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Not Squared with the USA

Lee Gough
Date Published: 
September 14, 2004
    I paid my income tax today
    I never felt so proud before
    To be right there with millions more
    Who paid their income tax today
    I’m squared up with the USA
    See those bombers in the sky?
    Rockefeller helped to build ‘em, so did I
    I paid my income tax today.

    I paid my income tax today
    A thousand planes to bomb Berlin
    They’ll all be paid for and I chipped in
    That certainly makes me feel okay
    Ten thousand more and that ain’t hay
    We must pay for this war somehow
    Uncle Sam was worried but he isn’t now
    I paid my income tax today.

    —(Excerpt), Irving Berlin, Commissioned by the US Treasury Department, 1942

Here’s how I became a war tax resister. This past year, my brother Dan, once a Lieutenant Weapons Officer in the US Navy, initiated an application for discharge on grounds of conscientious objection to war in any form.
At the time, he was stationed in San Diego, working alternately on a base and at sea, readying a newly commissioned destroyer for war in sea trials. He wanted to answer his daughter’s questions about his job honestly (“I was in charge of weapons and teaching people how to use them”). He’d also reached conclusions about living intentionally, after the depression and suicide of our father, which followed his termination from a 23-year career at a women’s prison in Pennsylvania.

Finally, Dan had also re-examined the military theory he’d been taught about justifiable war. His self-identity had come into conflict with his work. To make a long story short, as is typical of military response to such applications, he was denied an objector discharge. He resigned, still in protest, and they accepted his resignation.

The reason the military gave for denying him an objector designation is thought-provoking: They said he had showed pre-existing/prior misgivings about war, thus invalidating the case he argued for himself and for the rigor and strength of his beliefs. This made me think.

How do you exercise a right that’s been taken away? And what does it take for opposition and change to be recognized by the government? As anyone who has seen the documentary The Corporation (reviewed in this issue of Left Turn) will acknowledge, the most disturbing thing about this economy is that it’s us; we ordinary otherwise nice people, compose the corporations and on a lesser scale, governmental bodies that rule us with such pathological and reckless regard for life. It’s about us.

“Let them march all they want, as long as they continue to pay their taxes,” said Gen. Alexander Haig, US Secretary of State in 1982. Indeed, every cell phone call made from inside the cattle pens and jails on February 15, 2003 helped pay for more war. This year $935 billion is the budget for current and past military expenses and the Iraq and Afghan wars. This amounts to about 49% of the total federal budget.

I decided it was time to become a war tax resister. In my view I was already overpaying for war. Like 19.1 million other jobless Americans, I have no health insurance and no regular job, except for the occasional temporary “no-collar” work. I have little to lose.

War tax

Ruth Benn of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee estimates that the number of US war tax resisters is 2,000-10,000, adding, “It is clear that there is an increased interest in refusing to pay for it. A lot of people in this country are clearly pissed off at the war and at the arrogance of the government, and feel that the government isn't paying attention to their protests.”

The Afrobeat band, Antibalas and Patti Smith have been calling on concertgoers to resist war tax. Benn re-routed her entire 2003 Federal Income tax, of $1,521 away from the IRS, and Julia Butterfly Hill resisted paying $100,000 in taxes last year, and has been active in an “Activism is Patriotism” campaign to educate activists how to use money in a sustainable way. Individual Americans, disproportionately poor to middle income, pay about six times more for war than corporations.

I learned about resisting effectively from the 2003 book, War Tax Resistance: A Guide to Withholding Your Support from the Military, published by the War Resisters League. I had many philosophical and practical questions, about war tax resistance, but the book answered almost all of them, including how to practice W-4 resistance whether you have a job or not. The book also describes telephone tax resistance, which is a great place to start.

Since its inception during the Spanish-American war, the Federal excise tax on telephone service has been associated with revenue-generation for war. Though the individual amount on each bill is small, over 250 million people in the US own phones, which is more than pay taxes. Many have multiple phones. Looked at this way, the collected amount of these small taxes is vast.

I also learned that, “Since WWII only about thirty people have been jailed for reasons related to war tax resistance.” The corporate media abets the IRS’s perceived power, in that it uses the powerful weapon of fear to create an illusion that taxes are inevitable, like death – as the cliché goes.
While I learned about war tax resistance, I also read David Cay Johnson’s book, Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich and Cheat Everybody Else. A Prize-winning New York Times’ “tax beat” reporter, Johnson lays out the facts on a tax system “designed for a national, industrial wage-based economy,” but “moving into a global, services, asset-based world,” which at greater speeds is turning “reward for hard work into an impossible goal for tens of millions of Americans and into a nightmare for many others.”

Thus, no matter how little or how much we resist, many war tax resisters call themselves “tax diverters” because we redirect the money from federal telephone tax and income tax to contribute toward growing the kind of communities that give us more sustainable choices. Non-recognition of the government’s right to force one’s compliance with military misspending is a tangible and powerful way of helping to build the positive change for which we demonstrate. I invite you on the adventure.

National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee: PO Box 150553, Brooklyn, NY 11215, (800) 269-7464,
Telephone Tax Resistance Campaign:
Activism is Patriotism: www.