Tax Resistance in “The Catholic Worker” 1984–85

Today, some excerpts from The Catholic News Archive concerning tax resistance in .

The issue of The Catholic Worker included a new Ernest Bromley essay promoting war tax resistance:

War Tax Resistance

By Ernest Bromley

Although it has been several years since I wrote an open letter to the President of the United States, I wrote one about refusal to finance war or the preparation for war:

Open Letter to Ronald Reagan

I was imprisoned during World War Ⅱ because I refused to pay federal taxes for war. I had already decided that, so long as I would not take up arms to kill, I should not buy the arms and pay someone else to kill for me. I began , after the U.S. went to war in Korea, to refuse even to file a tax return since I wished to cancel any remaining tie with the arm that gathers war funds.

Now that the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. are helping each other prepare to blow up the world, I reaffirm publicly my separateness from IRS. That destruction of the world would be accomplished in the name of providing “national security,” reveals that the policy is ironically insane. I need to put some distance between myself and that policy. When governments move mindlessly toward destruction, individuals must move mindfully toward blocking them. We should remember that it is the individual that furnishes most of the tax dollars, and that it is the military that spends most of them. A dual obligation falls on the individual therefore to stop payment. If security or sanity lies in any other direction, it has not yet been shown.

If millions this year were to refuse payment, that would not — to paraphrase Thoreau — be the violent and bloody measure that it would be to pay and enable nuclear powers to end us all.

Ernest Bromley
10208 Sylvan Avenue
Cincinnati OH 45241

In , before any of us knew that such a thing as an atom bomb existed, the United States dropped one on the unaware and innocent populace of a Japanese city. If we had known that such a weapon existed, we could have predicted with almost total certainty that it would be used, for where in history can we find a weapon that was built but was not used, was produced yet was kept on the shelf as a museum piece?

I am glad I did not participate in financing the atom bomb. My concentration, however, is on not financing the more grotesque and grisly weapons being planned today; one of them even being called the “ultimate weapon.” We have indeed become a society of butchers, as Bertrand Russell said a few years ago. If this ultimate weapon should come, the ultimate danger will come right along with it, the ultimate danger for everyone on the planet. No way can then exist for getting rid of that danger without first getting rid of that weapon.

During World War Ⅱ, I was aware that the government wanted both “you and your money.” There has been a change. The government now wants your money only, for it is your money that constructs those almost self-operating weapons that can destroy everybody and everything. The government has been making it plainer and plainer that today’s combat soldier is the taxpayer — the person who provides the cash to produce and deploy the push-button hardware and software for mass annihilation. The world is now spending $1.3 million every minute toward this end at the same time that it robs the already-poor and destitute.

Back at the turn of the century, Leo Tolstoy showed us that individuals shoulder great responsibility for warfare. If widespread refusal of military taxes could take place, he said, something in government would have to change because government could not put that many people in prison, and, if it could, it would still be without funds for its military operations, and solutions other than military ones would have to be found. It is the same today except that the urgency is much greater, for the “military operations” of old have now become “extermination programs.”

People who contribute substantially each year to these extermination programs — and there is no way to avoid doing so when giving tax funds to IRS — are, whether they like to think so or not, engaging in “crimes against peace,” something that is forbidden by our moral code, by the Nuremburg Tribunal and by other treaties to which the United States is signatory. The excuse, “We are only obeying orders of our duly-constituted government,” is, of course, empty and meaningless. The Nuremburg principles held that preparing to engage in crimes against peace is, in itself, a crime against peace, and that people cannot hide behind orders given by government when they personally commit those crimes against peace.

Those “good Germans” of , who knew they were building death camps, and knew they were building those other means of human extermination, justified their acts on the grounds that they “had to obey the law.” People who finance the horror weapons of today are in the same category. Disobeying a statutory law is, of course, illegal but it is not necessarily wrong. The higher laws often cannot be obeyed without disobeying some of the lower ones. Clearly a choice has to be made.

Holding back money from what one vitally opposes so that one can give it instead to what one vitally favors is probably as old as civilization itself. From history we learn that this practice existed in many parts of the world, including England, India, and the United States in the American Colonies. Probably no resistance has been more effective or more honored. People in these countries who stopped their money cut off from government a source of revenue that government had come to depend on, and they also made clear, thereby, their open opposition to certain government laws and practices.

Our responsibility extends, of course, beyond government demands into the whole of society, and we should be ready at any time to do what we believe to be right. We are creatures of the whole earth, not just one strip of it, so, if we aspire to be citizens of something, we should aspire to become citizens of the globe. Hope for the future is dependent on many more people acting on their consciences, becoming bolder and going further than they have yet gone, for the human conscience has a power all its own.

(For people who are considering some form of tax resistance or who wish to learn more about tax resistance, there are two groups that offer helpful information on methods and consequences of such an act. These are: National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, P.O. Box 2236, E. Patchogue, NY 11772 (516‒286‒8422), and War Resisters League, 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012 (212‒228‒0450). Eds. note.)

That paper also included an article about war tax resistance in its issue, in which it promoted a “patron saint of war tax resistance”:

War Tax Resistance

According to figures developed by the War Resisters League, fully 63% of all income taxes collected for the United States Federal budget for will be spent on military outlays. This includes spending on all current military programs, veterans’ benefits, and payment of interest on the portion of the national debt created by past military spending (estimated to be 80% of the entire national debt). Given the increasingly aggressive U.S. military policy, particularly in Central America, and the billions of dollars being poured into destabilizing weapons systems such as the MX missile, the cruise missile, and the “star wars” missile defense system, more and more people are beginning to question the morality of their tax dollars being put to use for such potentially destructive purposes. Many feel they can no longer fund these military programs in good conscience, and so they are participating in war tax resistance, as a way of following their beliefs and attempting to bring about social change.

War tax resistance can take many different forms. Some people refuse to pay a token amount of their income tax, $5 or $10, as a symbolic protest against militarism. Others withhold the percentage of their tax that corresponds to the percentage of the Federal budget allotted to the military. It is important to note that any income tax money paid will go in part to military spending, as it is impossible to earmark money for peaceful purposes only. For this reason, many people choose not to pay any Federal taxes at all, or keep their income below the taxable limit. Another form of war tax resistance is refusing to pay the Federal excise tax on telephone services, a tax which has been associated with the funding of the Vietnam War.

Choosing to refuse payment of war taxes, and deciding the best course of action to take, can be a confusing and intimidating process. Our tax system is complicated, and the Internal Revenue Service can be seen as a rather formidable institution to take on single-handedly. Fortunately, there are a number of resources available to people considering tax resistance. The Guide to War Tax Resistance, published by the War Resisters League (339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012, $6), is an excellent book, thoroughly covering many topics, including the history of tax resistance in the United States, the various types of tax refusal strategies, and the procedures the IRS might use to attempt to collect refused tax money. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (P.O. Box 2236, East Patchogue, NY 11772, tel. 516‒654‒8227) offers many valuable resources, including listings of regional tax resistance groups and counselors (send a stamped, self-addressed envelope), and a war tax alternative fund information packet ($5). Alternative funds are an important aspect of tax resistance, as many people, in refusing to pay taxes to the Federal government for military purposes, instead contribute their tax money to groups working directly for peace and human needs. This is an example of how tax resistance can be used as a positive tool for social change.

Confronting our system of taxation and the war machine is a difficult task, as we are all tied into an economy that is geared toward increasing our military might.

Saint Hugh was born of a good (and pious, of course) family in Burgundy, France, around . After his mother’s death, when he was eight years old, his father placed him in a house of regular canons to be cared for and educated. When he was fifteen, he made his religious profession in the same community. In his nineteenth or twentieth year, he happened to visit the Grande Chartreuse with one of his superiors. The retirement and silence of the place enkindled in Hugh a desire to embrace the Carthusian life in all its austerity, which he did, over the objections of his former superior and the grim picture described by the Carthusian prior of their life. Of the next seventeen years of his life at the Grande Chartreuse, there is very little to be said, other than that, like St. Francis and various other saints, he had a certain affinity for animals. He especially liked squirrels and birds, of whom he was very fond, and over whom he had a considerable power. Later in life he had a pet swan who was very protective of him. During this time he also acquired a reputation of great holiness.

Tax Resister

It was this reputation which prompted King Henry Ⅱ of England to send for Hugh to come and take over the government of a charterhouse he was founding at Witham, as part of his penance for the murder of St. Thomas Becket. It is at this time that Hugh sparks our interest, for he refused to undertake his office until full payment and compensation had been made to those who had been evicted from their land to make way for the charterhouse, a small oversight on the King’s part. This was not the last time Hugh would remind the King of what was right and just, usually to Henry’s expense, but Hugh’s holiness, strength of character and good humor (he was famous for his disarming puns) won him the respect and confidence of his sovereign.

In , he was elected to be Bishop of Lincoln, a see which had been vacant for eighteen years. While at the task of straightening out the affairs of his long neglected diocese, he also found time to nurse the sick (particularly lepers), assist the poor, play with children, rebuild his cathedral, and during a period of vicious anti-Semitic violence at the beginning of the Third Crusade, he was found at Stamford, Northhampton and Lincoln, singlehandedly facing angry mobs of Christians, compelling them to spare the children of Israel.

In , King Richard Ⅰ wanted the bishops and barons to subsidize his war with Philip Augustus of France. St. Hugh refused, maintaining that his see was only obliged to assist in home defense. This seems to be the first documentation of war tax refusal, and, though it was not an easy time for Hugh and his see (all his goods were confiscated), in the end he was able to stand up to the king, rebuke him, and come out on top of the situation. The king stood corrected.

On his return home from France, having been on state business for King John, he became ill in London and died on the evening of . His body was carried to Lincoln, where it was buried in the cathedral amidst what appears to be universal grief. At his funeral were present: “The primate of England, fourteen bishops, a hundred abbots, an archbishop from Ireland and another from Dalmatia, King William of Scotland, King John of England — and the Lincoln ghetto was there, bewailing the loss of its protector and a ‘true servant of the great God.’ ” St. Hugh was canonized in . His feast day is November 16. He is popularly (in certain circles) thought of as the patron saint of war tax resistance.

―Gary Donatelli