A military truck, passing through this village late one night a year ago, rounded a curve too quickly and rolled its cargo -- a U.S. Pershing Ia rocket minus its nuclear warhead -- into the neat front-yard flower bed of the Juelichers.
The mishap was taken in stride by the people here who, surrounded by a cluster of American, British and West German military installations, had come through three decades of the Cold War, Peaceful Coexistence and finally Detente to tolerate such minor aggravations in the name of Western security and NATO. There was nothing more than the usual grousing from the Juelichers, nor from their neighbors, about the problems of living beside soldiers.
But today, something has changed. Wildenrath, and many other towns like it here in the crowded heartland of Western Europe, are less inclined to accept nuclear weapons as neighbors. They are questioning the ambiguous and disjointed strategies that have grown up around the weapons on their soil but beyond their control.
Several times in recent months there have been street demonstrations in the area as some citizens of this small town in Germany have joined the more publicized hundreds of thousands who have paraded in London, Bonn, Paris, Amsterdam and other European capitals to call for a moratorium on nuclear weapons deployment by the United States and Soviet Union in Europe.
As the European antinuclear movement has gathered strength and definition, it has begun to show a tendency to go beyond a simple rejection of the 108 new U.S. Pershing II and 464 Tomahawk cruise missiles earmarked for Europe, to attacks generally on America's security policy and in some cases to a renunciation of the West's whole security concept. Alternatives offered range from nuclear-free zones across the continent to unilateral disarmament by Europe.
Based on reporting in the major capitals of NATO during the past two months, this series will attempt to examine the origins and consequences of the continent-wide debate of security issues, particularly of nuclear strategy, that has erupted in public after being the province of a handful of experts for decades.
Involved is nothing less than an awakening -- or perhaps reawakening since there had been a similar debate in the 1950s -- to bedrock matters of peace and war, of deterrence and defense, which the Europeans had preferred to put aside as they moved out of the shadow of World War II and concentrated on impressive economic growth rates and, later, cooperative relations with the Soviet Union. Moreover, these European publics had not really been consulted by, nor taken into the confidence of, their own governments on the schizophrenic issue of nuclear deterrence. These publics and their governments have also been largely taken for granted by the United States in making its decisions on the issue.
Political and military officials in Bonn, The Hague, London, Rome and Washington tend to agree that a lack of early public eduction on what is the first major nuclear buildup in Europe in two decades has helped fuel the controversy that engulfs NATO and its member governments today.
There is not a unified continent-wide peace movement, leading figures in the assorted collection of national antinuclear organizations acknowledge. There is much emotion, much irrationality evident in the protest.
But also rising from the general mood of protest are forceful and persuasive challenges to the still unreal world that would marry strategic doctrine and battlefield nuclear weapons. The doctrine's improbable assumptions have been brought into sharp focus by the NATO-wide decision in December 1979 to reintroduce on West European soil American missiles that can hit the Soviet Union, and by the uncertain enunciation of nuclear strategy by President Reagan, Secretary of State Alexander M.