In 1958, four Quakers sailed on the boat the Golden Rule into the Marshall Islands’ nuclear testing zone, igniting a global anti-nuclear weapon protest movement. The Quakers spent 60 days in prison, but the world heard the message loud and clear.
“That incident sparked the treaty that banned nuclear testing everywhere except underground,” said Gerry Condon, vice-president of Veterans For Peace.
As part of a month-long tour, the Golden Rule docked at the Port of Friday Harbor last Wednesday. Crew members welcomed guests on board from 10 a.m. -5 p.m., gave the history of the boat, and discussed the mission of Veterans For Peace. Veterans For Peace has become an international organization, with chapters in at least 100 cities, according to Condon. Their mission is to educate others about the high cost of war, to abolish nuclear weapons and war in general. It is made up primarily of Vietnam veterans, but also of veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and most recently, veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
From Friday Harbor, the Golden Rule, captained by islander Terry Lush, visited Victoria B.C. to participate in a boat show. They also made a pit stop on Orcas Island, Sept. 5 and 6, before they headed to Port Townsend. Now they are making their way to their home port of Eureka, Calif.
Since its journey in 1958, the Golden Rule, has passed through many owners’ hands and eventually sunk in Humbolt Bay California after a large storm. Shipyard owner Leroy Zerlang dredged up the Golden Rule in 2010. With two giant holes in its side, the 30 foot sailboat was in rough condition.
“Zerlang was going to buy some whiskey and burn it,” said Michael Gonzales, Veteran for Peace member and permanent Golden Rule crew, who labored five years to restore it, “but decided, fortunately, to wait and look up the boat’s history.”
Veterans For Peace also caught wind that the Golden Rule was in need of repair, and, according to Gonzales, made a deal with Zerlang. The agreement was that if Zerlang provided space for the vessel for one year, Veterans for Peace would restore it. The restoration ended up taking five years, but the Golden Rule is sailing once again.
The nuclear treaty signed by President John F. Kennedy five years after the Quakers Marshall Island protest is known as the Limited Test Ban Treaty and also encouraged nuclear disarmament. Unfortunately, world-wide disarmament has not gotten far. Condon said Russia and the U.S. have thousands of nuclear warheads pointed at each other. These weapons, he explained, are hair- triggered, meaning that if they sense a nuclear weapon has been launched by the opposition, they will have the ability to immediately fire back. As with any technology, there have been glitches and false alarms, but these have so far, have been caught, Condon said. He also went on to add that Banger, Wash., with its eight trident nuclear submarines, is one of the biggest nuclear bases in the country if not the world.
“If something does happen,” Conden said, “the Puget Sound will be the number one target.”
Conden also mentioned that recently, the Obama administration has pushed to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons in a proposal that would cost about one trillion dollars. This, Condon warned, would create more agile and active weapons that are more likely to be used.
“We are in greater danger than ever before of a nuclear war,” said Condon.