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If You Work for Peace, Stop Paying for War
Published on Friday, March 21, 2003 by
If You Work for Peace, Stop Paying for War
by Michelle Kinnucan

If a thousand [people] were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. --Henry David Thoreau, "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"

On February 15, 2003, millions of people in the US and around the world demonstrated against a US invasion of Iraq. Four days later, George W. Bush dismissively likened this unprecedented international pre-war outpouring to the opinions of a "focus group." Bush's remark echoes the contempt attributed to former US Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, who, commenting on massive anti-nuclear weapons protestor in western Europe and the United States in 1982, reportedly said "Let them march all they want, so long as they continue to pay their taxes."

As Americans of good faith honor all victims of war; as we contend with a stifling "patriotic correctness"; as we confront militarism and its hold on the government and the minds of our brothers and sisters; as we write, protest, and engage in other forms of activism, war tax resisters offer us another tool to promote justice, oppose war, and challenge hopelessness. They suggest: "If you work for peace, stop paying for war."

According to the non-partisan Center for Defense Information, "The Fiscal Year 2004 budget request includes $782 billion for discretionary spending (the money the President and Congress must decide and act to spend each year), $399 billion of which will go to the Pentagon. The "National Defense" category of the federal budget for FY04 accounts for over half (51.0 percent) of all discretionary spending." By comparison, the next largest federal budget category is $55 billion for education.

The War Resisters League (WRL) points out, paraphrasing radical pacifist A.J. Muste, "in order to conduct a war or build a military, the government requires two chief resources: soldiers and money. People are drafted through the Selective Service System, and money is drafted through the Internal Revenue Service." Tax resistance is, in this view, the financial counterpart of conscientious objection to military conscription. War tax resistance has a long and noble history. Christians will note that Luke 23:2 tells us that tax resistance was one of the "crimes" for which Jesus was executed by the brutal Roman authorities then occupying Palestine.

One method of modern war tax resistance is refusing to pay part or all of your federal income tax. Both the WRL and the National War Tax Resisters Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) provide detailed information for persons contemplating this type of non-violent civil disobedience. The WRL publishes War Tax Resistance: A Guide To Withholding Your Support From The Military, which explains the rationale and history of war tax resistance along with in-depth information concerning the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). For example, In addition to full-blown income tax resistance, activists have developed other lower stakes strategies such as telephone tax resistance and the "1040 Club."

The federal telephone excise tax began with long distance calls under the Spanish War Act of 1898; it was applied to local calls shortly before the US entered World War II. The WRL estimates that in 1972, perhaps one-half million people resisted the US war in Southeast Asia by refusing to pay the federal telephone tax. In 1990, the tax was set at 3%; phone companies collect the tax for the IRS and the money is allocated as general revenue for discretionary spending. According to IRS figures, from 1995 through 2001, the tax brought in over $34 billion to the US Treasury, including a record $5.7 billion in 2001 alone.

The NWRTCC says telephone tax resistance is "a strong, positive way to protest increasingly militaristic U.S. policies and actions." Resisters deduct the 3% federal excise tax from their telephone payments and include an explanatory note to the phone company with the payments. The WRL and NWRTCC both claim that it is unusual and generally illegal for a phone company to discontinue service for non-payment of the federal excise tax.

Last year, Sonoma County Taxes for Peace, a local California affiliate of the NWTRCC, launched its One Million Taxpayers for Peace campaign. Their goal is to get one million taxpayers to join the "1040 Club" by subtracting $10.40 from any payment due to the IRS when filing their federal income taxes. Taxpayers who are owed a refund by the IRS enclose a note with their return requesting an additional $10.40 from the IRS.

War tax resisters stress that they are different from run-of-the-mill tax evaders because they act for reasons of conscience and do not attempt to conceal their defiance of the law. In fact, advocates encourage resisters to write letters to the IRS, members of Congress, and local newspapers explaining their objections to paying their taxes. Additionally, resisters often redirect unpaid tax money to non-profit groups that provide services more consistent with their philosophy of non-violence or to escrow funds such as the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign Escrow Account or the New York City People's Life Fund.

This April 15th, NWTRCC members and friends will leaflet, parade, show films, and stage "Pentagon Porkbusters Penny Polls" in communities in every section of the country. For more information, please call the NWTRCC at (800) 269-7464 or the WRL at (800) 975-9688.

Michelle Kinnucan is a freelance writer. Her work has previously been published in the Nonviolent Resister, Agenda, PS: Political Science and Politics,, and The Record. She may be contacted by e-mail at:

Copyright(c) 2003 Michelle J. Kinnucan. All Rights Reserved


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