Bombings in Seattle move President Nixon to cancel nerve-gas shipments through Puget Sound on May 23, 1970.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 5/16/2000
  • Essay 2425

On May 23, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) cancels plans to ship surplus nerve gas through Puget Sound because of the large number of bombings in Seattle. The decision follows three civil suits, organized demonstrations by People Against Nerve Gas, and pressure from Washington Senators Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983) and Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989).

The Department of Defense had proposed to ship some 4,320 tons of GB and VX nerve gas and HD mustard gas bombs, rockets, and artillery shells from Okinawa through the Bangor Naval Ammunition Depot in Kitsap County to the Umatilla Ammunition Depot near Hermiston, Oregon. The project involved five ships and 12 trains.

Persons Who Would Commit Violence

Senator Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983) wrote to President Nixon stating, "There have been over 40 bombings in the Seattle Area since the first of the year. We have persons here who would commit violence." Washington Governor Daniel J. Evans (b. 1925) and Oregon Governor Tom McCall (b. 1913) joined in a civil suit to block the shipments. Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) filed legislation to block funding of the shipments. People Against Nerve Gas also filed suit and staged a "die-in" in Seattle on May 17, 1970. The ammunition depot at Kodiak, Alaska, was proposed as an alternative destination for the ordnance.

Senator Jackson stated, "I think this marks the first step in a total review of how to handle all dangerous materials, military and commercial shipments."

Eventually, the Department of Defense built an incinerator on Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean to handle the decommissioning of poison gas.


Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington, 1996), 286; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 24, 1970, p. 1; The Seattle Times, May 23, 1970, p. A-1; Ibid., May 24, 1970, p. A-1.

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