Peacemakers Vow Gandhian Tax Resistance to End War

From the New York Times:

“Peacemakers” Convene

Group Organized to Fight Draft With “Gandhian Methods”

The Peacemakers, organized a year ago in Chicago to apply “Gandhian methods” to resist militarism and conscription, opened its first annual conference here .

Attended by 200 delegates from about fifteen states, the first sessions of the meeting were devoted to reports from committees and speeches by four young men who explained their reasons for refusing to register for the draft. A.J. Muste of New York, secretary of the group’s national committee, presided.

In a press conference, the Rev. Ernest Bromley of Wilmington, Ohio, chairman of the organization’s tax refusal committee, said that on forty-three persons from various parts of the country “concertedly refused to pay all or part of their income taxes on the ground that such funds were being devoted to preparation for atomic and biological warfare.”

On , the Eugene Register-Guard published an op-ed by Josef Brinckmann of the group “Military Tax Resistance of Lane County” in which he set out the case for war tax resistance:

Support for military runs counter to pacifist ideals

Military Tax Resistance of Lane County is dedicated to the philosophy and use of nonviolence. MTRLC is one of many regional nonviolent-activist organizations in the United States comprised of faith-based pacifists who are deeply troubled by our nation’s enormous military budget.

The war-tax resistance movement in the United States includes people of all faiths who object to the use of military force as a method of conflict resolution. Our spiritual beliefs are violated when we are coerced to contribute financially to the military budget through the Internal Revenue Service federal income tax withholdings system. As pacifists we do not own or use weapons and would rather not contribute to the manufacture, distribution and use of weapons.

When our tax contributions are used to subsidize weapons research as well as military and CIA operations we are acting in complicity with the commission of crimes against peace, war crimes and/or crimes against humanity as set forth in Nuremberg Principle Ⅳ: “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.”

We believe that there can be no justification for killing another human being and that war and preparations for war are basically evil. We do not believe that Americans benefit from maintaining a strong defense. On the contrary, we suffer from maintaining a strong defense. In the National Council of Churches, a body representing 32 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican church bodies (including the United Methodist Church, Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting and American Baptist Church) adopted a statement on U.S. spending priorities. NCC said, “When government priorities serve military interest at the expense of family life… the moral vision is discarded.”

The major spiritual belief systems existing in the world today — Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism — all contain a core essence of nonviolence, forgiveness and understanding. For example, Buddhism teaches to cause no harm and to know no conflict. All Buddhists are expected to exercise self-restraint and kindness toward all living creatures. The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, became a master of nonviolent conflict resolution. He stated, “I have stopped forever doing violence to beings.” However, throughout history many people have creatively misinterpreted their own spiritual doctrines in order to justify and rationalize warring against their neighbors.

As a child in Catholic school, I learned basic Judeo-Christian principles that later became the foundation for my pacifism as an adult. In Catechism class a great deal of emphasis was placed on the Ten Commandments. The most profound for me was, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). I was taught that to kill another human being was a mortal sin. I was also taught the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). I was taught to love my enemies and to turn the other cheek if struck. The priests at my school encouraged the students to protest against U.S. military offensives abroad.

Though all Catholics are not necessarily in agreement with regard to Christ’s teachings of nonviolence, there are certainly many Christian sects practicing in the U.S. today whose members oppose participation in, or support of, the armed forces and the judicial arms of the state including the Amish, Church of the Brethren, Hutterian Brethren, Mennonite Church and Quakers (Society of Friends).

In “War Tax Concerns — A Quaker History” Edwin Bronner states, “Friends (Quakers) have historically refused to engage in military activities and have sought to achieve change through reconciliation rather than the use of force. They have believed it wrong for one human being to take the life of another, either in war or through civil processes by means of capital punishment. Quakers refer to the teaching of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, as the basis for their position, in addition to their belief that the Inner Light guides them in the same path.”

The Rabbi Jesus offered teachings in pacifism in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the Earth… Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

It should be noted that one of the three charges brought against the Rabbi Jesus which led to a sentence of crucifixion, was “forbidding the payment of taxes to the emperor” (also translated as “forbidding to pay tribute to Caesar”) (Luke 23:2).

In closing I would like to quote from an English translation of the ancient Tao Te Ching (translation by Frank MacHovec) wherein the master Lao-tse states, “War is Evil… Weapons are tools of destruction avoided by followers of Tao… Weapons are the tools of destruction not used by people of dignity… Whenever a great army is formed, hunger and evil follow… I would rather be invaded than be the invader; I would rather retreat one foot than advance one inch.”

“Military Tax Resistance of Lane County” is now, I believe, organized under the name of “Taxes for Peace Not War” and operates out of Eugene, Oregon.

On , the Village Voice published an article on tax resistance against the Iraq war:

Dollar Dissent

Tax Resisters Chip Away at Bush’s War Chest

Chisun Lee

Police horses won’t stop them. Ranks of cops in riot gear won’t stop them either. Even rush hour traffic on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue won’t stop Americans determined to end the war in Iraq. The tax man, however, gives them pause.

“It’s surprising to me that people are more willing to risk arrest than refuse to pay their taxes. The fear of the IRS is tremendous in this country,” says Ed Hedemann, author of the 144-page War Tax Resistance: A Guide to Withholding Your Support From the Military. Hedemann has not paid any federal income tax and does not plan to start .

the Bush administration hit up Congress for $75 billion in taxpayer money to cover immediate war costs (some $30 billion of which the Pentagon has already spent). With unrest over this war evoking comparisons to the Vietnam era, when war tax resistance was at its peak, Hedemann hopes to multiply the “several thousand” compatriots he believes he has nationwide. Already, dozens of how-to sites have cropped up on the Internet, and lefty discussion groups have begun to embrace the idea.

While jail time and bad credit are real possibilities for war tax resisters, Hedemann says such consequences are far rarer than most people imagine and are easily avoided. There is a degree of tax resistance for every level of risk tolerance, he says. The tamest form is to pay all owed taxes but include a letter demanding that the money not be spent on the military. Another mild mode is to underpay by just a dollar, or not to pay the 3 percent federal excise tax on telephone bills, a tax which in the past rose with war costs and thereby became an object of protest.

The next level up entails not paying a percentage of one’s taxes equivalent to the portion of federal funds used for military purposes, a figure whose estimates vary widely — from 20 percent to 80 percent — depending on the source and the definition of “military.” (Even diehards like Hedemann pay safely nonmilitary taxes, like Social Security and state and local levies.)

But the ultimate form of tax resistance is not to pay any federal income tax at all and then keep the government from collecting it anyway. After all, tax resistance is supposed to transcend symbolism and deplete the dollars and cents that purchase the very tanks and missiles of the war machine. Rather than profit from their protest, resisters are expected to funnel their unpaid taxes into socially beneficial causes. In its highest form, Hedemann admits, war tax resistance “takes hard work.”

It requires something of a holistic lifestyle commitment. The successful war tax resister does not have seizable assets, such as a bank account, home, or car. He works for an employer who agrees not to withhold federal taxes from his paycheck. Or he earns so little that he is exempt from being taxed. Hedemann, 58, says he rents an apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and describes himself as a freelancer for nonprofits. “I do have a bank account,” he says, “but it’s not in my name.”

U.S. Treasury Department spokesperson Tara Bradshaw says, “Every American should pay their fair share of taxes.” The government does not track nonpayers “that way,” meaning by cause, she says, so it is difficult to tell how well the resisters’ message gets across. (Hedemann discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request, however, that the IRS had kept his letters.)

Potential consequences naturally include fines, typically a percentage of the unpaid taxes, plus interest. Hedemann says that anyone who files a return form but refuses to pay — the strongest form of protest — should expect at least a written notice from the feds. He recalls a few instances when IRS agents, seemingly unfamiliar with the First Amendment, fined people who paid all their taxes but also wrote in with political complaints. “That’s always been reversed, of course,” he says.

The IRS can place a lien on property, tarnishing a person’s credit. (Hedemann says he has “a lousy credit rating,” although he managed to obtain “regular credit cards” with some effort.) In , there has been only one case each of house seizure and car seizure, he says. “Usually, these kinds of things happen in isolated areas,” he says, such as suburban Massachusetts, where war tax resisters stick out. Never, to his recollection, in New York City.

Then there are the criminal penalties. Tax evasion, “willful failure to pay,” and fraud can land a person in federal court, according to the IRS. In , 30 people have gone to jail, typically for one to three months, on resistance-related charges, Hedemann says. Some were convicted of fraud, usually claiming too many dependents. The bulk of convictions resulted from people refusing to divulge financial information to IRS investigators. Hedemann himself was prosecuted for that . “It was a rather intensive instance,” he recalls. A particularly industrious agent charged him with contempt for not disclosing his assets. “The judge, a Bush One appointee, ruled in my favor, based on my right not to incriminate myself,” he says.

“You really have to go out of your way to go to jail. The IRS gives you all kinds of opportunities,” he says, to pay up and avoid repercussions, as the agency’s own collection rule book notes. The risks are worthwhile, Hedemann insists, because “tax resistance has a direct impact on the government.”

Federal budget experts are quick to disagree with him. Robert McIntyre heads Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit known to lean liberal. Nevertheless, he puts war tax resistance “somewhere between silly and evil.” Silly, because if resistance were actually to rise to a felt level, the government would simply borrow the money it could not get from taxes to keep the war going. And evil, because resisters are “putting their share of the government on other people.” (A bill to create a peace tax fund — a federally approved way to pay taxes but keep them away from the military — was introduced in the spring of and supported by a number of Congress members, including current House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. It has not been reintroduced this year.)

If war tax resisters intend to deplete the funding merely for this particular war, they should know that its cost is relatively low and easily supported by other means, according to Steven Kosiak, director of the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. (Moreover, Kosiak doubts that “it’s even intellectually possible” to deduce what percentage of the war payout derives from personal income tax revenue.) The Korean War cost 14 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, he says, and the Vietnam War cost 19 percent. Current estimates for the war in Iraq amount to 4 percent or less.

The entire military budget for  — minus the cost of the war in Iraq — comes in it at about $390 billion. Hedemann admits that the occasional resister “may not bring the military to a grinding halt.” Yet if the hundreds of thousands of recent anti-war protesters were to decide, “ ‘I’ve had enough of marching, I want to do something more,’ ” says Hedemann, “it would be something the government couldn’t ignore.”