There is a small army in Germany, growing in size, ready to do battle over the stationing of American nuclear weapons on its soil. It is a legion led by youth, environmentalists, clergy, and politicians -- all against arms.
The peace movement in West Germany and Europe atlarge is a diverse lot. Some want to ban the bomb all together, arguing that disarmament is a moral duty. Others see pacificism as a way of rejecting the materialism of the age. On the more militant fringe, adherents express angry contempt for the social system that counts among its achievements the destructive power of the atom.
But the key unifying issue for the burgeoning movement has been opposition to the stationing of new US medium-range nuclear missiles in West Germany. Now, the Reagan administration's decision on the neutron bomb has ignited a brush fire of fresh discontent.
That decision is just one in an unsettling chain of bellicose moves by the United States, says a worker at an antinuclear organization's headquarters in the West Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg. The protesters are suspicious that the US Congress was unable to ratify SALT II. They fear the mounting rhetoric of abuse between the Kremlin and the White House is the warm-up to a fullfledged arms race.
But the neutron issue raises their ire more: How can Washington call it a purely American decision when Europe is the only appropriate repository for the weapon?
This fact, more than any other, has angered pacifists and their political allies. "I have the feeling the US defense minister [Caspar Weinberger] is not endowed with a very marked sense of the political and psychological aspects of this question in Europe," Guenter Verheugen, the secretary-general of the Free Democratic Party, told the weekly Sonntag Aktuell in an article published Aug. 16.
The peace movement has become a political powder keg. It stirred the voices of dissent in the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) over the missiles issue, and its forceful lobbying influenced a cut in defense spending for the 1982 budget.
West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has supported the NATO defense plans and it has cost him dearly. He fought for his party's backing of former President Carter's neutron program in 1978, and the cancellation of that plan was politically damaging.
Within Mr. Schmidt's party, the vocal left wing does not want the American missiles deployed in West Germany. Now several important members of that faction are turning their criticism toward the neutron bomb.
SPD foreign policy expert Egon Bahr has led the chorus of opposition, calling the neutron bomb "a perversion of thought." West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party -- the junior partner in the coalition with the SPD -- has criticized the stridency of the reaction and warned against anti-Americanism.
But anti-Americanism, one birthright of the pacifist movement, is not easily dissipated. "Reagan is so . . . aggressive," says a peace activist."Our movement will have to get aggressive, too."
It has.In West Berlin, the so-called Alternative List group won 7 percent of the vote in the May elections, and now holds nine seats in the legislature. Ecologist, or Green Party candidates have been elected to government posts in Frankfurt and other cities.
Within the ruling party, the left wing offers only lukewarm support to the NATO talk-and-deploy decision of 1979. This faction has a chance of winning the vote at the party's next congress in April, and Mr. Schmidt has threatened to resign if they do.
But for peace activists in West Germany, it is the reality behind the NATO decision that troubles most. "They are afraid of the cold war," says a former radical who maintains close ties with the counterculture. "They don't turn East , they don't turn West, they turn inside."