Sailing into the New Year with The Golden Rule


At the recent trial of the Disarm Now Plowshares activists a retired U.S. Navy Captain who had commanded nuclear submarines during the Cold War testified on behalf of the Plowshares activists. Tom Rogers long journey had brought him to an understanding of the need to abolish these horrible weapons of mass destruction, that the government was not paying attention to people’s “legal” means of free speech, and that the Plowshares activists’ methods were justified.

In 1958 another retired U.S. Navy Captain, Albert Bigelow, embarked on his own journey of conscience and civil resistance when he and his peacemaking crew sailed the 30-foot ketch the Golden Rule toward the U.S. government’s atmospheric test site in the Marshall Islands in an attempt to stop nuclear weapons testing despite government prohibitions and a court injunction.

The Golden rule in 1958

They were arrested, tried, convicted and put on probation, and undaunted, set sail a second time. This time the government decided to put Albert Bigelow behind bars.

Bigelow was not acting on a whim. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima horrified him, and in the postwar years he took a number of steps on his peacemaking journey. Among them, according to historian Lawrence Wittner, “working with the American Friends Service Committee, Bigelow sought to deliver a petition against nuclear testing to the White House, but was rebuffed by U.S. government officials.” Bigelow made every effort to get the government to listen, but his words fell on deaf ears.

Bigelow said of his nautical actions: “In the face of the threats that nuclear warfare preparations put to all mankind, it is my duty, as a man and as an American citizen, to voice both my protest against these preparations and my pleas for a constructive policy instead. If I remain silent, how am I to answer later, should some high court ask: ‘…and what, knowing these things to be wrong, were you, a free, responsible citizen of a democracy doing to prevent them?’” (Source: The Voyage of the Golden Rule)

The Golden Rule suffered years of decay in a shipyard after being raised off the sea floor near Eureka, California, and its fate seemed sealed until two Northern California chapters of Veterans for Peace (VFP) established The Golden Rule project. VFP volunteers have been restoring the ketch, and hope to complete the restoration by July 2011. They still have a long way to go to reach their fundraising goal of $50,000 needed to complete the project.

The Golden Rule in 2010

The Golden Rule is an important piece of history of the nuclear abolition movement, and it is somewhat of a miracle that it has been (literally) raised from the deep to have a second life sailing the West Coast “in opposition to militarism and the use of nuclear weapons.” It is my hope that the nuclear abolition community will come together in support of The Golden Rule Project.

Many thanks to Historian Lawrence Wittner for keeping The Golden Rule on our radar.



You can learn all about the Golden Rule Project (and contribute toward its completion) at, or by contacting Fredy Champagne at, or by writing to Veterans for Peace, P.O. Box 5097, Eureka, CA 95502-5097.

Read The “Golden Rule” Will Sail Again, by Lawrence Wittner, December 21,2010, at theHuffington Post

The Long Voyage: The Golden Rule and Resistance to Nuclear Testing in Asia and the Pacific, by Lawrence S. Whittner

This post originally published at The Nuclear Abolitionist.

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