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July 6th, 2011
By Jan Barry
Beyond the July 4th fireworks celebrating historic battles against the British empire, American history includes many other memorable moments when courageous acts of conscience stirred the nation to steer a peaceful tack against the winds of war. One of those moments was in the spring of 1958 when a retired Navy captain, Albert Bigelow, set off in a small sailboat to nonviolently challenge the United States military use of the South Pacific as a nuclear weapons testing zone.
Concerns about radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb tests and the possibility of nuclear war worried many people around the world. When authorities stopped the “Golden Rule” as it sailed out of Hawaii and arrested Bigelow and his peacenik crew, a tsunami of antinuclear testing protests erupted across America. “Later that year, the beleaguered U.S. government agreed to a nuclear testing moratorium,” historian Lawrence S. Wittner recently noted in an article in Z magazine on the impact of what he called the “legendary” sailboat.
Bigelow—a World War II veteran who died in 1993 at age 87—continued protesting preparations for waging nuclear war and what he saw as other outrages, joining the Freedom Riders in 1961 on another history-changing journey. The “Golden Rule,” meanwhile, sailed off into oblivion until it was dredged up last year from the bottom of Humboldt Bay in northern California.
Shipyard owner Leroy Zerlang was torn between cutting up the salvaged wreck or preserving it in a museum, Wittner wrote. Now a crew of history-minded volunteers is working to restore the 30-foot wooden ketch and sail her under the flag of Veterans For Peace. “She’s going to be the peace boat out to confront militarism and needless war,” project coordinator Fredy Champagne recently told The Sacramento Bee.
“It was the Golden Rule’s peace mission that captivated Champagne,” noted Bee correspondent Jane Braxton Little. “After a year of combat in Vietnam, he retreated to the hills of Humboldt County, living as a recluse with post-traumatic stress disorder. One morning in 1988, he suddenly decided to build a hospital in Vietnam.
“Since then Champagne has organized 23 teams of veterans to build dozens of medical facilities, schools and homes in Vietnam. His ‘people-to-people diplomacy’ campaign also includes driving the Kosovo Peace Bus, which held ‘teach-ins’ in major U.S. cities; building water systems in Iraq; and organizing a 2000 trip to Cuba for the Lost Coast Pirates Little League team.
“”Waging peace has saved my life,’ said Champagne.”
Champagne and other members of the Golden Rule Project of Veterans For Peace set a goal of raising $50,000 for repairs, including replacing the deck and cabin. They plan to launch the ship by next summer to tour U.S. waterways to promote the peace group’s “goals of nuclear disarmament, abolishment of war,” Champagne wrote in a report in the current issue of the Veterans For Peace Newsletter.
The Golden Rule Project organizers’ vision and enthusiasm is contagious, Grandmothers for Peace International’s director, Lorraine Krofchok, stated in that organization’s spring 2011 newsletter.
“This little ketch could be used to educate ‘the future’ and how peace is the only alternative to constant war and aggression,” Krofchok wrote after visiting the storied sailboat in dry dock in Fairhaven, California. “Our oceans are bombarded with ‘war games.’ The Golden Rule could become a lead boat in a Flotilla of Peace.”
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(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)
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