“No One Is Paying Attention to Your Protests”

Image by Ra Dragon.

BÜCHEL, Germany

This pointed insult was shouted without a trace of irony through a chain-link fence toward a group of nuclear weapons opponents last Tuesday by a military guard equipped with binoculars and wearing a camera strapped around his neck.

The protest group was at the perimeter of Büchel Air Force Base in west-central Germany on July 12, the 205th anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau — the naturalist and theorist of conscientious defiance of illegitimate authority.

It’s safe to say no one was paying much attention to Thoreau either when he went to jail in July 1846 rather than pay poll taxes that were going to support the expansion of slavery into the western United States and President James Polk’s war on Mexico. It was only later that attention was paid, as Thoreau’s essay “On Resistance to Civil Government” would become a world literary classic regarding principled individual refusal to obey orders in violation of one’s personal integrity. After the Concord, Mass. constable demanded he pay his back taxes, Thoreau explained, “I cannot for an instant recognize … as my government [that] which is the slave’s government also.”

None of the anti-war activists went to jail last Tuesday for picnicking near the Büchel NATO base, but a colleague, Frits ter Kuile, of the Amsterdam Catholic Worker, had just begun a 30-day sentence in Germany’s Wittlich prison, for refusing to pay fines imposed for protests at the same base. Frits is the first non-German citizen jailed in the 26-year-long campaign of civil resistance at the controversial site, where 15-to-20 U.S. hydrogen bombs, known as B61s, are stationed. The old-fashioned, 170-kiloton gravity bombs are called “theatre” nuclear weapons war planners although the terrorism and provocation they produce in Moscow, 1,500 miles east, are anything but theatrical. The Hiroshima bomb that turned 140,000 people to powder and ash was ten times smaller an explosive, 15 kilotons.

German Air Force Tornado fighter jets regularly rehearse nuclear weapons attacks on Russia using weighted replicas of these U.S. nuclear weapons. The exercises, 95 of them in 2021 alone, have names like Cold Response, Defender-Europe 21, Anaconda, Locked Shields, Dragon Ride, Atlantic Resolve, Steadfast Noon, and Iron Wolf. Many of the military practices take place in the former Soviet Bloc countries Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Why Russia, invaded from the West three times in the last century, would be alarmed at these overt demonstrations of aggressive hostility is never considered by our gung-ho commercial media.

Another nuclear weapons resister, Ria Markein, a Quaker from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, recently finished a 30-day sentence in a women’s prison for a similar action at the base. Ria’s protest and jail-going has been noticed, as her example of radical nonviolence in opposition to suicidal weapons is recognized across Germany.

Objections to the stationing and threatening posture of U.S. nuclear weapons in Germany (and four other European partners) are based on legal principles and simple common sense which stands aghast at NATO’s eastern expansion and nuclear war games. The 1970 Nonproliferation Treaty prohibits the United States, Germany, and other states parties from transferring nuclear weapons to or receiving them from another NPT state. This makes NATO’s quaintly named “nuclear sharing” an ongoing criminal violation of binding international law. The destabilizing deployments, rehearsals, and threatened use of the U.S. B61s — rationalized in NATO’s newly issued “Strategic Concept” — cannot be distinguished from Russia’s recent nuclear threat-mongering, except in terms of nuance. “NATO’s … posture is based on an appropriate mix of nuclear … capabilities”, the Concept states. “NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture relies on the United States’ nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Europe ….” And “NATO will … ensure the credibility … of the nuclear deterrent mission.”

NATO’s cold-blooded “strategic” preparation for meaningless, genocidal atomic violence is cosmetically presented in defensive, sanctimonious, antiseptic language depicting hydrogen bombs as reasonable, measured, protective security blankets. This is a childishly naïve mindset that the wargamers promote but do not share.

Realists like Vicki Elson of NuclearBan.US, who spoke June 21 at a Washington, DC press conference promoting their abolition, described them honestly: they are “climate wrecking, indiscriminate weapons of mass extinction that don’t keep us secure but exacerbate the plunge toward environmental collapse, even without war.” At least Elson is paying attention.

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