The Birth of the Modern War Tax Resistance Movement

I found a peek at the birth of the modern American tax resistance movement hidden away in a edition of the MANAS Journal which features the article “No Compromise:”

Among those taking a decisive position are a number of men calling themselves the “Peacemakers,” who met in Chicago last April and pledged themselves (1) to refuse to serve in the armed forces in either peace or war; (2) to refuse to make or transport weapons of war; (3) the refuse to be conscripted or to register; (4) to consider to refuse to pay taxes for war purposes — a position already adopted by some; (5) to spread the idea of peacemaking and to develop non-violent methods of opposing war through various forms of non-cooperation and to advocate unilateral disarmament and economic democracy. (Reported in the Politics.)

The idea of non-payment of taxes has been put into practice by Ammon Hennacy, a Tolstoyan of Arizona, and by Mrs. Caroline Urie of Yellow Springs, Ohio (see MANAS, March 31), and possibly by others. Milton Mayer, of the University of Chicago, who writes regularly for the Progressive and has contributed to Harper’s, the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines, has frequently written and spoken of this form of protest against war. Walter Gormly, of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, finds the payment of taxes for war a violation of the principle established by the International Military Tribune which conducted the Nuremberg Trials. The Tribune Charter identifies as a crime against peace, the “planning, preparation, initiating or waging of a war of aggression,” and in a letter to the Bureau of Internal Revenue Gormly asserts that the United States is doing just that “by maintaining bases, subservient governments and military forces from Korea to Turkey, by intensive research on methods of mass slaughter and by maintaining a huge military organization.” As Section Ⅱ, Article B, of the Charter declares that “the fact that the defendant acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility,” Mr. Gormly feels obliged, to avoid possible prosecution as a “war criminal,” to refuse to pay a federal income tax, a large part of which goes for preparation for war, and he has so informed the Federal Government.

The story of “Mrs. Caroline Urie of Yellow Springs, Ohio” is given in an earlier edition:

The determination of Mrs. Caroline Urie, social worker and widow of an American naval officer, to pay no taxes for war purposes will probably strike many Americans as an irrational attitude. On , Mrs. Urie wrote President Truman announcing that she had deducted 34.6 per cent of her tax — the proportion she estimates is earmarked for war. “If they want to send me to jail,” she said, “that’s all right with me… I’ll never pay any more money for war.”

Democracy, it will be argued, is a rational process. Nobody likes war, and nobody likes income taxes, but we have to put up with both. We have a Congress to decide these things, and if everyone could question the decisions of the Congress whenever he pleased, soon there would be no Government, no order, no national defense, no anything.

So Mrs. Urie is irrational. But what, exactly, is she to do, feeling the way she does? From where she stands, paying for a war is irrational. Maybe she has read Morgenstern’s Pearl Harbor. Maybe she is convinced that democracy means the right to have no part of killing anybody, for any reason, and to take the consequences of this position. In her case, the consequences might be a jail sentence, although this may be doubted. Mrs. Urie once worked with Jane Addams at Hull House. For five years she was director of the School for Immigrant Children. The Government may feel a little silly trying to put her in jail. Maybe it should.

A week or so ago a leading news magazine blandly announced that a war with Russia is “in the cards,” not now, but later, when both nations are “ready.” This was followed by a page of explanation telling why the war would be delayed. Nobody wants a war, but there it is, and all the man-in-the-street can do is wait around …or so it seems. The news magazine also told what the war would mean — compulsory labor, compulsory financing, compulsory everything. Compulsory death for millions was not mentioned — that is taken for granted, we suppose. The news magazine said nothing about stopping the war. It was just a nice, objective account for the American business man — what to expect, and when.

A visit to a large aircraft factory here on the Pacific Coast adds considerable local color to one’s sense of doom. One plant, at least, seems to be making no commercial planes at all. In the plant in question, 10,000 men working two shifts are turning out jet fighters and bombers as fast as they can. The plant has Government contracts. It’s all official, according to schedule, and absolutely democratic and rational.

But from Mrs. Urie’s viewpoint, it’s not rational at all. She objects to buying death for somebody on a cost plus basis. Thoreau had a similar idea, about a century ago. Actually, there are two rationales in this problem: there is the rationale of a great nation getting ready for war, and the rationale of a lonely individual getting ready for peace. So far as Mrs. Urie and her income tax are concerned, the democratic process is 34.6 per cent irrational, and she won’t go along. This is her way of trying to be a good citizen and a good human being at the same time. It is beginning to take some imagination.

A edition has a letter to the IRS (and an amusing recollection of a telephone conversation with an IRS agent) by tax resister Richard Groff. Other issues of the journal include a review of Edmund Wilson’s The Cold War and the Income Tax, and a great deal of discussion of the work and thought of Gandhi and Thoreau. I plan to spend some time browsing their free archives on-line in the coming days.

Don’t look now, anti-war Democrats, but your party is hard at work:

A team of Senate and House Democrats are planning to introduce legislation today aimed at significantly increasing the size of the U.S. Army.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services (SASC) airland subcommittee, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), a SASC member, and Reps. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), both members of the House Armed Services committee, are pressing for the passage of the United States Army Relief Act.