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Throughout United States history there have been individuals who refused to pay taxes for war. For example, Henry David Thoreau resisted during the Mexican war and spent a night in jail. He subsequently wrote “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.”
For wartax refusers, risking fines, time in jail, and in some instances, the wrath of their neighbors was required by their consciences. Some people believe that all wars and preparations for war are anathema.
One of these people was Ernest Bromley, a Methodist minister in North Carolina who spent 60 days in jail for resisting taxes during World War II. Subsequently, he and his wife Marian were responsible for founding the modern war tax resistance movement.
Other people find particular wars unsupportable and in violation of their conscience, e.g. the current “war on terror” begun after September 11, 2001. Many U.S. wartax resisters believe their government has a long history of imperialism and that the industries that support U.S. war making capacity have always wielded inordinate political power, including now.
Unfortunately, many Americans have accepted their nation’s imperialism and the fundamental imperialist idea that the U.S. is “exceptional.” As a result, they feel obligated to promote its interests and values by projecting economic, social, and military power throughout the world. War tax resisters do not accept this hubristic view and feel obligated to speak out while also refusing to pay for war.
Such refusal can be total or partial. Some refusers withhold a dollar as a symbolic gesture and publicize their action to both their government representatives and their compatriot men and women, hoping that some day their action will attract millions of likeminded people to create a powerful political message or force. So far, their hope has not been fulfilled.
I resisted paying the military portion of my income tax and redirected it to socially useful activities in the 1970’s during the Vietnam war. During the 1980’s, the IRS became more efficient at collecting and my resisted taxes were ultimately collected, along with penalties. IRS collection methods included garnishing of wages and seizure of bank accounts.
Attempts to publicize my resistance did not seem to contribute very much to the popularization of war tax resistance and in 1991, I retired early from my work so I could obey my conscience and avoid war taxes by having a less than taxable income. Making investments in tax credits derived from government sponsored low income housing assisted in keeping my income below a taxable level.
Avoiding paying war taxes is empowering and feels good, but the fact that a mass movement to refuse payment has never appeared has been frustrating. At present, the military portion of our federal budget is larger than ever and many of our government leaders, as well as many of our fellow citizens believe it must be protected from any reductions, even if this means massive cuts in all other programs. I believe wartax resistance has been a very appropriate response to national and world historical developments throughout my lifetime, and at present, it’s more appropriate than ever.
Dave Depp is co-chair of RPEC’s global peace program committee.