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War Tax Resistance as a form of Civil Disobedience

 Victoria Street Newz (Canada) 07 June 2019

What would you do if someone came to your door with a cup in hand asking for a contribution to help buy guns to kill a group of people they didn’t like?” Wally Nelson, war tax resister “Let them march all they want, as long as they pay their taxes.” Alexander Haig U.S. Secretary of State, 1981-1982 (875 words) - By Gerry Bill

Legend has it that when Henry David Thoreau was in jail for refusing to pay his taxes, his close friend Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him.  "Henry, what are you dong in there?" Emerson asked.  "Ralph, what are you doing out there?" Thoreau replied.

Thoreau was in jail because he had refused to pay a tax levied to finance the war against Mexico-a war that Thoreau, along with Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, and many others considered immoral.  It was a war of conquest designed to take away approximately half of Mexico's territory, including this land on which we now stand.  Should such wars be supported?  Are   wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are clearly designed to establish US dominance in that region, really any different?

Thoreau's brush with the law over the war tax was one of the factors that led him to pen his famous essay "On Civil Disobedience."   The continuing effects of that essay have undoubtedly far exceeded any expectations that Thoreau might have had.  His essay greatly influenced, among others, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez-three of the people whose portraits we now proudly hang on the walls of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence.

Civil disobedience is based on principles of deliberate and open noncooperation with unjust practices foisted upon us by the powers that be.  If we oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on moral principle, then the corollary to that principle demands that we find ways to withhold our cooperation with the war machine.

Some people decide that fighting in wars, especially unjust ones, is unconscionable and they refuse to participate; we call such people conscientious objectors.   The same principle extends to those who believe that paying for an unjust war is unconscionable; they become war tax conscientious objectors.

During the Vietnam War era I became a conscientious objector to military service.  At that time, which was also the era of the draft, I refused to pick up a gun to help further the US imperial agenda.  In 2010 the imperial agenda continues, even under Obama.

What would be the best way for me to register my objection to US imperialism in the present day?  There is no longer any draft, and I am too old to be drafted anyway.

The way for me to register my conscientious objection to our government's current actions is to withhold the portion of my taxes that goes for war.

Of course this action may involve some personal risk.  However, I believe that failing to act poses a far greater risk-not to me personally, but to my descendants, to the rest of the human population, and to the future of our planet.  If I am to calculate the effect of my actions unto the seventh generation, I have no choice but to remove my support from the war machine.

I should point out that war tax resistance is not an all or nothing proposition.  Some people refuse to pay any of their taxes at all.  In my case I will withhold 50%, the approximate proportion that goes for war.  Some people, such as Kathy Kelly, withhold a symbolic amount like $100.  She is encouraging others to do the same by joining the War Tax Boycott Campaign.

"What does the U.S. government want from us in order to fight this war? For most of us, the government doesn't want our bodies, and it doesn't even want our consent. What the government wants from us is our money. We can each resist $100 for one year. The consequences would not be so cataclysmic if the IRS caught up with you, and we can pool all of the refused war tax money and give it to survivors of Katrina and people who have fled from violence in Iraq."

Kathy Kelly, anti-war activist

As Kelly is pointing out in that quote, she, as well as most tax resisters, do not pocket the money that they refuse to send to the government.  Instead, they use it to support projects that contribute to the common good.  I will be doing the same.

Of course the government will eventually take the unpaid tax money from me, along with penalties and interest.  However, it may well cost them even more to collect it in that way then they actually receive from collecting it.  In any case, my objection will have been clearly registered.  I can do no other.

For more information on war tax resistance go to, or to  To join the War Tax Boycott go to  In Canada, check

Gerry Bill is a board member of the Fresno Free College Foundation KFCF 88.1 FM, and of the Fresno Centre for Nonviolence.  He has recently retired from Fresno City College where he taught sociology and American studies, and he's vegan.



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Originally published by Victoria Street Newz. ©


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