BUCHEL AIR FORCE BASE, Germany.
The first thing you notice at the peace camp being built here in west-central Germany is the beauty of the summer hay and the rich forests that crowd the country roads. The next thing is the roar of the jet bombers that thunder from the runway, screaming over nearby towns and this camp, which I joined August 4 – early enough to help raise tents and build infrastructure for up to 600 weekend demonstrators.
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorial camp, dubbed ‘Rhythm Beats Bombs’, will be as much hard work and as light-hearted as any anti-nuclear demonstration. This one is being especially energized by the musical group ‘Lebenslaute’ (life sounds) which combines music and social action. Its musicians perform classical pieces in public places unaccustomed to soothing tunes: military training grounds, inside airports (to prevent deportations), nulcear production sites and rocket depots.
I was glad to accept an invitation to join the orchestra and the peace camp crew, even with my amateurish trumpet skills. Our outrageously nonviolent performance of Mendelssohn, Bach and a few others will take place in the middle of the main gate and the extended program will continue throughout a 24 hour-long blockade.
Biggest air base uses biggest bombs
In 2009, long after German anti-war researchers first revealed that 20 U.S. nuclear weapons are deployed here at the country’s largest air force base, the government formally acknowledged its ‘nuclear sharing’ agreement with the Pentagon and NATO – sharing that’s gone on for decades. The chancellor also admitted then that the B-61 gravity bombs, which belong to the United States and carry a nuclear warhead with selectable explosive force of between 300 tons and 500,000 tons – are flown on German Tornado fighter bombers.
Loaded onto the heavy jets, the B-61s are prepared to be dropped by U.S. trained German pilots in the event of war. The deafening howl of the Tornados’ take offs attests to the fact that the exacting procedures needed to conduct mass destruction using radioactive firestorms are practiced regularly here at Buchel.
Theoreticaly, the U.S. president is in control of all the nuclear weaons in our arsenal, including these (as well as 90 in Italy, 90 in Turkey, 20 in Belgium and 20 in Holland). Any decision to detonate them against populations again is techically supposed to come from the prez. But air force accidents happen, and as the poet said, ‘Things fall apart. It’s scientific.’
German Tornado jet.
Pushing for withdrawl
None of the ‘nuclear sharing’ news would have been confirmed if not for the breadth and depth of the German anti-war and anti-nuclear movements. By 2008, a coalition of 49 organizations gathered 2,500 protesters here at Buchel. The demonstration successfully joined mainstream groups with advocates of nonviolent action for the first time and sent a sobering message to the governing parties: If you wan to to be reelected, get these H-bombs out of Germany. The weight of the protest’s news coverage raised public awareness of and opposition to the U.S. weapons and prompted the government’s 2009 admission.
Buchel is in South Eifel, in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, just nort of the Mosel River valley, renouned for its magnificent vineyards. On the way here I saw these steep hills covered fantastically with grapes and was reminded again of how, wherever the threat of murder emanating from the Bomb happens to be located, it casts a pall over everyone’s beautiful hard work of making a living in the earth and bringing things to life. It’s why an overwhelming majority of Germans want the weapons sent away immediately.
The 20 B-61s maintained here are the very last of a Cold War arsenal that once held thousands of ‘short range’ nuclear weapons. Gone also are the unfathomably destructive, nine-megaton B-53s that weighed 8,900 pounds and could burn down 600 Hiroshimas. But in spite of public opinion, there remains the U.S. and German governments’ embrace of nuclear terrorism (deterrence), and they are digging in.
The 2009 admission of ‘nuclear sharing’ was followed the same year by an agreement among Germany’s coalition governing parties that they would pursue the withdrawal of the last 20 Bombs. This major victory and validation of the anti-nuke campaign moved thousands to join the call for the return of all 240 U.S. H-bombs from Europe. Even a group of former NATO foreign ministers signed a letter demanding it.
Protesting the Bomb and government backsliding
Germany’s current government has moved in stark contrast to the declared policy of 2009. In May 2012, it bowed to U.S. pressure for ‘modernization’ of the B-61s – turning today’s model No. 11 into ‘mod 12′ – at factories in the U.S. – then deploying them back in Germany! The absurdity of Germany spending 250 million Euros to maintain newer U.S. nuclear weapons couldn’ be clearer.
This week’s ‘Music for Disarming and Concert Blockade’ may turn out to be the last time the campaign has to set up camp here, where the Bomb may be finally turned away for good.
John LaForge works for Nukewatch a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin.