Reportage. Italians are staging anti-war protests nationwide, including outside of Brescia, the symbolic home of Italy’s part in global conflict.

In the town of Ghedi, residents coexist with nuclear warheads and a NATO base

On Saturday, Rome will host the national meeting of those who want to stop the war, while all across Italy people have been marching for days, in the big cities, in the smallest capitals, even in villages with a handful of people. This is the case with Ghedi, a town of 18,000 inhabitants 18 kilometers from Brescia, where on Sunday the anti-war protest will be held in front of the place in Italy that symbolizes war more than anything else: the NATO base that houses the 6th Stormo of the Italian Air Force.

But that’s not all it houses: there are also at least 20 nuclear warheads in its bunkers.

The real number is secret, because the weapons are kept strictly classified, and officially their presence is denied. The remaining warheads are located in Aviano, in Friuli, 250 kilometers further east. The Ghedi base has always been a symbol, not only for the obvious reasons but also because it’s a danger for those who live around it, since it is obviously a strategic target.

A reporter who reaches it by car will find the military airport going north from the city center. One can drive around its south-southeast side for almost 4 kilometers. The whole perimeter is ten kilometers in total. Cell phones have weak signal, and in some parts of the area they don’t work at all. Which doesn’t stop us from talking to Loris, one of the key figures of the local anti-war movement, which is not very large in Ghedi: “After all,” says Loris of the Insieme a Sinistra group, “many people work more or less directly for the base. The non-commissioned officers have their homes in the city, while the higher-ranking ones live on Lake Garda.”

Ghedi, a town run by the Lega, identifies itself with the military base: “The first thing the mayor did was to remove the flag of peace from the town hall, but we are going forward. And on Sunday we will be in front of the base, like dozens of other times.”

“Living here,” says Agnese, also from the group, “means living on a target path in case of a conflict. We are in danger, but we always have been.”

Aiming to calculate the potential damage of an attack against the atomic bunkers of our country, a study of the Ministry of Defense was published a few years ago, and later included in a 2021 dossier from Greenpeace. It said that, in the worst case scenario, the people affected by the radioactive mushroom cloud could be from 2 to 10 million, depending on the propagation of the wind and the intervention times. This scenario, Greenpeace said, was being kept strictly secret and shared only with top military and political brass and nuclear safety officials.

“There’s no big difference now compared to other times,” says Loris, and Agnese also confirms: “We know that the base is on alert, and you feel this tension, you live it, even if, living in Ghedi, you get used to it. Strangely enough, in the last few days there have been fewer flights than usual. But I have seen planes that are not the usual Tornados. We also saw one of them landing. After all, it’s not a mystery that Ghedi is equipped for the F-35 and for the latest generation of bombs that are on the way.”

The Anti-war committee of Brescia, which organized Sunday’s demonstration, is an organization that brings together different strands: political, environmentalist, pacifist. Brescia, a handful of miles away, has always been the driving force behind the anti-war protest, and, of course, against the NATO base where dozens of nuclear warheads are warehoused.

“The new ones, the B61-12s, are on their way,” explains Beppe of Uomini e Donne Contro la Guerra (“Men and Women Against War”), a social center in Rovato, 40 kilometers from the base. “These are evolved bombs that are remote-controlled from the helmets of F-35 pilots.”

“They just had nuclear weapon exercises in November with Tornados and F-35s.” Also, the base has just set up new hangars for these aircraft. And it’s now complete with two runways, a command and simulator building and a technology hub. As for where the bombs are, there is a base within the base where entrance is forbidden. It’s an open secret that the warheads are there, and, to be sure, it’s enough to look at a picture posted on FB a few years ago and included in the Milex report: a hundred pilots and soldiers posing in front of a beautiful B61.

Giorgio Cremaschi, of the Brescia Committee, maintains that “we have little fear compared to what would be needed. We had more with Covid. The demonstration had been in the air for some time, but we accelerated after the ‘turning point’ of sending weapons to Ukraine. We need to stop the war, not to feed it. And the first point is a ceasefire that would stop raids and fighting.” Among others, the Catholics of Pax Christi will also be present, who have always been very active on the front of Ghedi and Aviano.

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