German bomber base shut down by ambitious “rhythm beats bombs” blockaders

Photo: IKV Pax Christi

by John LaForge, Nukewatch

BÜCHEL AIR FORCE BASE, Germany — Over 750 people converged here at the country’s largest air base – although U.S. bases at Spangdahlem and Ramstein are far bigger — to condemn the retention of 20 U.S. nuclear weapons, in open violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and in a show of popular rebellion 150 hearty war resisters blockaded all nine base entrances for 24 hours. It was the first time in 16 years of resistance to the base’s use of U.S. H-bombs by Germany’s Tornado jet bombers that the compound had been completely closed to traffic by a protest.

In spite of the civilian lockdown of a large military complex, no arrests were made by any of the hundreds of civil and military police who were turned out. The action began Sunday with a large ‘Happening’ at the base’s main gate, after which eight independent teams carrrying overnight camping gear drove off to separate gates for the overnight blockades. The protest ended at noon Monday without injury to either the resisters or the shut-ins. The complicated blockade was named ‘Instruments for Disarmament: Rhythm Beats Bombs’ after the politically radical chamber orchestra and choir ‘Lebenslaute’ (life sounds) offered to join in the annual protest of the U.S. nukes.

The only leak in the ambitious base-wide blockade was through a previously undiscovered entry, or ‘Tor’ in German, which was found by protesters for the first time late on Sunday. The rough, remote, dirt track access was instantly dubbed ‘gate No. 7′, and after two ad hoc cellphone conferences among small-group representatives, 12 volunteers from other blockades gathered their gear and hurried to stop the leak. Organizers reported that truck tracks in the dirt road indicated that the air force had been using the secret entry to dodge the lockout for several hours.

After gate 7 was blocked by the activists, another small break in the nearly total shut-down took place at 6:40 a.m. Monday when about 150 camoflaged troops were rushed through a small door-sized opening in the high fence that surrounds the base. Known as ‘gate 6′ by anti-nuke campaingers, the mostly unused garden path-sized wire door was itself obstructed by the heavy coils of razor wire that had been placed inside all nine gates in advance of the weekend confrontation. Eye witnesses blocking gate No. 5 only 50 meters away reported that the troops ran from four large cargo transports and down a steep, wooded and uncleared embankment toward the fence, some of them falling down, and had to struggle to slash away the razor-wire before squeezing through the ‘kittie door.’ The occupiers at gates 5 and 6 were initially unable to call for help in blocking the troop movement when their cell phone coverage was suddenly cut off. After flashing her press credentials, Gina Willrich of Bikes Against Bombs was able to snap photos of the scene of soldiers embarrassingly sneaking into their own base.

Because of the action’s comprehensive planning, each of the separate occupation sites were supplied in advance with gear tents, toilets, tables and water. Two hot meals were delivered over the course of the day-long encampments where blockaders slept in sleeping bags set out like sardines across the access roads directly in front of the high steel gates.

Organized teams of like-minded and international campaigners – including representatives of Germany’s major peace organizations – took responsibility for the eight, and ultimately nine entrances. The unnumbered main gate or ‘Haupttor’ was successfully closed over night by up to 80 resisters self-named ‘Rhythm Beats Bombs’ who made use of the large stage and rock concert-style speaker system erected for the weekend events. ‘Tor’ No. 1, the ‘Women’s Resistance gate’, was overtaken by women from both Germany and England, and the British visitors used some of the long hours of the occupation to report on their own development of unprecedented blocking actions against the United States’s nuclear-armed Cruise missile bases built in England in the 1980s.

Gate 2, the ‘Inter-religious gate,’ was successfully cosed by over 15 ethicists of various demoninational stripes; gate 3 belonged to members of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), winners of the 1985 Pobel Peace Prize, who spent time explaining the ironclad industrial and political connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons; No. 4 was ‘Poetry gate’ and featured dramatic readings of anti-nuclear verse and classic appeals from the nuclear abolition movement. ‘Lutzerather Tor’, the other unnumbered gate (named for a nearby village) which is second in size and traffic load only to the main entrance, was overwhelmed by 58 members of Lebenslaute (28 all night) which entertained the visibly amused guards on the other side with hours of classic compositions.

Gate 5, and the adjoining previously mentioned tiny gate 6, only 50 meters away, was noisily occupied by Bikes Beat Bombs, Germany’s anti-nuclear motorcycle group which brought a touch of Marlon Brando and ‘The Wild Ones’ to the mostly organic, vegan and vegetarian rigor of Germany’s anti-war Left.

The mass action was aimed at reminding the German public just prior to an upcoming general election that although the major political parties have all promised to see the U.S. nukes withdrawn, none have yet to follow through. The current governing coalition led by Angela Merkel has even reversed course and acquiesced in a Pentagon proposal to replace the 40-year-old B-61 bombs with a new model set to be built in the U.S.

Nuclear Weapons-Free Now Campaign Council member Marion Küepker of Hamburg noted one disappointment Aug. 13, saying, ‘The national media’s complete black-out of the unprecedented base shutdown came in spite of, or perhaps because of the first-time participation of office-holding members of well-establshed NGOs in a partly ”illegal” anti-nuclear action.’ Only local and regional news organizations have so far reported on the event. ‘The presence of high-profile individuals explains the hands-off position taken by the police authorities, who will now avoid the publicity of politicized trials,’ Küepker said.

The shutdown also put Germany’s Air Force on notice that public resistance to the government’s embrace of the Bomb is bold enough to put it in its place, restricted to base, at least for the weekend.

– John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and was welcomed to play second chair cornet in the Lebenslaute blockade.