Original peace boat reborn
Jun 20, 2014 at 10:05 PM
Back in the 1950s, the U.S. military made the Pacific’s Marshall Islands the primary site for nuclear weapons testing.
As you might expect, those tests were wreaking havoc on the environment and human health.
In 1958, a Quaker-inspired voyage of nonviolent protest set out from California for the Marshalls in a little sailing ketch called the Golden Rule to do something about it.
The Golden Rule and its crew never made it to their intended destination.
The Coast Guard stopped the vessel in the Hawaiian Islands and arrested everybody on board. But the publicity surrounding the crew’s trial and imprisonment helped ignite worldwide public outrage against atmospheric testing.
By 1963 the Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed. It banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater, and outer space.
The Golden Rule was the forebear of all the peace and justice boats that followed, from the Sea Shepherds to Free Gaza. The connection to Greenpeace is direct.
In 1971, Golden Rule supporter Marie Bohlen attended a meeting in Vancouver, Canada, of people concerned about nuclear weapons tests. She suggested a voyage toward the U.S. nuclear test site in the Aleutian Islands a la the Golden Rule.
Soon, the rusty trawler Phyllis Cormack was renamed the Rainbow Warrior and pointed north toward the Alaskan archipelago. That’s how Greenpeace got its start. Ms. Bohlen, known as the matriarch of Greenpeace, passed away earlier this year at the age of 89.
Sadly, after the 1958 voyage, the Golden Rule passed from public view. The boat wound up in Humboldt Bay, California, badly neglected and finally sank in a storm in late 2010.
When a group of Northern California members of Veterans For Peace learned the damaged ketch was nearby and might be salvageable, they leaped at the chance to raise the vessel from the depths and restore it to its former peacemaking glory.
Later they were joined by others, including yours truly. I assist with fundraising and publicity from my home in Ohio, and have also journeyed to California, mostly to sand, paint and help where I am able.
While sponsored by Veterans for Peace, the Golden Rule Project brings together an eclectic mix of environmentalists, peace activists and progressives. It’s open to anyone interested in working to complete the restoration and promote its mission.
Once we finish that task, the Golden Rule will again ride the waves as a living museum and floating classroom, educating future generations on the risks of nuclear technology, the importance of the ocean environment, and most importantly, peace-making.
The Golden Rule’s original crew richly deserve being honored. They stood firm for peace and non-violence before it became fashionable.
Two of them, Albert Bigelow and James Peck, were among the original 13 Freedom Riders in 1961. Racist mobs beat them badly for their trouble, but they won in the end with the desegregation of interstate buses.
The other crew members were equally noteworthy.
One was the Quaker representative to the United Nations, and another was a founder of Peace Brigades International.
We are honored to carry on their legacy as best we can by bringing the little ketch back to life.
Thus far, the Golden Rule Committee has raised and spent close to $90,000. Our expenditures are well under those of the original 1958 boat and voyage, which cost $380,000 in today’s dollars. This Quaker-like frugality is due entirely to the efforts of our dedicated volunteer team of boatwrights.
The restoration is now about 75 percent complete, and our goal of re-launching this year is within reach thanks to our many supporters.
—Arnold "Skip" Oliver