The First Boat to Protest Nuclear Weapons Is Back

Ernie Alpert, Waging Nonviolence

65 years ago, the Golden Rule ignited protests that led to a partial ban on nuclear weapons testing. Now it’s back to fight for nothing short of abolition.

Writing in the February 1958 issue of the radical pacifist journal Liberation, former U.S. Navy Commander Albert Bigelow recalled that he was “absolutely awestruck,” even though he “had no way of understanding what an atom bomb was.” In that moment, he said he intuitively “realized for the first time that, morally, war is impossible.”

With his wife, Sylvia, he joined the Religious Society of Friends — becoming Quakers and turning toward the kind of activism that would eventually lead him to the Golden Rule. One of his first actions, however, was to host two “Hiroshima Maidens,” young women disfigured by radiation who came to the United States for plastic surgery in the mid-1950s.

Nonviolent direct action against the nuclear threat was only just beginning to take shape. In 1955, activists in New York and other cities began to engage in non-cooperation with civil defense drills. Outcries grew even louder when the Soviet Union and Britain joined the nuclear club — and the introduction of the hydrogen bomb greatly expanded the destructive potential of nuclear weapons. Military leaders such as Gen. Omar Bradley and public intellectual Lewis Mumford were trying to alert the public by November 1957.

The health impact of atmospheric testing had drawn special concern, including that of prominent physicists and public health experts who warned that radioactive fallout would spread cancer far from the testing sites. As Bigelow put it, “The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion said any nuclear explosion was dangerous.” The point was evident from an anti-testing petition circulated by Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, which attracted more than 2,000 signatures in just a couple of weeks. Even scientists from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, or AEC, recognized that fallout would cause hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide.

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Golden Rule in New Haven June 2-5

With tensions so high between nuclear-armed nations, it is more important than ever to bring a message of peace. Come see the boat and learn about what you can do to support the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

All events are free and open to the public.

June 3, 1 p.m.  The city of New Haven Peace Commission will welcome the crew of the Golden Rule at the West River Peace Garden (at the intersection of Ella T. Grasso Blvd. and Legion Ave, 16 Miller St.). Contact Aaron Goode for Peace Garden 203-507-8985.

June 4, 10 a.m.  The crew of the  Golden Rule will be welcomed at the Sound School music festival at 10 a.m. at 60 South River Street New Haven.

June 4, 2-4  p.m.  Concert for peace with Fred Brown, MC

City of New Haven proclamation to the Golden Rule crew
Crew members will share their adventures on the great loop tour for peace, and the story of the original boat that sailed to stop atmospheric bomb tests in the 1950s.
Adrian Huq – New Haven Climate Movement
Nuclear Soldier – Hank Bolden, atomic test veteran and musician
City of New Haven Peace Commission message from Al Marder
Connecticut Peace Singers – Millie Grenough & singers
Inity Reggae Band – Fred Brown

For more information: Henry Lowendorf: 203-676-4138, [email protected].