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Warriors Who Will Not Stay Down
Robert F. Jones
September 02, 1985
The furor over a sunken ship has shaken the French government, and Greenpeace's far-ranging activists fight on
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September 02, 1985

Warriors Who Will Not Stay Down

The furor over a sunken ship has shaken the French government, and Greenpeace's far-ranging activists fight on

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The first truncheon came down with a weight and force unlike anything I had ever felt on the back of my head and the second came down across my shoulders and the next blow landed on the back of my neck and the next on my head again and the next on my spine and the next on my shoulder blade and the next against my kidney.... [It was] as though they all had gone mad and were simply trying to smash me to death, stamp me out of existence like some loathsome bug.... Something crashed in my right eye with such incredible force that it seemed to come right into the middle of my brain in an explosion.... And then everything went black.
-Greenpeace III: Journey into the Bomb

The attack occurred on Aug. 15, 1973, just outside the 12-mile territorial limit of Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia. The victim was David McTaggart, now chairman of the international environmental group Greenpeace. The men with the clubs were French commandos determined to keep McTaggart and his 38-foot ketch Vega from sailing in to protest French atmospheric nuclear tests on the remote Pacific island.

After a dozen more years of French tests and a dozen more years of Greenpeace protests, McTaggart, now 54, still has blurred vision in that eye. Yet there is a glint in the lopsided, glaucous-green orb—the gleam of bittersweet retribution. Because of stunning revelations of a botched—and possibly murderous—French intelligence campaign directed against Greenpeace, the already wobbly government of President Francois Mitterrand has been badly shaken.

The scandal was triggered by the July 10 sinking of Greenpeace's flagship, Rainbow Warrior, at dockside in Auckland, New Zealand (SI, July 22) before a planned protest voyage into France's South Pacific nuclear testing area. Two explosions rocked the ship at about midnight. After the first blast, Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira, 33, ran below to grab his cameras. He was killed when the second blast sank the ship.

Who could have done it? Over the past 14 years, Greenpeace—with 1.3 million supporters in 15 nations—has made enemies everywhere (see map) in its insistence that the planet clean up its act. A sampling of its far-flung activities:

•Starting in 1975, Greenpeace took on the entire whaling industry, racing inflatable rafts between harpoon guns and their warm-blooded targets in waters from California to Iceland. Two years ago seven Greenpeace protesters invaded a Soviet whaling station in Siberia to prove that the whales butchered there were not for "indigenous," i.e., native, use, but merely to provide oily meat suitable for minks whose furs in turn were being converted to costly coats for sale in the West.

•Beginning in the mid-'70s, Greenpeacers hiked the treacherous offshore ice of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, spraying baby harp and hood seals with green paint to make their coats useless to furriers before club-wielding hunters could bash them to death. The antisealing campaign won a notable victory in 1982 when the Common Market outlawed the importation of pelts of all seals less than a year old.

•Greenpeace rafts, operating in the Bay of Biscay from ships like Rainbow Warrior, roared alongside ships dumping 50-gallon drums of nuclear waste from Britain, Switzerland. Belgium and The Netherlands. There were some ugly confrontations before dumping was halted in 1983.

•Over the past few years, Greenpeace scuba divers have plugged outflow pipes discharging pollutants into adjacent waters at complexes ranging from Britain's Windscale nuclear reprocessing plant on the Irish Sea to Ciba-Geigy's chemical works on the New Jersey coast. Near Windscale, seaside houses once worth $100,000 now bring $20,000 because of pollution. A sign on the shore warns of the presence of radioactive seaweed. Still, Greenpeace was fined £50,000 for its activities.

•In 1983 four Greenpeace protesters entered the Nevada nuclear test site, camped on Yucca Flat and delayed a nuclear test.

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