Historic Cold War-Era Peace Boat Sails Again to Demand Nuclear Abolition

Interview with Atomic Vet Hank Bolden, Golden Rule captain Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa and crew member Bill Good, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

A little sailboat with an impressive pedigree pulled into New Haven, Connecticut’s harbor in early June to spread its message calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. The boat named “Golden Rule” first sailed the South Pacific in 1958, with a crew of four Quakers who intended to disrupt U.S. atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands. The crew was arrested in Hawaii and prevented from disrupting the nuclear tests, but the incident made international news and contributed to the signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

Sixty-five years later, that very same boat has been refurbished by Veterans for Peace and is sailing up and down both the East and West coasts and through the U.S. heartland on rivers and lakes in a voyage called the Great Loop. On their journey, a rotating three-member volunteer crew gives talks about the ever-growing risks of nuclear war and call for a nuclear-free world. The “Doomsday Clock” is set closer to midnight now than at any time in its 76-year history.

At a program on the windy shores of Long Island Sound organized by Veterans for Peace and the Greater New Haven Peace Council, atomic Army veteran Hank Bolden of Hartford, Connecticut told an audience he was one of the young soldiers used as guinea pigs to study the impact of nuclear bomb radiation on the human body. He noted that his entire unit undergoing this experiment in 1955, deployed just 2.8 miles from the atomic bomb blast, was Black.

HANK BOLDEN: I was exposed to ionizing radiation so badly that when the bomb was dropped, you hold your hand up, you could see the bones in your hands, you know, that’s how bad that was. When they sent you out for this particular mission, they never told you what it was that you were going to be proud of. I have all the cancers that go along with being exposed to ionizing radiation. And I was diagnosed in 1990 with multiple myeloma. And at that time I was given three and a half to four years to live. I think I beat the odds, you know, because I’m now 86 years old.

MELINDA TUHUS: That was atomic veteran Hank Bolden, Golden Rule captain Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa grew up in Hawaii and has a boat building business in Hilo. He has helmed the Golden Rule on several legs of its recent journey, including from Hawaii to the West coast and also on much of the inland route. He sailed it from New York City to several stops along the Connecticut coast, including New Haven.

KIKO JOHNSTON-KITAZAWA: Not only am I not a veteran, I’m not even a member of Veterans for Peace. But I do their captain role because I support most of their points and like to be able to educate people about the dangers of nuclear weapons. In Hawaii because especially my hometown of Hilo, probably over 40 percent of the people there when I was a kid were of Japanese descent. And so Hawaii people learned really early what had happened in Hiroshima, even though the occupation forces kept the press out of there for a little while afterwards. And because Hawaii people had relatives living there, some were stuck there during the war, others went there with the occupation army of the United States. So they got word back pretty quick, what it’s like to be under a nuclear bomb. So I think in many areas of the United States, if you bring up that maybe this wasn’t a good thing to have happened, you’ll get the argument that well, it saved millions of lives over an invasion and it was necessary and it was justified, or at least the lesser of two evils.

In Hawaii, mostly everybody would say, “No, that was not okay.”

MELINDA TUHUS: Captain Kiko picks up the story of the original Golden Rule and her crew. They weren’t able to go to the Marshall Islands, but their being jailed led to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty — atmospheric test ban treaty.

KIKO JOHNSTON-KITAZAWA: So the failure was a success. And then the boat was sold because it had served its purpose and it went through several other owners. Eventually, it was derelict in Humboldt Bay and it sank in a gale and they dragged it up on the beach and we were gonna burn it. And somebody from Veterans for Peace chapter up there recognized, “Hey, that’s that boat that was back in 1958.” So they asked the shipyard owner, “Can we have a year in your shipyard to rebuild it?” And a combination of wooden boat enthusiasts, Quakers and Veterans for Peace members rebuilt it under boatyard guidance over five years and relaunched it and went off to do education.

MELINDA TUHUS: Bill Good is a middle-school science teacher from Ohio. He’s a veteran but not a member of Veterans for Peace, at least not yet. He did some earlier support work for The Great Loop and is spending much of his summer vacation volunteering as part of the three-member crew.

What would you say in a sentence or two is the goal of this whole voyage?

BILL GOOD: The end goal would be evolution of nuclear weapons, but I think more our thing is to raise awareness. I tell people we’re kind of two generations removed from the Cold War and so the kids that were born in the ’90s and raised in the ’90s aren’t familiar with that Cold War mentality that we grew up with. And now they’re the parents. You have another generation, their kids and we don’t talk about and we don’t teach about, and you don’t hear about in the news about these nuclear weapons, but all the nuclear weapons are still here and there’s still a threat to life on our planet.

For more information, visit the Veterans For Peace Golden Rule Project webpage at 

For the Golden Rule brochure, visit

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