The crew of Golden Rule at an open dock event, Pier 5, Baltimore. | Margaret Baldridge / People’s World
Originally published in the People’s World on May 12, 2023
BALTIMORE—Do you know about the back story behind the U.S., U.K., and USSR signing the “Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water” in 1963?
It is a very dramatic tale, involving illegal arrests in international waters, switching missions from one ship to another, children tasting nuclear fallout as it came down like snow—and it all began with Hiroshima.
The atomic bomb which the U.S. dropped on that Japanese city on Aug. 6, 1945, caused Albert Bigelow to leave his military career as a Navy captain just before his date of retirement.
Bigelow eventually found a boat, the Golden Rule, and developed a crew and a mission—to put their bodies in the space where daily atomic bombs were being tested: the Marshall Islands.
Fast forward to 2023.
Thanks to Veterans for Peace, the Golden Rule is travelling “the Great Loop” of the eastern U.S. with a new mission—to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
As part of its tour, the crew docked in Baltimore from April 27 to May 3 to share the peace boat’s story through a number of events. These included a welcoming proclamation from the Baltimore City Council and a brass band performance, courtesy of public school music students in the group ORCHKids.
The crew interacted with students at a local college, spoke at a bookstore and several church events, and were treated to Baltimore jazz and guitar musicians. Homemade cake sporting a replica of the boat’s sails was shared to commemorate the first arrest of the Golden Rule crew back in 1958.
As part of the Golden Rule visit, history professor Dr. Vincent Intondi spoke on his new book, Saving the World from Nuclear War. In it, he explains how the elimination of nuclear weapons has progressed since the million-person June 12, 1982, rally at the United Nations.
And there has been progress—from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty (1987) to successive START Treaties, to an absolute decrease of nuclear weapons from 70,000 in 1986 to 13,000 today.
In 2021, the U.N. ratified the Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the African continent has been a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone for a decade.
People’s World interviewed Golden Rule crew member Mary Ann Van Cura. We asked her if the crew had met many young people at their port-of-call events and whether there is a generation gap in the disarmament movement.
“There is just a plain gap,” she responded. “It’s so complicated that no one wants to talk about it, but nuclear issues are in the background. The Golden Rule attracts people by its beauty, and the story is a moral story of grace and integrity and ultimate benefit for the community.”
Van Cura went on to explain that nuclear waste affects all communities, as the Golden Rule crew has been finding out in its travels on inland rivers. There is unexploded ordnance in many U.S. towns, for instance.
Paducah, Ky., where a gaseous diffusion plant has been a part of the nuclear bomb-making process for decades, is just one example. It will take until 2065 to close it down completely, and even then, there will still be material that is basically indisposable. Many Americans, she said, know there are leftover landmines and ordnance in Vietnam and northern France; few know that such dangerous material is also scattered around the U.S.
The Golden Rule crew has met many city managers who are in regular meetings with the Federal Government to get funds for mitigation processes on nuclear-related material.
Moreover, communities of Marshallese people are living in the U.S. and getting health care here, but since they are not citizens, their visa status must be reapproved periodically. On a prior tour of the Golden Rule, 200 Marshallese came to meet the boat in Dubuque, Iowa, and discuss the radiation poisoning that continues to make Bikini and Eniwetok Atolls unlivable.
On May 3, the Golden Rule sailed out of Baltimore toward Havre de Grace, Md., and ports north, to continue spreading her message to any who will hear it: Peace, disarmament, sustainability, and the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Cindy Farquhar is a progressive community activist in Baltimore.