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The Eye of a Tornado

Photo by MAPW Australia | CC BY 2.0


BÜCHEL AIR BASE, Germany

The “Büchel Is Everywhere: Nuclear Weapons-Free Now!” peace camp here stands just across the road from the German NATO base which houses about 20 nuclear bombs belonging to the United States. (Spoiler alert: this so-called “nuclear sharing” is not legal.) The well-equipped anti-nuclear encampment is a 20-week-long public reminder to military and civilian personnel working on base — and to thousands of passersby who can’t avoid our big banners in the Main Gate — that nuclear weapons are profoundly unethical, internationally illegal, and militarily useless. The campground is complete with a working kitchen, 8-tap washing station, four modern caravans, a hot shower, and a dozen tents for storage, meeting spaces, dining, shade, and sleeping.

More than 50 organizations in Germany have endorsed the Büchel Is Everywhere campaign, agreeing to make their voices heard using nonviolent civil resistance at the base. Hundreds of individuals and dozens of groups are committed to the protests which began here on March 26. The groups have engaged in peaceful defiance of official nuclear and conventional war preparations emanating from this Eye of the Tornado: Büchel is a launch platform and training facility for German P200 Tornado fighter jets which train to use the US hydrogen bombs.

Leading anti-nuclear NGOs from Germany and elsewhere have to camp, or soon will, to join in nonviolent protests before August 9 when the “20 weeks for 20 bombs” concludes. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (with 150,000 members in 50 countries), Mayors for Peace (representing 7,614 cities in 163 countries), and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (with 700 members in 75 countries), have or will send members to camp this year — all convinced that now is the time to push the US H-bombs out of Germany for good.

Live Runway Occupied July 23

The latest protest saw seven anti-nuclear activists, led by one of Germany’s Quaker groups, got through fences and onto the air base’s live runway July 23, just as the Tornado jet bombers were preparing for another day of practice runs. The seven runway occupiers, German citizens all, were eventually detained, ID’d and released after being told they face charges.

Although the intruders’ support team warned the base by phone that there were “seven people on the runway,” conventional and social media are this week humming with accusations that the “protesters endangered themselves and the fighter pilots.” Who said irony is dead?

The complaints stem from news of an unprecedented visit to the peace camp. Well after the runway protesters were released, a high-ranking air force pilot and a local police commander came to complain. The runway occupation had obviously struck a real nerve. It was the first time in 20 years of protests here that any pilot had ever approached the protesters. The officer scolded the organizers saying that the “go-in” protesters could have been burned by jet engine blast, and that pilots may have had to make a risky “abort” of take offs. The peacenik’s rebuttal is obvious: “The base’s 20 thermonuclear bombs and its pilots’ training and mission to use them are a danger to the entire biosphere — so get your priorities in order.”

While some are calling for heavy charges and severe penalties for the peaceful trespassers, the German Air Force here “shares” the 20-or-so US nuclear gravity bombs (called B61s), and stand ready for a US presidential order to drop them somewhere. Exactly who is endangering whom, when the hydrogen bombs are dangerous to US producers, dangerous to transferring US handlers, dangerous to receiving German Air Force personnel and the surrounding community, dangerous to crews that regularly practice their doomsday missions, and dangerous to people the world over who could be targeted? How many of us have contemplated the deliberate, ongoing planning and preparation necessary for our German air force friends to commit massacres (the only thing nuclear weapons can do) with bombs made in the USA?

Some who call for harsh punishment of the July 23 runway occupiers have referred to “law and order.” Yet the highest law of the land in both Germany and the United States is ratified treaty law — like the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons which both Germany and the United States have ratified. Article I forbids the transfer of US nuclear weapons to Germany; Art. II forbids Germany from receiving nuclear weapons from the United States. (The treaty’s language is more general, but it translates this way since it’s binding on states that ratify.)

While the US and German governments regularly condemn others for violating UN Resolutions, the UN General Assembly Res. 1653 of 1961 declares, “Any State using nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons is to be considered as violating the Charter of the United Nations, as acting contrary to the laws of humanity, and as committing a crime against [hu]mankind and civilization.” Not just the “go-in” activists, but 93% of the Germans want the nukes ousted from here. The public agrees that common sense, UN resolutions, the Nonproliferation Treaty, and the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons are reason enough to stop the Tornados from practicing nuclear attacks and to finally get rid of the US bombs.

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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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