Writers & Editors Pledge to Refuse to Pay War Tax

Truth be told, part of my harsh reaction to the Iraq Moratorium that I posted here on was probably from envy at how their call to vague and lukewarm action has attracted some 2,000 signers, support from dozens of organizations, and endorsements from various celebs, while the War Tax Boycott is still trying to build up a head of steam, without much in the way of organizational or big-name support.

There was a time, though, when influential people were eager to sign on to a war tax boycott.

On , the New York Times reported:


133 Will Refuse to Pay if Surcharge Is Approved

A number of writers and editors have joined in opposing tax payments to support the war in Vietnam by pledging to withhold payment of President Johnson’s proposed 10 per cent income tax surcharge if Congress approves it.

Many of them have also promised to deduct 23 per cent from their tax bills as an estimate of the percentage used to fight the war. A statement in support of this dissent has been signed by 133 writers.

Each dissenter has sent $10 or more to the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest, a group headed by Gerald Waker of Manhattan. Mr. Walker, assistant articles editor of The New York Times Sunday Magazine, said the money would be used for expenses and to pay for a newspaper advertisement planned for .

The proposal for a 10 per cent surcharge on corporate and individual taxes is now before the House Ways and Means Committee and is expected to be reported out next month. The President has said it would relieve a budget deficit of possibly $28-billion.

More Support Sought

Mr. Walker expressed hope that the protest would win the support of from 300 to 500 writers and editors.

Among those who have pledged support are Eric Bentley, drama critic who is Brander Matthew Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia University, and Ralph Ginzburg, the New York publisher who is still appealing a Federal Government pornography conviction.

Others include Fred J. Cook, author and magazine writer; Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique”; Dwight Macdonald, New Yorker Magazine critic, and Merle Miller, Thomas Pynchon and Harvey Swados, novelists.

A letter accompanying the protest statement points out the possible consequences of willfully refusing to pay Federal income taxes. Violators of the law could receive up to one year in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Others Not Prosecuted

Mr. Walker said, however, that of the 421 signers of a similar no-payment ad last year in a Washington newspaper, not one had been prosecuted and sentenced. Of an estimated total of 1,500 additional protest nonpayers, he added, none has been prosecuted since the war in Vietnam began.

The Internal Revenue Service has chosen, so far, to collect unpaid taxes by placing a lien on the incomes of those who refuse to pay, or by attaching their bank accounts or other assets. In addition, a 6 per cent interest penalty is charged each year on the unpaid tax balance.

The group’s appeal for support included a quotation from Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” written in and protesting American involvement in the Mexican War. The writer said, in part:

When… a whole country is overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.… If a thousand men would not pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood.”

That’s a weird note to end the piece on. The Thoreau quote is strangely ellipsized to make it sound like he thought that somehow the United States had been overrun and conquered by Mexico or something, or that civil disobedience was appropriate only when you’ve been invaded by a foreign army and subjected to military law. Here’s the full quote, which makes its relevance (to the Vietnam War then, to the Iraq War now) more clear:

[W]hen a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is that fact, that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army.

But enough nitpicking. This appeal brought in 133 writers and editors. , the list had swelled to 448 (it would go even higher than the 500 that Gerald Walker originally hoped for), and included such names as Nelson Algren, James Baldwin, Noam Chomsky, Philip K. Dick, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Goodman, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, Robert Scheer, Susan Sontag, Terry Southern, Benjamin Spock, Gloria Steinem, William Styron, Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Howard Zinn.

As far as I can tell, the IRS didn’t take legal action against anyone who signed on to this list (though it probably sent threatening letters or engaged in administrative sanctions like levies and liens).

Nixon won the presidential election in , and among his campaign promises had been to end Johnson’s 10% surtax and somehow salvage “peace with honor” in Vietnam. A couple of years later, the surtax breathed its last. It took a few more years to get U.S. troops out of Vietnam.