War Tax Resister Ruth Clark

The latest war tax resistance profile to hit the press features Ruth Clark. It highlights the need for tax resisters like myself to take the long view — if I put money into retirement accounts today to avoid the federal income tax, I need to be aware that I will need to have a strategy for avoiding the tax on what I take out of those accounts later on, otherwise I’m not “resisting” so much as deferring my taxes.

To help finance a future George W. Bush has painted as permanently at war, the IRS has raided Ruth Clark’s bank accounts, taking all her money. Every month, the IRS has continued to seize 15% of Clark’s Social Security income, leaving this retired Methodist missionary without adequate means to meet her living expenses.

“I intentionally live on the edge of poverty to avoid paying for the war machine,” Clark said. “Would it be right for me to murder? Would it be OK for me to make children orphans? Do you think it would be OK for me to support a war where children are maimed, where they lose their arms, their legs, their eyes? How can I pay for that?”

“During the years that I earned more money than I needed, I found out that I could put up to $2,000 a year into an IRA to reduce my taxable income,” Clark said. “I kept on amassing a bankroll because if I spent any of the money I would have to pay income tax, and that would violate my conscience.”

During her many years as a missionary and later as a volunteer on stipend with the United Farm Workers, Clark was not required to file a Federal Income Tax form. But in , after cashing the IRA, she filed the required form — under protest. “I withheld 47% of the taxes the IRS determined I owed,” Clark said. “This is the percentage of the federal budget that is used to finance wars.”

“The IRS came after me for the deferred taxes they said I owed them,” Clark said. They “put a lien on my Credit Union account in California in . They emptied it out.”

“I wrote and told them [the IRS] of my conscientious objection to war,” Clark said, “but they came back again and took the money from my bank in Asheville. My checks started to bounce and the bank, Blue Ridge Savings, charged me for each one. My Social Security and my pension from the Mission Fund had been electronically deposited. So the IRS took it all. I don’t think they are singling me out. There are a lot of people they are after in the same way they are after me.”

Clark no longer has enough to meet her monthly rent, which “went up to top dollar,” she said. “Now, with all this trouble, I’m in arrears. I have my pension check going directly to the Brooks-Howell Home now to help pay my rent, but the IRS still deducts 15% of my Social Security check.” But Clark is quick to add, “Compared to what that money from the U.S. is doing to other countries, my plight is not so difficult. The more I read, the more radical I become.”

“My hope is not that people will make a contribution to the shortness of my cash, but that they will figure out a way that they also will stop paying for war, and that they will help somebody else to stop paying for war. Then we will multiply our strength, not just by the amount of money that we refuse to give [to the IRS], but in the numbers of us who will say, ‘I will not pay for war.’ ”

“I intentionally lived on the edge of poverty to avoid paying for the war machine.” ―Ruth Clark

David R. Henderson teaches a course on Cost/Benefit Analysis to young military officers at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. In the course of his lecture one day, he contrasted an individualistic outlook on government (in which the government is supposed to serve the needs of people) with an organic one (in which individuals should consider themselves cells that are to serve the needs of the body politic), and pointed out that in our language we often implicitly assume the organic:

“Note, for example, how people often talk about a particular government official’s action as if it had been done by ‘us.’ Take the statement, ‘We invaded Iraq.’ I didn’t. A very powerful man in Washington made a decision to invade Iraq and some of you might have invaded Iraq, but I didn’t. Or take the standard way Americans talk about Pearl Harbor. They say, ‘The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.’ I never say that. It’s not true. What’s true is that a few hundred Japanese pilots, ordered by an admiral, who was ordered by an emperor, bombed Pearl Harbor. Most Japanese people didn’t even know it was going on and were just going about their day peacefully.”

Many of the students looked upset, and a number of hands flew into the air. One person said, “But you live in this country, and you participate in its politics. Given that the president is democratically elected, you’re partly responsible.” I replied that I hadn’t voted for Bush, and so it was very difficult, even by this person’s reasoning, to argue that I was responsible for Bush’s actions. I admitted that in the choice between Bush and Gore, I had wanted Bush to win, but, I pointed out, one of the main reasons was that Bush had said he wanted the United States, by which he meant the U.S. government, to be more humble in the world. I thought the irony of this would cause at least a little laugh, but it didn’t: the passions were engaged and the discussion continued.

A student then said that I was claiming to be morally superior to them. “No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m not claiming any moral superiority. What I’m saying has nothing to do with whether the invasion of Iraq was justified. I’m simply saying that we should use language clearly and insist that people are responsible for their own actions.”

(Henderson spells out his criticism of the national “we” in his essay Who is “We”?)

His students weren’t having any of it. They insisted that the attack on , for instance, couldn’t just be seen as an attack by a handful of people on a few thousand victims. It was an attack by a group that by its choice of methods and targets threatened all Americans. Henderson didn’t disagree with this as such, but countered some of the assumptions that sometimes get carelessly tagged on to this kind of thinking.

But his students were upset. Three of them wrote emails to him after class. He shares one with us in his article Conversation With a Few Good Men (and Women):

Subject: Dr. Henderson’s $10,000 Contribution to Bush’s War Chest


At some point you decided it would be better to pay US income tax than to live elsewhere. (Cost/Benefit Analysis) Thus you contributed to Bush’s War Chest, among other things. You continue to pay income tax, monthly affirming your support of the Federal Government. What could be a better indication of a person’s support than their pocketbook? I suspect that your contributions to the war effort each month outweigh the yearly income of most Iraqis. You Sir, support the war effort more than most of your students. That is the reason Al Queda [sic] targets you and me.