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“Thinking outside the box” is an often written and spoken accolade applied to Oliver Hazard Perry for defeating the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. He did not follow the “engagement” conventions of the day. Inspired, his men continued to fight until the Lawrence was just too damaged to continue. Perry refused to give up, transferred his command from Lawrence to the Niagara and won the day. We still marvel at his tenacity, bravery and strategy. The 1958 efforts of the four sailors aboard the 30-foot ketch “Golden Rule” known as America’s First Peace Boat, shares a very similar, albeit less known, result of challenging and defeating powerful opponents in an unconventional way.

 

It was the summer of 1958 and the world was caught up in the tensions of the cold war. According to the “Golden Rule” web site (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-golden-rule ) “Horrified by the ongoing, open-air nuclear bomb tests and the threat of nuclear war, the four-man crew of the “Golden Rule” sailed from California toward the Marshall Islands. Their intention, publicized around the world, was to nonviolently place their bodies in the way of planned nuclear bomb blasts.”

 

These four brave men sailed aboard the “Golden Rule” from Honolulu harbor towards the testing area. They were stopped and arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard before they could get to the test site. However, the publicity surrounding their arrest, trial and imprisonment helped ignite public outrage against aboveground nuclear weapons testing and their efforts alerted the world to the health hazards of nuclear testing fallout.

 

Thanks in part to the “Golden Rule”, in 1963; the Partial Test Ban Treaty was enacted, banning above-ground nuclear testing by the two Superpowers. Several years later the voyage of the “Golden Rule” and her crew inspired a similar anti-nuclear voyage by another bold group that would eventually become known as Greenpeace. 

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After the Battle of Lake Erie, the Niagara and Lawrence found themselves useless relics of war. They were both left neglected and finally scuttled. Like the Brig Niagara, the “Golden Rule” (which was passed on from owner to owner for many years) became neglected and finally sank in Humboldt Bay, near Eureka California. Left for salvage, boat yard owner Leroy Zerlang realized it was something to save and pulled it up on shore. He stabilized the hull and donated it the local Veterans for Peace group.

 

I would never have known anything about the “Golden Rule” if it had not been for friend, Sandusky Maritime volunteer and Perry’s Longboat rower AJ “Skip” Oliver of Sandusky. Skip, who is a Viet Nam War veteran, member of Veterans For Peace, sailor, and retired Heidelberg University professor, followed his convictions to Eureka California to help reconstruct the infamous anti-nuclear peace boat “Golden Rule” back in 2011.

 

Skip was one of our first Longboat volunteers and rowers. Last spring he jumped right in and started sanding and painting the longboat as we worked feverishly to get it ready for the summers events. His countless hours of time and effort to help finish our Perry Longboat underscored his dedication to boating history. He challenged us all to think about the connections between Perry’s actions in war and the ultimate peace we enjoy as part of the legacy of that bloody battle of 1813. I don’t know if his work on “Golden Rule” propelled Skip’s interest in boat building and restoration but we want to return the favor on his “Golden Rule” project.

 

Skip’s efforts to raise money and awareness about the “Golden Rule” is proof that our efforts do matter, that the time we spend centered on our convictions is what we today call “the purpose driven life” not so very dissimilar to the convictions of young OH Perry in the War of 1812. Unlike Perry and the Niagara, the “Golden Rule” never physically fired a shot, but it did strike a major blow and won a victory we still honor today.

 

The longboat is a visual icon of Perry’s bravery. We all enjoyed being apart of the longboat project and the peace it continues to symbolize. The “Golden Rule” is also an icon of peace. There is an opportunity to once again be a part of history. Help Veterans for Peace launch the “Golden Rule’ again. If your interested help us to restore the “Golden Rule”.  Please visit the Indiegogo website http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-golden-rule and make a donation today.

 

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