By John LaForge
Büchel, Germany — The theory that nuclear weapons provide state security is a fiction believed by millions. Last night Monday, July 17, five of us proved that the story of ”high security” nuclear weapon facilities is just as fictitious.
After nightfall, an international group of five peace activists, me included, got deep inside the Büchel Air Base here, and for the first time in a 21-year long series of protests against its deployment of US nuclear bombs, we occupied the top of one of the large bunkers which stores nuclear weapons. We could scarcely believe we’d reached the inner sanctum of a nuclear war planning zone.
After hiking along two shadowy farm roads, shushing down a dark row of tall corn, crossing a brightly lit air base road, and tramping noisily through a few wooded brambles, our small group cut through two chain-link fences, bumbled past a giant hanger, and under the wing of a jet fighter bomber, to reach a double fence surrounding the giant earth-covered bunkers. After we cut through the two non-electrified exterior fences without tripping a single alarm or even causing the lights to snap on, the five of us scurried up to the top of the sod-padded, wide-topped concrete quonset hut. Totally unnoticed, we spent over an hour chatting, star gazing, checking our radiation monitor, and enjoying being flabbergasted that our implausible plan had worked. This was supposedly one of the most tightly controlled places in the world.
No motion detector or alarm, no Klieg light or guard had noticed our intrusion at all. Then it started getting cold. We’d come prepared for days, weeks or months in jail, but not for being outside all night. So two members of the group climbed down to scratch “DISARM NOW” on the bunker’s giant metal front door, setting off an alarm. They hustled back up to the others and were soon surrounded by vehicle spot lights and guards searching on foot with flashlights. We decided to alert guards to our presence by singing ‘The Vine & Fig Tree,’ prompting them for the first time to look up. We were eventually taken into custody, more than two hours after entering the base. After being detained, searched, photographed for an hour, we were released without charges, although some may be pending.
The five, Baggarly, Susan Crane, 73, of California, Bonnie Urfer, 65, of Wisconsin, Gerd Buentzly, 67, of Germany, and I, said in a prepared statement, “We are nonviolent and have entered Büchel Air Base to denounce the nuclear weapons deployed here. We ask Germany to either disarm the weapons or send them back to the United States for disarming….” The US still deploys up to 20 B61 gravity bombs at the air base and German pilots train to use them in war from their Tornado jet fighter bombers.
The bunker occupation, known as a “go-in” action by German anti-nuclear campaigners, was the fourth act of civil resistance during “international week” at the base, organized by “Non-violent Action to Abolish Nukes” (GAAA). More than 60 people from around the world — Russia, China, Mexico, Germany, Britain, the US, the Netherlands, France and Belgium — participated. The effort was in turn part of a 20-week-long series of actions — “Twenty Weeks for Twenty Bombs” — that was begun March 26, 2017 by a 50-group Germany-wide coalition called Büchel is Everywhere, Nuclear Weapons Free Now!”
A combination of two earlier actions succeeded in winning a meeting with the base commander ”Oberstleutnant” Gregor Schlemmer. At the site of a base blockade earlier July 17, the commander personally approached the protesters — something unheard of in the United States — and accepted a copy of the newly-adopted UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons from Sister Ardeth Platte, OP, of Baltimore, Maryland. A day earlier, as 25 activists walked through shockingly unlocked main entrance gates, spontaneously lowered the US flag, and ”put bread not bombs” around the retired jet bombers on display, Sr. Platte and Sr. Carol Gilbert, OP also of Baltimore, demanded a meeting with Schlemmer so they could deliver the treaty. The next day’s appearance of the commander made me joke: ”Yesterday we took down the flag, and today the commander surrendered.”
Eleven activists from the United States came to Büchel to put a spotlight on government plans to replace the B61. Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Tennessee — where a new thermonuclear core for the “B61-Model 12” will be manufactured — said, “It is important that we show this is a global movement. The resistance to nuclear weapons is not limited to one country.” The new B61-12 program will cost more than $12 billion, and “when production starts sometime after 2020, Büchel is scheduled to get new nuclear bombs. Nothing could be stupider when Germany wants the out and the world wants to abolish nuclear weapons,” he said.
US delegate Susan Crane, a Plowshares activist and member of the Redwood City, Calif. Catholic Worker, said, “Around 3:00 a.m. while we were detained, Schlemmer the Commander came to meet us and said what we did was very dangerous and that we might have been shot. We believe the greater danger comes from the nuclear bombs that are deployed at the Base.”