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Sub commander is now an anti-nuke activist — Tom Rogers was arrested while blocking Bangor gates

Kitsap resident and retired nuclear submarine commander Capt. Tom Rogers stands next to a military awards shadow box displayed in his Poulsbo home.  - Tom James/staff photo
Kitsap resident and retired nuclear submarine commander Capt. Tom Rogers stands next to a military awards shadow box displayed in his Poulsbo home.
— image credit: Tom James/staff photo

Tom Rogers, a former submarine commander turned antinuclear protester, was arrested Aug. 8 while blocking the gate at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, home to a large nuclear weapons stockpile.

The date of his protest was chosen to commemorate the Aug. 6 and Aug. 9 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.

What led you to protest at the gate at Bangor?

In the years following the end of the Cold War I became less and less comfortable with the concept of nuclear deterrents when there really wasn’t anybody out there that we were deterring. What we were doing was spending a whole lot of money not to be any safer. It made me mad as a former naval officer who dedicated my life to the Cold War – that’s what I did – and as a taxpayer, and as a resident of Kitsap County, because the continuing presence of the weapons at Bangor is a danger to people and the environment, even though the folks out there do as good a job as they can.

You knew what was going to happen?

It was the culmination of a process of discernment and deciding if it was the right time for me to do that. Getting arrested was a step I hadn’t taken. I’d been at ground zero for eight years and I’d been very active, I’d testified at trials, I’ve written things, I’ve done a lot of work. But I was always dubious about the value of getting arrested. Four of us decided we would symbolically close the base by dragging that big inflatable missile into the road, and closing the base. And that’s what we did.

Was it hard to step over those barricades?

No. Not at all. Once I had gone through the process of discernment, and decided that it was time for me to do that and we made a plan and we rehearsed it, and had three other people with me that were going to cross the line with me there was no looking back, there was no recrimination.

You excelled in the military, and you say you’re still pro-military?

I was a child of the ‘60s. I lived in Haight-Ashbury for a little while in the mid-’60s, the summer of love, I was a hippie. Then I got drafted – the Vietnam War was raging – it was 1966, so the first thing I did was I went home, to Connecticut, and I went to the local Navy recruiter and I said, ‘I’m not into this Army thing, what can you do for me?’ … and I said thank you very much, let’s do it. And that’s how I stayed out of the Vietnam War.

So I was an unlikely candidate for my subsequent career, but I kind of fit. I was technically proficient, smart, knew how to work. Then they just kept making me offers I couldn’t refuse. I never was really committed to making the Navy a career, it just sort of happened. They kept promoting me. I was surprised at every promotion board.

What is it about nuclear weapons that makes it OK to break the law protesting them?

Because I’ve testified for people who’ve broken the law – felonies – and here’s the deal. In 1996 the international court of justice, which is the judicial arm of the United Nations, was asked for a judgment on whether nuclear weapons were illegal. And after a year of hearings and deliberations, they came back and said unequivocally, that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegal under international law. That came out of … the Geneva Accords. If you look at those, its obvious that the use of nuclear weapons is illegal under those accords.

Now here’s the leap. I believe that deployment of nuclear weapons on board Trident submarines who are on alert patrol and can shoot those weapons within 30 minutes at anybody in the world constitutes a continuing threat of use. So we believe that the United States is doing something illegal.

Is it hard to go on base now that you’ve taken part in the continuing protest?

Absolutely not. I exercise my rights and obligations as a citizen of being an activist off the base. When I’m on the base I’m a Navy veteran, I use the facilities, and I feel very justified in doing so. I really have no relationships with anybody who is actively working on the base now, but if I did I would not compromise those relationships. I can live these two lives very happily within myself.

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