April 15, 2023
In December of 1990, I made the decision to become a war tax resister. Shortly before the Persian Gulf War, the first Iraq War, I attended a peace rally on the Boston Common. Despite the impassioned speeches given by Howard Zinn, Daniel Ellsberg, and others that day, I had a sinking feeling that standing out in the cold for a few hours, chanting slogans, and marching through the streets of downtown Boston was not going to stop the war from happening. But sometime during that afternoon, a young woman handed me a half sheet of paper. On one side of the paper was a quote from Gen. Alexander Haig, Secretary of State, during the Reagan administration. As he was driving by the largest political demonstration in our nation’s history, The Rally for Nuclear Disarmament on June 12, 1982 in Central Park, Haig was heard to utter: “Let them march all they want, as long as they pay their taxes.” That quote hit me; it really hit me, just as I myself was “marching through the streets.” However, on the other side of the paper was an announcement for a meeting to discuss how one could refuse to pay for the upcoming war and redirect the money to organizations that work for peace. The idea seemed so simple, so elegant, a child could understand it: don’t pay people to do bad things; pay them to do good things. I had been groping for a way to step up my level of resistance to US military violence, and this seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. I was determined not to be a mere bystander with respect to the impending war with Iraq, and WTR seemed to be a way to say a strong “No!” in a manner that even the Al Haigs of the world would understand.
There were other, deeper, more personal reasons why WTR seemed “right” — right for me. Because of my family history, I feel that I have a special debt to pay to people of conscience, people who choose not to cooperate with state-sponsored murder. My parents, grandparents, and other relatives were forced to flee Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII. Being Jews, their lives were in danger, and on numerous occasions their lives were saved by people who protected and hid them, who warned them of raids and round-ups by the Gestapo and their collaborators, who provided them with false identity papers, and who eventually helped them enter Switzerland illegally and thus to relative safety. The people who did these things for my family took great risks. Their acts of compassion were strictly illegal: if they had been caught sheltering Jews, who were considered “enemies of the state,” they could have been sent to the concentration camps along with the captured Jews, or even shot then and there. I cannot thank these people — most, if not all, of them are probably dead by now. But to honor them, I can strive to be a little bit like them. I, too, can choose not to cooperate with murder, even if such non-cooperation is deemed illegal by the state — which it is in the case of WTR. Today, I am confronted by the same choice that confronted the gentile bystanders of Europe: Do I remain silent? Do I look the other way? Do I say “It’s not my problem”? Do I obediently pay my taxes so that others can kill in my name? Or do I say, “No!” and redirect my federal taxes and say, “I am not putting up with this”? I owe it to the people who saved my family to choose this last option. I would not be alive today were it not for their courageous, defiant actions.
To become a war tax resister is, in some sense, to step into another world. “It will change your life,” a fellow resister said to me early on, “but it will be a blessing.” He was right. WTR has forced me to think about things that go beyond war and killing. It has forced me to think about what I pay for and about my level of consumption generally. It has led me to live a more examined life, a life seen through the lens of nonviolence. This is a lesson I learned from those two legendary war tax refusers and peace activists, Wallyand Juanita Nelson, who lived for many years in Deerfield, a few miles down the road from here, on Woolman Hill.
Now, I must acknowledge that whatever the bad consequences are that could conceivably happen to me as a result of WTR, they are nowhere near as bad as what happens to people who are on the receiving end of US (or US-sponsored) militarism. My home and the people living in it will not be destroyed by cruise missiles or cluster bombs, the soils and streams in my neighborhood will not be poisoned by Agent Orange or white phosphorous or depleted uranium munitions. At worst, I will be financially inconvenienced. I feel that the risks of refusing to pay war taxes are overshadowed by the risks of paying them, and I’ve decided that I would rather suffer the consequences of this form of civil disobedience than be complicit in the suffering of others.
It is indeed a sad fact that to be regarded as a responsible citizen in our society, one has to be an accessory to murder. That’s what I would become if I paid war taxes, or so it seems to me.
In sum, WTR has forced me to take a close look at everything I pay for, everything I consume, and ask the question, “Is this good? Do I believe in this?” So I leave you with this thought: Take a close look at what your federal taxes actually pay for. It will take some work to do this, but fortunately we have people here today who have done that work and who can provide you with that information. Then ask yourself the question, “Is this good? Do I really believe in this?” If the answer is yes, then pay your taxes in good conscience. But if it’s no, then you might want to consider some other type of action that is in greater alignment with your beliefs.
Thank you for listening.