War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1999

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

In long-time Friends Journal editor (and war tax resister) Vinton Deming stepped down. The amount of coverage of war tax resistance in the Journal had been declining throughout the decade, and was no exception to this trend.

A note in the issue read:

In signing A Call to Noncooperation with the War in Yugoslavia, 55 opponents of the conflict expressed a commitment to refuse to pay taxes for the war. National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee in released the group’s declaration along with the list of signers. On releasing the call, Bill Ramsey, a Friend from St. Louis, Mo., and a signer, said, “We oppose this diversion of public money [from the Social Security surplus] to a new war, but most urgently we are refusing to pay for war on Yugoslavia because it is killing people in Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro. We are choosing to redirect our taxes to heal people.”

The issue included a letter-to-the-editor from Bill and Fran Taber announcing a particularly large war tax redirection:

A few weeks ago we received several phone calls from a Friend who, like us, has long been concerned about how to avoid paying taxes to support the military-industrial complex. Our friend had recently been in touch with an Olney Friends School graduate who was excited about new governance arrangements being worked out to allow the official control of the school to pass from Ohio Yearly Meeting to a board composed of alumni and friends of Olney. This enthusiasm and the school’s need for scholarship funds at this time of transition prompted our friend to ask us to be transmitters of an anonymous gift of $100,000 to the Friends of Olney, Inc., (the group responsible for the school beginning ).

Naturally we said we would be glad to do this. We soon received an express package containing an anonymous $100,000 check from our friend’s financial agency as well as the friend’s letter explaining how this gift was a way of placing money in a worthy cause rather than allowing it to go for destructive purposes.

After we had passed the check and the letter on to the new board, our friend suggested and we agreed that the publication of the letter which accompanied the check would be a good way to continue the ongoing Quaker exercise on how to avoid complicity in war, as well as showing one way to put excess money to good use. The letter follows.

Dear Friends of Olney — 

In the spirit of Isaiah’s prophetic calling that would have us turn our swords into plowshares and in concert with Creation’s own declarations of God’s transforming power as recorded and envisioned in the Bible, I have been led to transfer to you these funds in the amount of $100,000, that they might serve to support your new tenure at Olney School. It is my wish that this contribution be utilized to provide partial scholarship funding for ten or more students who might thereby be enabled to attend school there .

I offer this gift as one who has long wrestled with and refused payment of military taxes to our government, and has now resolved to cease paying such taxes in light of revelations through written and other sources that our nation has over many years been engaged in the development and testing of “doomsday weaponry” — acknowledged at a recent Pentagon news conference as likely to become a “growth industry.”

By way of sorting out my own personal response to such darkness, I have been endeavoring to turn my daily walk, personal and financial resources, and whatever presence and service I can offer, towards honoring that living Word which would have us dwell together in peace with all our neighbors and ourselves — “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord.”

And in this regard, I have become particularly concerned with some of the problems that our families and children are experiencing, living as we are under the shadow of an increasingly mesmerizing, materializing, and mortifying “high-tech” way of life, dominated and fueled by our nation’s military-industrial complex, which President Eisenhower himself tried to forewarn us of more than 30 years ago.

It is my fervent prayer that we will all be moved by the Spirit and our own lives’ particular needs and concerns to invest ourselves in helping shepherd our young ones back into the fold of that “everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure” which David knew (Ⅱ Samuel 23:5) as his felt experience of God’s rainbow covenant (Gen. 9:12) “which I make between me and you and all living creatures that is with you for perpetual generations.”

Indeed, my own personal experience in recent years persuades me that as we covenant together to re-engage ourselves in more reverently-related interactive ways of living (as early Friends and many native cultures have and do) we will recover that love of life Way of experiential truth-seeking, together with our own “still small voice.” And hopefully, as we become more attentive to and enlivened through this wider context of God’s creation “in which we live and move and have our being,” we shall realize all the blessings it holds for our own health, balanced living, and well-being.

So I have great respect and hope for your Friends of Olney group and the new course you are charting and pray it will prove an exciting and successful adventure in community learning for all involved.

May the Spirit bless and abide with you!

Yours in good faith,

A Friend

The issue noted:

Lake Erie Yearly Meeting minuted support for David and Miyoko Inouye Bassett as conscientious objectors to the payment of military taxes. the Bassetts have refused to pay voluntarily the military portion of their federal taxes. They have actively worked for U.S. Peace Tax Fund legislation, resubmitted this year, that would allow a person to pay full taxes but direct that none of the money be used for military purposes. The couple worked for years as doctors in India with American Friends Service Committee.

Spencer Coxe attacked the Peace Tax Fund scheme in an op-ed in the issue:

The Peace Tax movement has dangerous implications

David Bassett’s article on the Peace Tax movement, which appeared a couple of years ago [see ♇ ] was of interest to me, for I had long been unclear (and uneasy) about the concept. As a Friend and a pacifist with a lifelong affinity to dissent and lost causes, my heart sympathized with the movement, but my head warned me it was in error. Even after reading David Bassett’s article, my head, which writes this essay, has prevailed.

The Peace Tax is meaningless in practical effect. Congress determines; and will continue to determine, the military budget. “Earmarking” one’s taxes for non-military purposes will have no influence whatsoever, except in the inconceivable event that so many subscribers signed up that there were not enough non-earmarked funds to satisfy what Congress considered military needs — at which point Congress would repeal the law. A large number of subscribers would be required to reach this point. A smaller number of determined lobbyists and agitators could persuade Congress to curb military expenditures, even though the protesters represented a minority of the electorate, just as the gun lobby is effective despite the rejection of its agenda by a majority.

A Peace Tax Fund is not only meaningless, but counterproductive and potentially dangerous. It would ease the conscience of pacifists by creating the illusion that they are influencing policy, but it would deflect attention from meaningful and essential activity aimed at a) electing sympathetic members of Congress and a sympathetic President and b) lobbying, demonstrating and agitating to persuade the executive and legislative branches to reorder the national agenda.

The movement has dangerous implications. It undermines representative democracy, the only viable system of government for a huge, diverse nation. Policy-making is entrusted to democratically elected representatives who can be (but often aren’t) held accountable to the electorate. On any issue, there are bound to be voters who disagree with a decision of Congress. Our social contract requires us to accept — with rare exceptions to be discussed below — decisions we dislike. To allow an end-run around this compact for one group invites other interests to demand equal treatment. The lumber baron can forbid the use of his taxes to extend national parks. Rightwing bigots will withhold their taxes from a school lunch program. Permitting individuals to allocate their taxes as they see fit would probably result in a government agenda worse than what we have now, and it would ultimately lead to chaos.

For several reasons the Peace Tax movement will have symbolic significance of little or no value. First, the movement will not generate publicity. It is so low-key and so “legal” that it will be disregarded. Second, unlike the tax-refuser, the peace-taxer courts no risk of prosecution or penalty. His or her act will not be seen as brave or noteworthy; it will evoke no admiration, no controversy, no reflection (in fact, it will be invisible). Third, since the earmarking will be sanctioned by statute, its use will cause the government no embarrassment and almost no inconvenience. By legally sanctioning the earmarking, Congress is effectively removing the movement’s symbolic significance, and channeling a potentially effective resistance movement into a harmless backwater.

Each of us should, as a general rule, abide by decisions of Congress. For today’s pacifist — as for last century’s abolitionist — the occasion will arise when an act of government is so repugnant to conscience that one must resort to civil disobedience. This point is reached when in one’s estimation the issue of conscience transcends the demands that society lays upon us.

The Peace Tax movement boils down to a feel-good means of salving the conscience of those of us distressed by militarism. It deflects us from hard work within the democratic process, and it absolves us from the penalties inflicted upon those who choose civil disobedience.

This long-overdue criticism of the Peace Tax Fund scheme would provoke a great deal of debate in the letters-to-the-editor column .