From 1946 to 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands displacing Indigenous inhabitants and spreading radiation around the globe. Efforts from a concerned public were unsuccessful in stopping the nuclear weapons testing, so in 1958, four Quaker peace activists attempted to sail the Golden Rule from Los Angeles, Calif., to the Marshall Islands to interfere with the tests.
Left: The Golden Rule in front of Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1958 before attempting to sail to the Marshall Islands to interfere with nuclear weapons tests. Photo from the Albert Bigelow Papers, courtesy of Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Right: “Cancel RIMPAC!” Photo courtesy of Veterans for Peace.
This fall, that same Golden Rule sailboat will begin another voyage to promote nuclear disarmament. The Golden Rule is scheduled to leave Stillwater, Minn., in late September to travel around “the Great Loop”: the continuous waterway down the Mississippi River, around Florida, up the East Coast, through the Great Lakes, then back down to the Gulf of Mexico. With more than 100 stopping points on the 11,000-mile journey, the plan is to complete the trip in the Gulf of Mexico by January 2024.
“We are sailing for a nuclear-free world and a peaceful sustainable future,” says Helen Jaccard, manager of the Veterans for Peace Golden Rule Project. “Our mission is all the more urgent now that two nuclear powers are confronting one another in Ukraine, which greatly increases the chances of nuclear war.”
Jaccard says there are plans to sail to South America following the completion of the Great Loop.
Great Loop Route. Image courtesy of Veterans for Peace.
In 1958, the original crew of the Golden Rule was arrested and detained after stopping for supplies in Honolulu, Hawaii. The arrests, though, sparked worldwide awareness about the dangers from radiation, especially after it was found in mother’s milk. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy, along with leaders of the UK and the USSR, signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear testing in air, water, and space.
In 2010, the Golden Rule was rediscovered in northern California’s Humboldt Bay as a sunken, derelict wreck. Over the following five years, the boat was restored by members of Veterans for Peace, Quakers, and wooden boat lovers.
Since 2015 the boat has sailed the West Coast from Mexico to British Columbia and visited all of the Hawaiian Islands, still sailing on its original mission to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The Golden Rule is a national project of Veterans for Peace, a global organization of military veterans and allies whose collective efforts are to build a culture of peace.