War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in
Issues of the Friends Journal from give some additional hints of the reemergence of war tax resistance as a widespread practice in the Society of Friends… and also the first example of the backlash against it.
The lead editorial in the issue concerned “Taxes for War” and covered the war tax resistance of Quakers in England. The article begins: “Friends in England are under the weight of the same concern that occupies American Friends: what can, or should, we do about taxation for military purposes?”
…short of outright refusal to pay taxes there seems no way out for those objecting to militarism. The voluntary payments to U.N. funds, such as various Friends groups are making, will undoubtedly contribute to easing the moral burden, yet these sensitive donors would be the last ones to claim that their voluntary self-tax is a satisfactory solution to the problem.
The editorial then describes a quirk of British tax law by which if a taxpayer there “ ‘covenants’ a certain annual amount to a charity for seven years, the Internal Revenue will then, as The Friend (London) reports, pay over to the charitable organization ‘a sum equal to the tax normally payable on the amount of the covenant.’ The ‘charity,’ then, receives not only the contribution but also the tax paid upon it. On the average a subscriber to a charity will have to pledge one half of his normal tax payment in order to recover that proportion usually allocated to armaments.”
While “far from flawless” and while “this plan exists only in England,” this plan “nevertheless affords some moral relief,” the editorial states.
This is the first in-depth discussion of a practical war tax resistance method in the pages of the Friends Journal, but it is only “practical” to most of its readers in the abstract — as something Friends in the old country might do. As with the Journal’s earlier coverage of Quaker war tax resisters in Costa Rica, or of war tax resisters Milton Mayer, A.J. Muste, and Maurice McCracken, the magazine still seems most comfortable when talking about war tax resistance as something that other people do and American Quakers admire.
The article can be seen as a hunt for an excuse: “If only we had a law like the British do, we could resist our war taxes… maybe some day we will have one, perhaps we can even advocate for one, but until then there’s nothing we can do.”
Another example of the “there’s nothing we can do” point of view, in the same issue of the Journal, comes in a report on the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, whose sessions were held :
Our sympathy was aroused for businessmen and taxpayers trapped in the war system and, recognizing our common sense of guilt, we acknowledged the fact that all enterprise is thus enmeshed.
The next paragraph begins “We were encouraged to break out of this trap…” but no mention of resisting war taxes follows.
The issue includes an article about the United Nations that includes this observation about those countries, like the U.S.S.R., that “have refused to contribute to U.N. projects of which they disapprove”:
There is a puzzling similarity between the attitude of these countries toward the U.N. budget and the attitude of those pacifists who refuse to pay income tax because they disapprove of some of the projects of the United States Government.
Note: “those pacifists” and not “those Friends” or “those Quakers.” Again, there’s deniability about whether Quakers are the sort of people who do this sort of thing.
But here is a letter-to-the-editor, from Wilmer J. Young of Wallingford, Pennsylvania, that shows how war tax resistance was beginning to reawaken in the Society:
The following letter, signed by Clarence Pickett and Henry Cadbury, was sent to about twenty persons:
Many Friends have for years felt uneasy about paying that part of their income tax which goes into preparation for war. A very few have refused to pay; but the majority of Friends have felt this to be an ineffective way to protest, or they have felt for various other reasons that this was not the way for them to bear witness for peace. At the same time, many of them have been unhappy at not bearing a clear witness in this regard.
The signers of this letter invite thee to attend a meeting of a small group of Friends who feel concern in this matter. We hope to discuss whether there is some action (perhaps not in violation of any law) which would be a clear indication of our position on war preparation, and might have some meaning both to the participants themselves, on one side, and to the general public, on the other. Our consideration will of course be looking toward next year, as it is already too late for this.
Most of those invited to this meeting attended it. There was an earnest and searching discussion for two hours. However, no consensus appeared and no action was taken.
Some of us who are clear that we cannot pay this tax can but wonder whether it is weak intelligence or misguided conscience that has led us to our decision.
The issue included a report on “The Peace and Social Order Committee of the Young Friends Committee of North America,” which
…concerned that many Friends have lost the meaning of the peace testimony, organized a peace caravan this summer. The seven Young Friends who joined in this Peace Caravan traveled in the Middle West asking Friends: “What does the Peace Testimony mean? Is it relevant to our personal lives and our national policies? If so, what is required of us?”
The article suggested some “Queries” that could be used to delve into questions like these, including this one: “Do we consider Christ’s teachings to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us when we make decisions about our attitude toward military training and taxation for war?”
The same issue of the Journal contains the first example of backlash against war tax resistance I found in that magazine — a letter to the editor by Harold H. Perry in which he says that tax resisters are “by implication” showing a lack of support for all the good things the government does: not just the usual list of roads, schools, and the like, but even “many and considerable civilian services of the military establishments such as the work of the Corps of Engineers and much of the research that aids civilians, including medical and health benefits.” He acknowledges that some resisters redirect their taxes to things of less-questionable benefit, but says that “[t]his may be laudable theoretically, but if widely practiced or permitted would lead to endless confusion, imbalance, and injustice.” He concludes by encouraging Quakers to instead “work through established democratic machinery” to try to get their ideals reflected in government behavior.
, Quaker war tax resister Arthur Evans was imprisoned for his resistance. Here is an article from The Rhinebeck [New York] Gazette on the case, written by Adele Wehmeyer:
A friend of mine, 43 year old Arthur Evans, a medical doctor with offices in Denver, Colorado, was sent to jail by Judge Alfred A. Arraj of the Denver district court, for his refusal to pay his part of the income tax (about 50 pct.) which would be used for the annihilation of the human race. He sent it, instead, to the United Nations, to promote peace in the world.
In a statement circulated by him to his friends he says in part: “My lawyer, the judge, and other lawyers, tell me that there is no law, no constitutional provision that provides for the individual to refuse to pay taxes for annihilation. So I go to jail, for I will not, I cannot in conscience be party to financing the means to annihilation. The Jews under Hitler were taxed to buy their crematoriums. The same happens here — but it is not only the Jews who finance their means of destruction — it is almost every income earner in the United States. This is called democratic because we are all taxed alike.”
Letters of approval have been pouring in to Dr. Evans, and since he is only allowed to write very few, his mother in Philadelphia has taken up the task of acknowledging them, sending at the same time a typewritten sheet explaining the affair in detail.
A little over a century ago, in , another man (who is now considered one of America’s greatest) was picked up in Concord, Mass. on the way to his shoemaker, and brought to jail because he had refused to pay his poll tax to a government he thought misguided and evil because it allowed slavery and was also at that time waging a war with Mexico to extend its slaveholding territory. I mean, of course, Henry David Thoreau. Out of that incident came his famous Civil Disobedience, which influenced Gandhi and Nehru; Thoreau’s ideas are very much alive in many parts of the globe today. Strange, how history repeats itself!
Some day, perhaps after another century (if we escape a war of annihilation), Dr. Evans will be spoken of with appreciation and respect. We have a way of crucifying the great while they are with us, and of exalting them after they are gone. At present a medical doctor is doing laundry duty as a “trusty” in the Jefferson County Jail in Golden, Colorado, and he may like to hear from you.
How would the Friends Journal cover this? Would it, as in the earlier case of Milton Mayer (see ♇ 5 July 2013), mention it but try to downplay its connection to Quaker practice? Let’s see.
In the issue is a three-paragraph piece in the “Friends and Their Friends” section on the case:
Arthur Evans, Denver physician and member of the Society of Friends, went to jail on for three months because he has refused to pay part of his federal income taxes and because he would not produce his financial records.
For at least twenty years the doctor has paid to Internal Revenue Service only the proportion of his income tax which corresponds to the percentage of the national budget devoted to non-military purposes. The part he has not paid to IRS he has devoted to charitable purposes and to agencies working for world peace.
Not until , when he declined to file an income tax return, has he been personally pursued by IRS, which heretofore had subtracted from his bank account amounts he was refusing to pay.
So the magazine is forthrightly recognizing this tax resister as one of its own flock, though its coverage is considerably more subdued than even the example from the mainstream media that I quoted above. (Incidentally, if the Journal article is accurate and Evans was resisting as early as , this would put his resistance well in advance of that of the Peacemakers of , which I usually think of as the birth of modern American war tax resistance.)
The Evans case got another mention , in the issue, which reprinted excerpts from his letter to the Director of Internal Revenue (and which also explicitly identifies Evans as “a Friend”). “We doctors have pledged to serve life,” Evans wrote:
I find no way to finance mass murder — be it called war, defense, or security — and be true to this pledge. I care about life and the dignity of each individual, and desire to serve people everywhere, no matter who they are religiously, nationally, or racially.…
I cannot voluntarily fund that overwhelming part of my nation’s budget that finances acts based on retaliation, based on fear and hatred psychology, based on threats of injury and killing-in short, acts based on returning evil for evil.…
If this results in my going to jail for breaking laws that support injustice, slavery, death, and destruction, then in jail, with Martin Luther King, Henry David Thoreau, Peter, and Paul, I will attempt to serve wherein I can.…
“Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor [which includes thy enemy] as thyself” are precious laws of life to doctors and to all who would cooperate with the Christ.… Many men still believe… that they can deal with the evil acts of men by destroying the men who do these acts. Yet I know no one who believes that conflicts… are resolved by mass murder.… The majority have not yet discovered that love is the only power that overcomes evil.…
I will continue to pay that percent of my tax liability that goes for nonmilitary acts of my government and enclose $200 toward same. I am sending double the amount I am not paying for war to Quaker House at the United Nations for transmission to the United Nations Organization for its technical assistance program.