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.
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.
All over the world people say no more nukes! These weapons have been banned internationally and now the international community has come to Germany to get the US nukes out!
An event held Saturday, July 15th welcomed the international activists that came to Büchel Air Force Base. Below it is captured in video clips.
At the International Week of Action members of the Nukewatch- organized delegation explain why they have come to Germany to oppose nuclear weapons.
“75-80% of uranium mining happens on indigenous lands worldwide. All over the world indigenous people dealing with the uranium mining have the same problems. It’s just a different company and a different government they are fighting.”
“How much is too much to give for our children?” From where the bombs are made in Oak Ridge, TN to their destination in Büchel, they meet resistance.
“I’d rather be playing with my grandchildren than resisting nuclear weapons and being put in prison.”
“Dorothy Day called nuclear weapons ‘gas chambers without walls.’ If we wouldn’t put people in gas chambers why would we fling them on people? The whole world has been turned into a concentration camp. Incineration is our fate unless we act to abolish nuclear weapons and war.”
(In German and English) Representatives of nuclear- and non- nuclear armed states came to Büchel to oppose the nukes in Germany, including China, Mexico, Russia. At minute 3:15 they introduce themselves in English.