In January of 2023, the 34-foot wooden sailboat the Golden Rule, a project of Veterans for Peace, traveled Havana to express friendship and solidarity with the Cuban people.  The Golden Rule calls for “lifting the decades-old U.S. blockade of Cuba, reminding people how close the world came to nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and making parallel connections to the U.S.-Russian standoff in Ukraine today.”

We Are All in the Same Boat   

 By Mary Beaudoin  WAMM Newsletter Vol. 40  No.6  Winter 2023

Marshallese Women greet the Golden Rule

Marshall Island women welcoming the Golden Rule. Photo: Mary Beaudoin

A previous stop with a direct connection to nuclear history took place in October, when the Golden Rule called at the port in the Mississippi River town of Dubuque, Iowa. The boat was greeted joyfully on the dock by Marshallese women playing instruments and singing songs.Its crew members, on disembarking, were honored with leis which the women hung around their necks.  The crowd that had gathered was affected deeply by the scene. That’s because everyone recognized that this was no ordinary boat and the Marshall Islanders, now living in Dubuque, whose origins were many thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean, have had a unique experience in the world.

“This is the belief of our culture: ‘We are all in the same boat’,” Irene Maun said of Marshall Islanders, 800 of whom have resettled in Dubuque and with whom she works in advocacy and health outreach. Being in the same boat is an apt metaphor the nuclear threat that hangs over all ofon the planet and there is a need to work together for our survival, something the Marshall Islanders understand well as they have experienced the effect of nuclear weapons firsthand.

UPDATE:  The US Devastated the Marshall Islands — And Is Now Refusing to Aid the Marshallese People

And yet, most people in the U.S. have no idea what transpired in the Marshall Islands, how it has affected the people, and even where the islands are. A chain consisting of five main islands and 29 atolls (The atolls are land formed by volcanos, ringing shallow lagoons, and known for white coral), the Marshall Islands lie in the Pacific Ocean in the vast expanse between Hawaii and the Philippines.

MAP: Marshall Islands

Before arriving in Dubuque, the Golden Rule had sailed along the West Coast and in the Hawaii islands, stopping at ports, raising opposition to war, and calling for a nuclear-free world. Feeling the need for this message to be heard in the middle of the country, the Veterans for Peace-Chapter 27 of Minneapolis/St. Paul invited the Golden Rule Project to truck the boat overland from the West Coast and sail it down the Mississippi River.

The project is rooted in the beginning of the atomic era.The nuclear race was on. Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. dropped 67 nuclear bombs on the Marshall Islands. Castle Bravo, an H bomb a thousand times as powerful as the one dropped on Hiroshima, was dropped on Bikini Atoll. Children on Rongelap Atoll 125 miles away played in the particles of fallout and became violently ill.

GOLDEN RULE PEACE BOAT IN DUBUQUE The Golden Rule, at the dock in Dubuque. Photo: Mary Beaudoin

In 1968, when nuclear weapons were no longer tested in the atmosphere, the Department of Defense used the Marshall Islands as a location to test biological weapons, setting off missiles and bombs filled with bacteria.

Golden Rule Marshallese FlagGolden Rule sail with Marshallese Flag

A 2019 report by the Los Angeles Times and the Columbia School of Journalism revealed that on Ruit Island in the Enewetak Atoll, radioactive and other toxic waste had been dumped in an unlined crater left by a nuclear bomb and capped with a concrete lid that was cracking and decaying so that the toxins had been leaking out for years. Not only did radiation affect the islanders and their environment, but in 1958 the U.S. shipped in 130 tons of soil from atomic testing grounds in Nevada (the site of the first ground zero for nuclear tests). Unwitting U.S. servicemen who were brought in to shovel the contaminated soil into the crater developed cancers and some died. The Marshall Islanders developed many symptoms, were lied to by the U.S. government about the dangers they were exposed to, treated as experimental subjects, denied all but a shameful pittance in damages, dismissed when they appealed to U.S. courts and Congress, and informed that dealing with the waste was their own responsibility.

Marshall Island women with Rainbow Warrior

Responding to their call for help, the Rainbow Women assisted Marshall Island women in relocating. Photo: Greenpeace/Fernando Pereira

Rising sea levels caused by global warming are another threat to the islands, which were chosen for some of the world’s most toxic experiments because they were so “remote” – but they are not remote for the people living there, they are their home or, for some, were their home until theyhad no choice but to leave because they continue to develop physical ailments.

There is only one hospital and one clinic in the islands to treat the ongoing effects of radiation. Irene Maun says her husband developed boils all over his face and body as a result of radioactive fallout and is suffering from renal disease. She says that when Marshallese people fall ill, they continue to come to the U.S. for treatment. She and her husband had to pay for their own plane tickets. She says that in Dubuque, individuals, religious groups, and community organizations have been helpful to the people, obtaining passports and immigration papers and assisting in other ways.

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WAMM Co-chair Jo Schubertwith Irene Maun, a community leader, who greeted the Golden Rule when it came to Dubuque, Iowa, with leis and feasting.
Photo: Mary Beaudoin

Part of her job in community health outreach and advocacy working with Marshallese people is to educate them about preparation for winter and what to wear in the cold Iowa weather. She speaks five dialects or languages and translates for those who do not speak English, has taken recent immigrants into her home to live, and pays home visits. The people coming to the U.S. do not have health insurance, and ways must be found to treat them. Being in the same boat means taking care of one another and is so much of a part of the island culture that those who are already settled naturally help new arrivals. The people face many challenges, but those already established buy cell phones for the new arrivals so that they have connectivity,assist them to obtainjobs(generally as nursing aides, or in meat packing and hotel service), and help in countless other ways.

It isn’t any wonder that traditional island culture resonates with the aphorism from which the Golden Rule took its name: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The wooden sailboat, after years of restoration, is the same one that a four-man crew attempted to sail to the Marshall Islands in 1958 to try to prevent nuclear weapons testing. The men never arrived at their destination, as into their voyage near Hawaii, they were arrested by the Coast Guard.

Sally Willoughby, the daughter of an original crew member, George Willoughby, spoke at the Dubuque dock celebration about her father’s effort: “People say they can’t make a difference,and we don’t know at the time what ripples will result when a stone is dropped in the water. But in 1958, the Golden Rule resulted in The Phoenix and the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty.”

The Phoenix of Hiroshima, was50-foot sailing yacht of an empathetic anthropologist, Eugene Reynolds, who had studied the effects of radiation from nuclear weapons in Japan. Later in 1958, inspired by the Golden Rule’s aborted voyage to the Marshall Islands, Reynolds and his wife Barbara set sail and reached the Enewetak Atoll, a nuclear testing ground of the Marshall Islands, before the couple was arrested.

The Golden Rule, the Phoenic of Hiroshima, and the Rainbow Warrior make ripples in the water for a nuclear-free world.

The Golden Rule, the Phoenix of Hiroshima, and the Rainbow Warrior make ripples in the water for a nuclear-free world.

The incidents with the two boats in 1958 created international outrage, raised awareness of nuclear weapons, and gave rise to demonstrations all over the world which eventually provided President Kennedy cover to pass the treaty.

A third ripple that resulted from the Golden Rule and the Phoenix was the eventual creation of Greenpeace. One of its actions was in 1985, when the people of the Marshall Island’s Rongelap Atoll appealed to the organization to rescue them, as they were experiencing miscarriages, birth deformities, and cancers. Government documents indicated that they were being used as guinea pigs to study the lingering effects of radiation poisoning. Greenpeace sent its ship, the Rainbow Warrior, to their rescue.

Today, antinuclear activists hope to cause more ripples with the Golden Rule in every port of call.


The Phoenix of Hiroshima off Diamond Head 1954

Mary Beaudoin is the editor of the Women Against Military Madness Newsletter, a member of the WAMM End War Committee, and an associate member of Veterans for Peace. She participated in the Golden Rule and Marshall Islanders’ celebration in Dubuque, Iowa.

Additional sources for this article:

Rust, Susanne. How the U.S. Betrayed the Marshall Islanders, Kindling the Next Nuclear Disaster. Los Angeles Times.

Niedenthal, Jack. (1998-2000). A Short History of the People of Bikini Atoll

Greenpeace. Rongelap, the Exodus Project. Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior helps evacuate Marshall Islanders.

VFP Golden Rule Project.

The Golden Rule and the Phoenix Voyages in protest of U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands 1958. Case Study. Swarthmore College.


Can the Military-Industrial Complex Be Tamed?  Cutting the Pentagon Budget in Half Would Finally Force the Generals to Think, By  Tom Dispatch


Is Nuclear War Imminent?

THE DANGER OF EMPIRERetired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William J. Astore who served in the nuclear missile command fears the end of human life through nuclear war is more likely than in the Cold War era.

Framed as a memoir–a chronicle of madness in which Ellsberg acknowledges participating–this gripping expose reads like a thriller and offers feasible steps we can take to dismantle the existing “doomsday machine” and avoid nuclear catastrophe, returning Ellsberg to his role as whistle-blower. The Doomsday Machine is thus a real-life Dr. Strangelove story and an ultimately hopeful–and powerfully important–book about not just our country, but the future of the world.

Independent media is essential in these Rise Up Times. Your support makes Rise Up Times, Media for Justice and Peace possible. Please donate today.

Raised fist and pen power

By Published On: February 6th, 2023Comments Off on We Are All in the Same Boat, by Mary Beaudoin (Journey with the Golden Rule Peace Boat)

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