Albert Bigelow

Albert Bigelow

Albert S. Bigelow (1 May 1906 - 6 October 1993) was a pacifist and former US Navy Commander, who came to prominence in the 1950s as the skipper of the "Golden Rule", the first vessel to attempt disruption of a nuclear test in protest against nuclear weapons.

Prior to his involvement in the peace movement, Bigelow served in the United States Navy during World War II, first as commander of a submarine chaser patrolling the Solomon Islands, and later as captain of the destroyer escort "Dale W. Peterson". On August 6 1945, Bigelow was on the bridge of the "Peterson" as it sailed into Pearl Harbor, when he heard news of the explosion of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.

In 1948, Bigelow's wife, Sylvia, joined the Religious Society of Friends. While Bigelow himself was searching for a spiritual or religious belief that would reconcile with his growing moral unease concerning war and violence, it was not until 1955 that he joined the Society.

It was through the Society of Friends that Albert and Sylvia came to house two of the Hiroshima Maidens: young Japanese women, severely disfigured by the effects of the atomic bomb, who were brought to the United States to undergo plastic surgery in 1955. Bigelow was humbled by the experience, in particular by his realisation that the two young women "harbored no resentment against us or other Americans".

Bigelow became involved with the American Friends Service Committee in the mid-1950s, attempting to deliver a 17,411 signature petition, opposing atmospheric nuclear tests, to the White House via Maxwell Rabb, Secretary of Cabinet. Repeated attempts to gain an appointment with Rabb were unsuccessful, leading Bigelow to conclude that other measures must be taken.

In August, 1957, on the 12th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Bigelow and twelve other members of the newly formed Committee for Non-Violent Action were arrested when they attempted to enter the Camp Mercury nuclear test site in Nevada, as part of a nonviolent vigil against the testing. The following day, they returned and sat with their backs towards the site as the nuclear test took place.

In February, 1958, Bigelow set sail for the Eniwetok Proving Ground, the Atomic Energy Commission's atmospheric test site in the Marshall Islands, in the "Golden Rule", a convert|30|ft|m|0|sing=on ketch. He was accompanied by crew members James Peck, George Willoughby, William R. Huntington, and Orion Sherwood. The voyage had been deliberately and widely publicised, and while the "Golden Rule" was en route to Hawaii, the Atomic Energy Commission hastily issued a regulation banning US citizens from sailing into the Proving Grounds.

When they arrived in Hawaii, the crew of the Golden Rule were issued a court summons, resulting in a temporary injunction against any attempt to sail to the test site. Bigelow chose to break the injunction on May 1, but the "Golden Rule" was intercepted by the US Coast Guard only convert|5|nmi|km|0 from Honolulu. A second attempt on June 4 was also unsuccessful - the crew were arrested, charged with contempt of court and sentenced to sixty days in jail.

But while the "Golden Rule" was docked in Honolulu, Bigelow and crew had met Earle and Barbara Reynolds. Earle Reynolds was an anthropologist who had visited Hiroshima to study the effects of the atomic bomb on Japanese society. Hearing of the plight of the "Golden Rule", Earle and Barbara were inspired to take their own nonviolent action, and later that year their yacht, the "Phoenix of Hiroshima" became the first vessel to enter a nuclear test zone in protest when they sailed sixty-five nautical miles into the test area at Bikini Atoll.

In 1959, Bigelow published a book, "Voyage of the Golden Rule" (Doubleday), which documented his journey. Bigelow's story would go on to inspire fellow Quaker Dorothy Stowe to suggest the use of a similar tactic to members of the Vancouver-based Don't Make a Wave Committee (later to become Greenpeace) in 1971.

Bigelow continued to take part in non-violent protests during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was a participant in the Freedom Rides organised by the Congress on Racial Equality in 1961.

In his later years (1971 - 1975), he was a trustee to The Meeting School, a Quaker school in Rindge, NH.

ee also

*Committee for Non-Violent Action
*USS Dale W. Peterson (DE-337)

External links

* [ Papers of Albert Bigelow, Swarthmore College Peace Collection]

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