Published on Monday, February 14, 2005 by Seattle Post-Intelligencer
War Tax Resisters Want a Better World
by Glen Milner
Why do we give consent to a government and a system of violence we no longer believe in? The United States is involved in an immoral and illegal war in the Middle East. The invasion and occupation of Iraq and the indiscriminate killing of civilians are outlawed by international law.
Of every tax dollar paid, more than 50 cents goes to pay for past, present and future military expenses. The military budget for the Department of Defense alone for 2005 will be close to $500 billion. Our willful payment of federal taxes enables our government to carry on a continuing program of illegal military activities.
Should we continue to pay for war? International laws and agreements support and encourage citizens to resist their government when it is engaged in illegal acts.
The Nuremberg Principles, adopted by the U.N. International Law Commission in 1950, set a precedent for the use of international law to punish those who commit atrocities and wars of aggression. Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles states, "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."
Our nation's deployment of nuclear weapons is illegal. The most authoritative decision regarding this is the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons. The conclusion on the illegality of nuclear weapons was based predominantly on the principles of humanitarian law that prohibits the use of weapons or methods of warfare that: are directed against civilians or cannot discriminate between military targets and civilians; cause unnecessary suffering to combatants; violate the territory of neutral states; cause long-term and widespread damage to the environment; and use poisonous substances.
Based upon a 1998 analysis, the Brookings Institution estimates the United States is spending up to $35 billion annually on nuclear weapons and related programs. In 1998, nuclear weapons programs consisted of 14 percent of all U.S. military spending.
Do we pray for peace while paying for war? Does our government have legitimate autonomous authority over our lives? Or do we have a right to refuse to contribute to the killing of others, committed in our name?
One of the earliest refusals to pay war taxes was by Henry Thoreau against the Mexican War in 1846. The first income tax was imposed on U.S. citizens in 1862 as a direct result of the Civil War. It was generally known as a "war tax."
In 1972, Rep. Ronald Dellums of California introduced the World Peace Tax Fund Act in Congress, designed to create a conscientious objector status for federal taxpayers. The Peace Tax Fund bill has been introduced into Congress each year since.
In 1981, Roman Catholic Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle challenged our national moral condition by urging fellow citizens to withhold 50 percent of their federal income taxes in protest of funding for nuclear weapons.
Today, many refuse payment or partial payment of federal taxes for military expenditures ranging from refusal to pay the 3 percent federal excise tax on telephone bills to withholding portions of their federal income tax. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee is a clearinghouse for information on the many forms of war tax resistance.
Most war tax resisters redirect their withheld federal tax funds for social needs. The Conscience and Military Tax Campaign Escrow Account in Seattle is one of the largest national repositories of redirected military taxes in the United States.
Direct action for peace often entails exposure to unpredictable risks. War tax resistance is no exception. Though getting a notice from the Internal Revenue Service is likely, jail is uncommon for war tax resisters.
We may not be perfect in our efforts for a better world. We must be aware, however, of what we are doing and the consequence of our allegiance to a sick and dying system.
Glen Milner is a member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo; the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee Web site is at www.nwtrcc.org.
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