The Power of War Tax Resistance in 2018
When the size of the US military budget has reached astronomical levels and the US military is everywhere in the world, what is the logic for and impact of our individual war tax resistance? My goal in War Tax Resistance (WTR) is to remain true to my personal values and morality. Even without any biblical admonitions or other religious motivation, I know that killing is not something that I can do. I feel no special need to argue the rightness or wrongness of that belief… It is something that simply is within me.
As a young person, I knew that I would not cooperate when I was faced with being drafted into the military. And shortly after that, it became clear to me that paying into a system that sent others off to be killed and to kill was not something that I would willingly participate in. I have tried in my lifetime to distance myself from that system in a variety of ways. I have not always been able to succeed in my effort but have always done the best that I could. I chose a variety of jobs over my lifetime but always with the goal of doing work that made the world a better place in some way. I have never had a job where I made a lot of money so I paid very little in income taxes. Over the years I tried to limit my financial support of militarism including war tax resistance when possible.
In much of my life, I have found ways to limit the amount of my money that went into the US government system of extreme militarization. My realization early on that the military always seems to obtain the resources needed while basic human needs both in the U.S. and in the world took a back seat. Although I have been fortunate in my life to be able to meet my needs and those of my family, I was aware in many ways that other people suffered from a lack of resources.
Being a part of the WTR movement is one of the ways that I have tried to live out my values. In order to be true to my values, I have found that I have to break the law. I break the law by refusing to pay the federal income taxes that I owe because such a large percentage of those taxes go to support a military that I cannot in good conscience support. I take this action of civil disobedience openly and with the knowledge that I might suffer some legal consequences as a result. The benefit of taking this action is not that I believe the military suffers the loss of my financial support. The military still receives incredible amounts of money, sometimes more than they even request. But I am separated from the immoral actions that the military takes in many places in the world, the killing and violence that the military is ultimately about at the bottom line. The military trains human beings to kill other human beings. That seems so obvious to me to be an inappropriate organizational goal.
So my resistance is really my way of trying to keep my hands clean. But my impact on the vast militarism in the world can surely be seen to have very little impact. So what is the result of my WTR action other than to me individually? Is it important that people try to do what they see as the right thing even if it has no impact in the very large and complex world? Obviously, as a person who practices WTR, I think it is an important thing for me to do in spite of the risks of breaking the law.
Two years ago my resistance took a huge jump numerically. My father died and left me $1 million in federally taxable income. Right now I can sign into the IRS page that is tracking how much I owe them and the amount is $236,000 in taxes and penalties and interest. At the same time, I have donated nearly $250,000 to people and organizations that make the world a better place. I don’t believe the IRS will ever be able to collect the amount that I owe within the ten year period that they have to collect. I do not have that much money in assets and never will. And no matter what they do in the future, they will never be able to erase the money that I have donated internationally and nationally and locally. They cannot erase the good that I have done in redirecting my federal income taxes. And I am reminded that one of my first instances of war tax redirection in the 1970s was $300 that I resisted and redirected to a summer feeding program for low-income children that would not have happened without my $300. So I knew immediately that even a small amount of money could make a big difference.
So the value of my resistance is spelled out in its ability to make me true to my values and to make the world a better place with my redirection of the money I refuse to pay to the military. Because it is truly the military that is the object of my actions and not the IRS. As the poster in my home says, “Feed the people, not the Pentagon.“ In the most literal way possible that is exactly what I am trying to do. When the IRS comes to my door and asks me to give them money so they can kill people in other parts of the world, I simply say no thank you. I have many other places where I will give my money instead.
As a result of my values, this is the message I sent to the IRS and my congressional representatives this year: I cannot in good conscience support the determination of my government to continue to expand militarism in the world as evidenced by the massive number of dollars provided to the military through our tax system and the collection of federal income taxes. I will not pay my federal income taxes as my way of showing my absolute disagreement with the determination of my government to fund war and preparation for war. I take this direct action of civil disobedience with fear and pride. I have not personally benefited financially from this tax refusal as I have donated significantly more than the taxes due to tax-deductible causes that make the world a better place.