Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2013
By John LaForge
BÜCHEL AIR FORCE BASE, Germany — Over 750 people converged here at the government’s largest air force base to condemn the deployment of 20 US nuclear weapons, in open violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which prohibits a nuclear state from transferring nuclear weapons to a non-weapon state, and prohibits a non-nuclear state from receiving such weapons. In a show of organized popular rebellion, 150 hearty war resisters blockaded traffic at all nine base entrances for 24 hours.
It was the first time in 16 years of resistance to the base’s “sharing” of US H-bombs (used onboard Germany’s Tornado jet bombers), that the base had been completely closed to traffic by a protest. The Pentagon also “shares” the B-61 gravity bomb with Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Turkey.
In spite of the civilian lockdown of this large military complex, no arrests were made by any of the hundreds of civil and military police who turned out.
The action began Sunday, August 11, with a large “Happening” at the base’s main gate, or “Haupttor,” after which eight separate groups carrying overnight camping gear drove off to far-flung gates for the 24-hour blockade. The protest ended at noon the next day without injury to either the resisters or the shut-ins. The complicated blockade was named “Instruments for Disarmament: Rhythm Beats Bombs” after Germany’s 30-year-old radical orchestra and choir “Lebenslaute” (life sounds) offered to join in the annual protest of the US nukes.
The only leak in the ambitious base-wide blockade was through a previously unidentified entry, or ‘Tor,’ which was found by protesters for the first time late on Sunday. Organizers reported that tracks in the dirt road indicated that the Air Force had been using the secret entry to dodge the lockout for several hours. The rough, remote, dirt track access was instantly dubbed “gate No. 7,” and after two hurried cellphone conferences 12 volunteers from other blockades gathered their gear and hurried to stop the leak.
Soldiers sneak past blockaders
Just one more small break in the shut-down took place at 6:40 a.m. Monday, when about 150 camouflaged troops were rushed through a small door-sized opening in the high fence that surrounds the base. Known as “gate 6” by anti-nuke campaigners, the mostly unused, garden path-sized wire door was itself obstructed by the heavy coils of razor wire that had been placed inside all nine gates in advance of the weekend confrontation. Eye witnesses blocking gate No. 5 only 50 meters away reported that the troops ran from four large cargo transports down a steep, wooded embankment, some falling down, toward the fence and had to struggle to slash away the razor-wire before squeezing through the “kitty door.” The occupiers at gates 5 and 6 were initially unable to call for help in blocking the troop movement when their cell phone coverage was suddenly cut off. After flashing her press credentials Gina Willrich of Bikes Against Bombs, Germany’s anti-nuclear motorcycle group, was able to snap photos of the soldiers embarrassingly sneaking into their own base.
Because of the action’s comprehensive planning, each of the separate occupation sites was supplied in advance with lights, tents, toilets, tables and water. Two hot meals were delivered over the course of the day-long encampments where blockaders slept in sleeping bags set out like sardines across the access roads directly in front of the high steel gates.
Organized teams of like-minded and international campaigners — including representatives of Germany’s major peace organizations — took responsibility for the eight, and ultimately nine entrances. The unnumbered main gate was successfully closed overnight by about 80 resisters — self-named “Rhythm Beats Bombs” — who made use of the large stage and rock concert-style speaker system erected for the weekend events. “Tor” No. 1, the “Women’s Resistance gate,” was overtaken by women from Germany and England, and the British visitors used some of the long hours of the occupation to report on their own development of unprecedented blocking actions against the Pentagon’s nuclear-armed Cruise missile bases built in England in the 1980s.
Gate 2, the “Inter-religious gate,” was successfully closed by over 15 ethicists of various denominational stripes; gate 3 belonged to members of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) — winners of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize — who spent time explaining the economic, industrial and political connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons; gate 4 was “Poetry gate” and featured dramatic readings of anti-nuclear verse and classic appeals from the nuclear abolition movement.
Musicians confront nuclear madness with “life sounds”
“Lutzerather Tor,” another unnumbered gate (named for a nearby village) which is second in size and traffic load only to the main entrance, was overwhelmed by 58 members of Lebenslaute (28 all night) which entertained the visibly amused guards on the other side of the fence with hours of classic compositions. Your Nukewatch reporter was happy to join this band of musical resisters, rehearsing with them during the week prior to the action and playing 2nd cornet in its concerts and the overnight blockade.
Gate 5, and the adjoining previously mentioned tiny gate 6, only 50 meters away, was noisily occupied by Bikes Beat Bombs, which brought a touch of Marlon Brando and “The Wild Ones” to the mostly organic, vegan and vegetarian rigor of Germany’s anti-war Left.
Why a national news blackout?
In assessing the 24-hour blockade, Nuclear Weapons-Free Now Campaign Council member Marion Küepker of Hamburg, noted one disappointment, saying, “The national media’s black-out of the unprecedented base shutdown was a surprise.” Only local and regional news organizations have so far reported on the event.
“The presence of high-profile individuals could explains the hands-off position taken by the police. This was the first-time that office-holding members of well-established NGOs joined a partly ‘illegal’ nuclear weapons protest,” Küepker said. By not making arrests, the military also avoids the political trials that focus a lot of attention on the US weapons,” Küepker said.
Of course, the action’s successful base closure put Germany’s Air Force on notice that public opposition and resistance to the government’s embrace of the US bombs is bold enough to put it in its place, restricted to base — at least for the weekend.