I’ve been reading through on-line copies of back issues of the journal MANAS over the past few weeks. Not all of the articles are to my taste, but the ones that are I’m enjoying very much. It reads much like a blog — the regular, plaintive and personal expression of a handful of people who feel strongly and want to express themselves to a small audience of the similarly-minded.
One of the things I like about the journal is that it has a sophisticated, secular and urgent concern with ethics and with the intersection of ethics and politics in the nuclear age. It disappoints me that there isn’t more of this sort of exploration to be found today. Sophisticated ethical discussion these days seems either to be abstract, academic and nearly impossible to read, or so thoroughly based within a particular religious tradition that it is hard to access from without.
District Director of Internal Revenue
Philadelphia 7, Pa.
Enclosed you will find my Federal Income Tax return for , complete except for one detail: I am refusing on conscientious grounds to pay my tax of $125.00.
You are entitled to an explanation for this refusal.
I do not intend to pay because I believe the use to which the greater part of my tax money would be put is morally wrong. I refer of course to the preparation for war which is the major activity of the United States Government today. That a third global war would spell the virtual end of human culture as we know it is a fact often repeated but seldom appreciated. Those who obediently hand over their taxes to the government may well be financing the extermination of our species. I decline to be a party to that act. If one refuses to serve in the armed forces or to build the weapons of war (and I am one such person), how shall he justify his continuing to buy bombs and pay salaries that others may prepare to commit crimes against humanity? Taxes for war are tithes paid to the devil.
It is not the principle of taxation to which I object. If there were some practical way to pay that fraction of my tax which is to be used for constructive purposes, I would gladly do so. But I cannot now see a way to accomplish this. So I must refuse to pay any tax at all.
When we pause to consider the matter, we see that today our citizens are being presented with a fatal chain of cause and effect: the final link in this chain, a third World War, would be an unparalleled human catastrophe; the middle link is the fact that the most concentrated effort and greatest expenditure of our federal government is toward the preparation for this war; the first link is that the source of more than half these funds is the individual income tax. What thoughtful person is not inwardly disturbed at contemplating his role in helping to forge this chain? I for one mean to hold a chisel to that first link.
When two-thirds or more of the taxes demanded of me by the government is to be used to murder or at least to threaten to murder my fellow men on the other half of the globe, meanwhile contaminating with radioactive fallout all the earth and its creatures, it is just about time to draw the line, if indeed one ever intends to draw a line beyond which his honor will not allow him to pass in compromising with evil. We are indifferent and morally insensible to the horrors that steal upon us by degrees. Too late we may realize we have become helpless in their grip, as did doubtless many Germans under the Nazis.
Almost everyone is willing to agree that war is no solution to the problems of the world, that they should be met in a more creative way; yet almost no one is willing to act as if he believed this, which after all is the real measure of his belief.
Men have reason to suspect the worth of whatever must be guarded by terror and violence. Not one fundamental human value need be defended, nor indeed can be defended, by the inflammatory threats and denunciations of our Department of State or the missiles and H-bombs of our Defense (sic) Department. There is always the danger of mistaking the ugly symptoms for the disease itself, but if the chief enemy of man today is some institution, it is that of war itself, and not any mere form of government.
Man has only one defense against the horror weapons, and that defense is peace. Not the so-called peace which is really only an interval during which to prepare for the next war, but that state of genuine brotherhood in which the concerns and loyalties of men transcend the arbitrary limitations of national boundaries and political ideologies and instead approach universal welfare as the only legitimate frame of reference when making the value judgments which every day are demanded of each of us.
In all candor I cannot predict that this ideal state of affairs will ever come to pass; but that melancholy fact in no way lessens the obligation we all share to work toward it in whatever way we feel we can. Similarly, the fact that unjust deeds such as robberies and murders continue to be committed neither makes them just nor is it an acceptable excuse for our participation in them. Thus I merely propose to extend into a vital area what is commonly regarded as a valid principle.
How strange that a person should feel he must explain to others exactly why he opposes the extinguishing of his species! Surely it is the task of everyone concerned with ultimate human welfare to resist the forces which impel us toward the appalling crime and folly of collective suicide. If some charge that this seems a negative approach, I reply that the first step in doing what is right must always be ceasing to do what is wrong.
I therefore stand ready to risk the displeasure of the State and the penalties and inconveniences she may impose upon me rather than willingly assist her in her immoral acts.