flatly, “The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
Likewise, Gen. George Kenny, who commanded parts of the Army Air Forces in the Pacific, when asked in 1969 whether it was wise to use atom bombs, said, “No! I think we had the Japs licked anyhow. I think they would have quit probably within a week or so of when they did quit,” Alperovitz recounts in The Decision.
Alperovitz’s research found that Adm. Lewis Strauss, special assistant to WW II Navy Secretary James Forrestal, wrote to naval historian Robert Albion December 19, 1960: “[F]rom the Navy’s point of view, there are statements by Admiral King, Admiral Halsey, Admiral Radford, Admiral Nimitz and others who expressed themselves to the effect that neither the atomic bomb nor the proposed invasion of the Japanese mainland were necessary to produce the surrender.”
In his book Mandate for Change, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower wrote that when Secretary of War Henry Stimson told him atomic bombs were going to be used, “I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary…”
President Truman’s Chief of Staff, Adm. William Leahy, adamantly agreed. As Robert Lifton and Greg Mitchell, report in Hiroshima in America: 50 Years of Denial, Leahy said, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons….” Lifton and Mitchell also noted that Henry “Hap” Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, said in his memoirs, “It always appeared to us that, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.”
Answers to questions about the use of the atomic bombings were given early on, but some were kept secret. “[T]he US Strategic Bombing Survey published its conclusion that Japan would likely have surrendered in 1945 without atomic bombing, without a Soviet declaration of war, and without an American invasion,” Alperovitz reports in The Decision. He spent 30 years researching the issue and has revealed that a 1946 study by the Intelligence Group of the War Department’s Military Intelligence Division — discovered in 1989 — “concluded the atomic bomb had not been needed to end the war” and “judged that it was ‘almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.’” Russia entered the war the day before the US bombed Nagasaki.
—John LaForge, a staffer with Nukewatch in Wisconsin since 1992, is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of a newly-revised edition of Nuclear Heartland: A Guide to the 450 Land-based Missiles of the United States.
All photos by Zara Brown, member of the US delegation, unless otherwise noted.
To view more of Zara Brown’s photos from Day 1 click here.
By John LaForge
BÜCHEL, Germany — For the first time in a 21 –year-long effort to oust the remaining US “B61” nuclear weapons from Germany, a delegation of US peace activists* joined in protests at the Büchel Air Base in west-central Germany between July 12 to 18. Notable among the 11-person delegation were seven participants who have served a combined total of 36 years in US jails and prisons for protests against nuclear weapons and the war system.
The Nukewatch-organized delegation, from seven states and the District of Columbia, was invited by a coalition of 50 German peace groups and organizations that’s taken on Germany’s de-nuclearization as a primary focus, and we were joined in an “International Week” of protests by likeminded activists from Belgium, France, The Netherlands, China, Russia, and Mexico. While the US delegation was a “first” in its own right, our group established a few other firsts in our week of nonviolent confrontations.
On Saturday July 15, Susan Crane, of the Redwood City, Calif. Catholic Worker and a participant in five Plowshares disarmament actions, and I walked through the base’s main gate and talked for 40 minutes with military guards and local police about the question of whether their orders to protect Büchel’s nuclear war planning are lawful. One guard complained to me, “Every time I tell you to leave, you start another conversation.” Although Susan eventually sat down and had to be carried out (I walked), no charges were brought against us for our simple “go-in” demonstration, something unprecedented according to long-time nuclear disarmament activist and peace camp organizer Marion Kuepker.
On Sunday the 16th, a pair of firsts was accomplished when a group of 50 protesters, accompanied by photographers and reporters, walked through the same gate and toward a “hardened” steel inner gate which was for the first time anyone could remember left inexplicably unlocked. At least 30 of us traipsed through the open steel door, fanned out, and began inspecting the otherwise exclusively military surroundings and their gaudy display of three retired war planes on pedestals. All the while, Dominican Sisters Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte, of Baltimore, Maryland, read aloud the text of the new international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons and calling for the base commander to come and accept a copy. The Dutch activists, most of them from the Amsterdam Catholic Worker, had gotten exactly what they wanted: to place loaves of “bread not bombs!” — as the old peace slogan goes — around the old “gods of metal.”
Simultaneously, Susan Crane and I took up an idea from Sister Carol, and lowered the US flag. It had occupied a position superior to Germany’s, even at this German base. Having had a lot of experience with flags as a former Boy Scout, the task was done in a blink. But when Susan asked me, “Now what do we do with it?” I had to admit, “I don’t have a lighter,” and could only shout to the other “go-in” activists: “US out of Germany!” (There are some 50,000 US military personnel still occupying the country, 28 years after the end of the Cold War and 72 years after the end of World War II.) Our hosts told us later that no one in Germany would dare to take down the US flag for all the accusations of “anti-Americanism” that would result. Peace activists get called enough names as it is.
Two other shocking first-ever events came on Monday July 17. As I reported last week, a rush-hour blockade of the highway leading to the main gate was interrupted amazingly by the base commander himself, “Oberstleutnant” Gregor Schlemmer, who diplomatically took from Sister Ardeth her copy of the ban treaty. After dark the same day, five of us, four US and one German, got farther into the supposedly high-security base than any others had managed to in two decades of “go-in” protests here. Somehow we crossed lighted fields and roads, tramped noisily through several woodlots, clipped through four chain-link fences, and climbed atop a huge weapons bunker that may have contained nuclear weapons — all without being detected. People bent on hurting others or destroying things instead of simply inspecting could have done terrible damage to this facility.
Our final “go-in” action showed once again that the government’s claims that nuclear weapons keep us safe, and its promises that it can keep its nuclear weapons safe, are fraudulent. Even pacifists with wire cutters showed them to be laughable fairy tales.
The US plans to produce 480 new thermonuclear B61s — the so-called “B61-12”— to replace the current stock and the 180 now deployed in five NATO states — including the 20 at Büchel. Production is not expected to start before 2022, and overall cost of the new bomb is estimated to be at least $12 billion. This program can still be defunded and cancelled, but it take a few more firsts.
*The US delegates were Steve Baggarly, of the Norfolk, Virginia Catholic Worker; Kathy Boylan, of the Washington, DC Catholic Worker; Zara Brown, a Minneapolis, Minn. photographer; Susan Crane; Ralph Hutchison, and Carmella Cole, both of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Knoxville, Tenn.; Sr. Carol and Sr. Ardeth; Leona Morgan, of Diné No Nukes in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Bonnie Urfer and myself, both of Nukewatch in Luck, Wisc.