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.