A Peace Ship’s Challenge to Nukes

In the 1950s, as the United States obliterated Pacific islands to test hydrogen bombs, anti-nuclear activists challenged this devastation by trying to sail a ship, The Golden Rule, into the test zone, a protest that helped create political pressure for a nuclear test ban, as Lawrence S. Wittner recalls.

By Lawrence S. Wittner

Is there an emotional connection between the oceans and the pursuit of peace?  For whatever reason, peace ships have been increasing in number over the past century. Probably the first of these maritime vessels was the notorious Ford Peace Ship of 1915, which stirred up more ridicule than peace during World War I.

Almost 40 years later, another peace ship appeared ―  the Lucky Dragon, a Japanese fishing boat showered with radioactive fallout from an enormous U.S. H-bomb explosion on March 1, 1954, in the Marshall Islands.  By the time the stricken vessel reached its home port in Japan, the 23 crew members were in advanced stages of radiation poisoning.  One of them died.

This “Lucky Dragon incident” set off a vast wave of popular revulsion at nuclear weapons testing, and mass nuclear disarmament organizations were established in Japan and, later, around the world. Thus, the Lucky Dragon became a peace ship, and today is exhibited as such in Tokyo in a Lucky Dragon Museum, built and maintained by Japanese peace activists.

Later voyages forged an even closer link between ocean-going vessels and peace.  In 1971, Canadian activists, departing from Vancouver, sailed a rusting fishing trawler, the Phyllis Cormack, toward the Aleutians in an effort to disrupt plans for a U.S. nuclear weapons explosion on Amchitka Island. Although arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard before they could reach the test site, the crew members not only mobilized thousands of supporters, but laid the basis for a new organization, Greenpeace.

Authorized by Greenpeace, another Canadian, David McTaggart, sailed his yacht, the Vega, into the French nuclear testing zone in the Pacific, where the French navy deliberately rammed and crippled this peace ship.  In 1973, when McTaggart and the Vega returned with a new crew, French sailors, dispatched by their government, stormed aboard and beat them savagely with truncheons.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, peace ships multiplied.  At major ports in New Zealand and Australia, peace squadrons of sailboats and other small craft blocked the entry of U.S. nuclear warships into the harbors.  Also, Greenpeace used the Rainbow Warrior to spark resistance to nuclear testing throughout the Pacific.

Even after 1985, when French secret service agents attached underwater mines to this Greenpeace flagship as it lay in the harbor of Auckland, New Zealand, blowing it up and murdering a Greenpeace photographer in the process, the peace ships kept coming.

Much of this maritime assault upon nuclear testing and nuclear war was inspired by an American peace ship, the Golden Rule. The remarkable story of the Golden Rule began with Albert Bigelow, a retired World War II U.S. naval commander.  Appalled by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, he became a Quaker and, in 1955, working with the American Friends Service Committee, sought to deliver a petition against nuclear testing to the White House.

Rebuffed by government officials, Bigelow and other pacifists organized a small group, Non-Violent Action Against Nuclear Weapons, to employ nonviolent resistance in the struggle against the Bomb.  After the U.S. government announced plans to set off nuclear bomb blasts near Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands―an island chain governed by the United States as a “trust territory” for the native people―Bigelow and other pacifists decided to sail a 30-foot vessel of protest, the Golden Rule, into the nuclear testing zone.  Explaining their decision, Bigelow declared:  “All nuclear explosions are monstrous, evil, unworthy of human beings.”

In January 1958, Bigelow and three other crew members wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower, announcing their plans. As might be expected, the U.S. government was quite displeased, and top officials from the State Department, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the U.S. Navy conferred anxiously on how to cope with the pacifist menace. Eventually, the administration decided to ban entry into the test zone.

Thus, after Bigelow and his crew sailed the Golden Rule from the West Coast to Honolulu, a U.S. federal court issued an injunction barring the continuation of its journey to Eniwetok. Despite the legal ramifications, the pacifists set sail. Arrested on the high seas, they were brought back to Honolulu, tried, convicted, and placed on probation. Then, intrepid as ever, they set out once more for the bomb test zone, were arrested, were tried, and, this time ― sentenced to prison terms.

Meanwhile, their dramatic voyage inspired an outpouring of popular protest. Antinuclear demonstrations broke out across the United States. The newly-formed National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy went on the offensive.

Moreover, an American anthropologist, Earle Reynolds, along with his wife Barbara and their two children, continued the mission of the Golden Rule on board their sailboat, the Phoenix. In July 1958, they entered the nuclear testing zone. That August, facing a storm of hostile public opinion, President Eisenhower announced that the United States was halting its nuclear tests while preparing to negotiate a test ban with the Soviet Union.

Even as test ban negotiations proceeded fitfully, leading to the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and, ultimately, to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996, the Golden Rule dropped out of sight. Then, in early 2010, the vessel was discovered, wrecked and sunk in northern California’s Humboldt Bay.

Contacted by historians about preserving the Golden Rule for posterity, officials at the Smithsonian Museum proved uninterested. But peace activists recognized the vessel’s significance. Within a short time, local chapters of Veterans for Peace established the Golden Rule Project to restore the battered ketch.

Thanks to volunteer labor and financial contributions from these U.S. veterans and other supporters, the ship has been largely rebuilt, and funds are currently being raised for the final stage of the project. Veterans for Peace hope to take the ship back to sea in 2014 on its new mission: “educating future generations on the importance of the ocean environment, the risks of nuclear technology, and the need for world peace.”

As a result, the Golden Rule will sail again, restored to its role as America’s most important peace ship.

Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com), syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is What’s Going On at UAardvark? (Solidarity Press), a satirical novel about campus life.




Greasing Skids for the Comcast Deal

Americans often complain about their cable bills which always seem to be going up. Part of that money, however, goes not for entertainment but to curry favor with Congress and other officials who will judge the Comcast-Time Warner merger, as Michael Winship notes.

By Michael Winship

As the U.S. Senate holds its first hearing on the proposed Comcast-Time Warner deal, a $45 billion transaction that will affect millions of consumers and further pad some already well-lined pockets, it’s useful to get a look at how our elected officials have benefitted from the largesse of the two companies with an urge to merge.

Although the ultimate decision will be made by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, according to the Sunlight FoundationComcast_Logo.svg, a reliable, nonpartisan watchdog, “The number one and number two cable providers in the country are also big-time on the influence circuit, giving upwards of a combined $42.4 million to various politicians and groups since 1989.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Explorer tool also shows that the two companies have spent a combined $143.5 million lobbying Congress since 1989 on issues including telecommunications, technology, taxes and copyright.

President Barack Obama benefitted the most, by far, from Comcast, whose employees and their family members contributed more than $537,800. Two Texans, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, are the top recipients of contributions from Time Warner Cable, receiving $185,000 and $170,000, respectively.

Three Democratic and three Republican members of the Judiciary Committee are up for reelection this year and almost all have profited at least a bit from Comcast and/or Time Warner contributions, but the Democrats have come out ahead, the Sunlight Foundation reports.

Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, an outspoken critic of the merger described as “a fundraising powerhouse” by Sunlight, has received $15,050 from Comcast and $13,350 from Time Warner, as per the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org, and has pulled in $54,500 from individuals who have worked for Comcast-owned NBC Universal, including “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Lorne Michaels.

As for the other two Democrats, Delaware’s Chris Coons and Senate majority whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Comcast has been Coons’ third-highest overall contributor ($53,300) and the senator has gotten $3,000 from Time Warner Cable employees. Durbin has received $51,700 from Comcast-affiliated employees and $3,500 from Time Warner employees.

Of the three up for reelection on the Republican side, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn of Texas and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, the Sunlight Foundation notes that none have been “significant Comcast beneficiaries,” saying:

“Overall, the three Southern state senators have received a total of $31,500 from Comcast and Comcast-affiliated employees, a sliver of the almost $70 million the three have raised in total during their respective runs for federal office. Time Warner employees have given $30,700 to Graham and $10,500 to Cornyn. Sessions has not received any money from Time Warner.

“It should be noted, however, that since 1989, Comcast has given at least $470,170 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and $640,625 to its Democratic counterpart.”

Yes, you might not be able to get decent cable service or a good Wi-Fi signal but when it comes to Congress, Comcast is quite the attentive suitor.

As Politico reported last month, including those up for reelection this year, “money from Comcast’s political action committee has flowed to all but three members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Checks have landed in the campaign coffers of Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT), who oversee the chamber’s antitrust panel.

“Meanwhile, the cable giant has donated in some way to 32 of the 39 members of the House Judiciary Committee, which is planning a hearing of its own. And Comcast has canvassed the two congressional panels that chiefly regulate cable, broadband and other telecom issues, donating to practically every lawmaker there, including Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

“Comcast stresses its donations are a function of its business. ‘Comcast NBCUniversal operates in 39 states and has 130,000 employees across the country,’ said spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice. ‘It is important for our customers, our employees and our shareholders that we participate in the political process. The majority of our PAC contributions are to the senators and members who represent our employees and customers.’”

Clearly, Comcast is paying for the premium package. Its money was donated before the proposed big deal with Time Warner, but its “proactive giving,” as Sunlight’s executive director Ellen Miller calls it, “so that when a corporation needs access in a time of trouble, investigation or oversight, they have already built the quote-unquote relationships they need to soften or make their arguments to a sympathetic audience. It’s a long-term investment they make.”

Remember that the next time you get your ever-spiraling cable bill. Just think of it as a long-term investment.

Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the public policy and advocacy group Demos, is senior writer of Moyers & Company, the weekly series on public television. To comment and for more information, go to www.BillMoyers.com and at Twitter, follow @MichaelWinship.




Get a Rare Look into a Dark History

From Editor Robert Parry: Our thank-you gift for donations of $100 or more to our spring fund drive is my book, America’s Stolen Narrative, detailing new evidence on the 1980 Reagan campaign’s secret contacts with Iran, plus a DVD of a “Frontline” documentary that I co-wrote featuring many of the same characters.

Since much of what we now know about this important turning point in American history has been ignored by the mainstream press despite a wealth of proof this package gives you the unique opportunity to see the evidence of the Republican skullduggery and the faces of the people who pulled the strings on our electoral process to make sure Ronald Reagan won.

America’s Stolen Narrative also reveals long-hidden records that I discovered in the National Archives exposing the immediate historical precedent, Richard Nixon’s sabotage of Vietnam War peace talks to ensure his election over Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

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Robert Parry is a longtime investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 to create an outlet for well-reported journalism that was being squeezed out of an increasingly trivialized U.S. news media.