East County News Service
July 7, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) - Dave Patterson, a Ramona resident and member of Veterans for Peace, has brought a fascinating story to our attention. The San Diego Maritime Museum has refused to allow Veterans for Peace to dock its ship, the Golden Rule, at the museum of maritime history. The ban is due to political reasons and a claim that the ship is not historic—despite the vessel’s success in helping bring about a ban on nuclear testing and inspiring generations of activism among peace and environmental groups through the daring actions of the Golden Rule’s crew on the high seas.
This tiny ketch was made famous for its 1958 voyage to the Marshall Islands, where its crew tried to stop atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. The crew was arrested in Hawaii before the ship could reach its destination, sparking protests among American citizens who demanded that the Golden Rule be allowed to sail.
The ship’s actions drew global attention to fallout from the nuclear testing and radiation turning up in mother’s milk. That worldwide attention led to the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
The Golden Rule’s success also inspired later groups include Greenpeace, which gained fame for putting its ships in front of whalers to protect whales, helping lead to an international ban on whaling. Veterans for Peace later purchased and restored the vessel as a symbol of peace and hoped to dock it here for its August convention.
The reason for refusing the Golden Rule docking privileges is apparently political. According to an article in the Lost Coast Outpost, the Maritime Museum’s media spokesman Vincent Hernandez said the Golden Rule was refused docking privileges because of its history seen as “promoting civil disobedience” which “does not align with the mission of the Maritime Museum.”
The museum raised concerns over its tax exempt status, noting that Veterans for Peace has a political agenda. But Veterans for Peace is nonprofit. Moreover, other museums have displayed anti-war and other displays with political messages; the Smithsonian has had Greenpeace items and peace movement information, for example. As long as a nonprofit museum does not appear to promote one viewpoint over another, there should not be an issue of jeopardizing nonprofit status. (If anything, allowing only one point of view on war vs. peace issues by allowing military ships but not a peace ship might arguably be making a political standpoint.)
The Museum has claimed the Golden Rule falls into “current events” not history, despite the fact that the Museum has plenty of ships from wars fought in recent decades such as a Vietnam War swift boat and even a Soviet-made submarine. It also has others that not historic, such as a replica of a war ship used in the movie “Master and Command” starring Russell Crowe.
Critics of the Museum policy have suggested the real agenda may be San Diego’s strong pro-military attitude, or perhaps a lack of willingness to risk offending donors. But the facility is not a museum of military history, but rather maritime history, so it defies logic to see how a small ship that inspired successful environmental activism and became a symbol for peace would not be in line with the museum’s own mission of educating the public about maritime history – not merely maritime history with which its backers agree.