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Activists Challenge US Nukes in Germany; Occupy Bunker Deep Inside Nuclear Weapons Base

From left, Bonnie Urfer, Steve Baggarly, Susan Crane, John LaForge all of the US, and Gerd Buentzly of Germany, entered Büchel Air Base in Germany to challenge U.S. nuclear weapons deployment. (Photo by Ralph Hutchison)

BÜCHEL, Germany 

The fairy tale that nuclear weapons provide state security is a fiction believed by millions. On July 17, five of us proved that state guarantees of “highly secure” nuclear weapon facilities are 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 potentially used for storing nuclear weapons. 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.

After hiking along shadowy farm roads, shushing through a dark row of tall corn, clipping through the base’s outer fence, crossing a brightly lit air base road, and tramping noisily through a few wooded brambles, our small group cut through a second chain-link fence, bumbled past a giant hanger and under the wing of a jet fighter bomber, and reached a double-fence surrounding the broad, earth- bermed bunkers. After cutting through the two non-electrified fences without tripping a single alarm or even having the lights snap on, the five of us scurried up to the top of the wide-topped, grass covered concrete Quonset hut. No motion detector or alarm, no Klieg light or guard had noted our intrusion at all. We spent over an hour chatting, star gazing, checking our radiation monitor, and enjoying being flabbergasted that our implausible plan and Google-earth route had worked. This was supposedly a severely controlled H-bomb storage depot, but we’ll never know. We didn’t try breaking into it.

It started getting cold around 1 a.m. and we’d come prepared weeks or months in jail, but not for being outside all night. So Steve Baggarly, 52, of the Norfolk, Virginia Catholic Worker, and I climbed down to scratch “DISARM NOW” on the bunker’s giant metal doors, finally alerting some guards. The two of us hustled back up to the others on top and were soon surrounded by vehicles’ scanning spot lights and guards searching on foot with flashlights. Rather comically, we were still unnoticed as we watched the patrols scurry around. We ultimately decided to announce our presence by singing “The Vine & Fig Tree,” prompting them for the first time to look up. We were taken into custody over two hours after entering the base, and after being searched, photographed and briefly lectured, we were released without charges. 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….”

Our bunker occupation, called a “go-in” action by German anti-nuclear campaigners here, was the fourth act of civil resistance during “international week” at the base. Organized by “Non-violent Action to Abolish Nukes” (GAAA), the week saw over 60 people — from Russia, China, Mexico, Germany, Britain, the US, The Netherlands, France and Belgium — participate. The 7-day effort was part of a 20-week-long set of actions — “20 Weeks for 20 Bombs” — launched on March 26, 2017 — in conjunction with the start of final negotiations at the UN for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — by a 50-group nation-wide coalition called “Büchel is Everywhere!”

Two earlier protest actions succeeded in a couple of ‘firsts’: an unprecedented meeting between blockaders and the base commander and the removal of the otherwise very prominent United States flag. During an early morning blockade, “Oberstleutnant” Gregor Schlemmer personally approached protesters — something unheard of in similar US protests — and accepted a copy of the newly-minted UN Treaty Ban from Sister Ardeth Platte, OP, of Baltimore, Maryland. A day earlier, when over 35 activists streamed through the main gate which was mistakenly left unlocked, spontaneously lowered the US flag, and placed loaves of bread around the memorialized jet bombers, Sr. Platte and Sr. Carol Gilbert, OP, also of Baltimore, demanded a meeting with Mr. Schlemmer so they could deliver the treaty. The next day’s shocking appearance prompted a 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 US plans to replace the B61s instead of removing them. Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Tennessee — where a new thermonuclear core for the “B61-Model12” might 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 over $12 billion, if and when production starts sometime after 2020, and “Bushel is scheduled to get new hydrogen bombs. Nothing could be stupider when 90% of Germans want them out and the when world wants to abolish nuclear weapons,” he said.

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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