By RANDY KEHLER
My partner Betsy and I have often been referred to, usually derisively, as “tax resisters,” or “tax refusers,” which implies that we are people who refuse to pay all taxes, across the board. In fact, we’ve always paid all of our state and local taxes. The reason we and thousands of other “war tax resisters” across the country refuse to pay all or some portion of our federal income taxes is because a huge percentage of it is used to finance weapons of war, including nuclear weapons.
According to U.S. government statistics for the 2024 fiscal year, roughly 43% of the government’s total discretionary budget for the 2024 fiscal year is earmarked for war-related expenditures (with “discretionary ” defined as allocations not legally earmarked for payment for things like Social Security and Medicare).
The reason Betsy and I have never objected to paying local and state taxes is because we’ve always thought them to be more or less reasonable and fair — in short, a laudable democratic practice that’s meant to ensure that everyone pays their fair share of those things that are meant to benefit everyone (for example, road repair and public schools).
Perhaps I should back up a minute and explain a little of my personal background, which I think is relevant. When I was a boy, growing up during the 1950s and 1960s, like most boys I loved playing “war games” with toy guns, and looked forward to someday becoming a real soldier and fighting for my country with real guns. So when I turned 18 and was rejected by the Army due to my embarrassing history of sleepwalking, I was really disappointed.
But that was before Vietnam and the horrific daily reports on TV and in newspapers of our brutal, horrific assault on thousands of Vietnamese peasants suspected of being our “enemy.” If participating in this kind of war was what it meant, or might mean, to be a U.S. soldier, I knew I wanted no part of it.
Several years later, after I’d finished college, daily news coverage of the still escalating “ American War” in Vietnam had come to feel so horrific, and so wrong, that I sent my draft card back to the head of the Selective Service in Washington with a letter stating that I could no longer cooperate with the war in any way.
Just a couple years after that, as expected, I was arrested and indicted for violating U.S. draft laws. And less than one year later I found myself in a federal prison in Arizona serving a two-year sentence. Though I found prison to be an interesting and enlightening experience, I was happy to be released.
Once out of prison, I was determined to continue my opposition to the war as a West Coast staffer of War Resisters League, organizing antiwar presentations and discussions in local schools and communities on the West Coast. As the war dragged on, I became aware that the war’s only real “beneficiaries” were the enormous profitmaking corporations that were manufacturing and selling the billions of dollars’ worth of weapons and other military equipment that the Pentagon claimed to need — budget items that were, and still are, routinely approved by the majority of our elected members of Congress who receive, in return, fat campaign contributions meant to insure their reelection and the continuing approval of Pentagon requests — clearly a highly corrupt and anti-democratic practice, a blatant form of bribery that still goes on today.
I’ve never regretted my youthful actions during the Vietnam War. In fact, I feel grateful that they set me on what’s been a lifelong course of actively working to advance a number of pro-peace and prodemocracy projects and organizations, while at the same time continuing to refuse paying federal “war tax” money to the U.S. government.
For many years now (starting when Betsy and I first made enough money to be required to pay income taxes), we have accurately and honestly filled out our annual 1040 form and mailed it to the IRS. However, instead of sending any payment, we’ve always enclosed a letter explaining that we consider ourselves “conscientious objectors” to paying for war. At the same time, we’ve always sent the exact amount of our annual income tax liability to nonprofit groups providing aid to victims of U.S. war-making in other countries, as well as local groups helping wounded or homeless U.S. veterans.
The one really negative consequence of our stand regarding “war taxes” was the government’s drawn-out seizure and sale (for $5,000) of our home in Colrain during the late 1980s. Unfortunately, this three- or four-year episode— during which loyal supporters conducted a round-the-clock nonviolent vigil outside the house — took a major toll on our family and neighbors. All of that is a much longer story (covered extensively by the Recorder).
After almost three years of continuous nonviolent protest, the people who’d purchased our house at a government auction finally agreed to move out, in exchange for a modest amount of money.
Finally, returning to the subject of war, I want to say, emphatically, that I do not accept the cynical proposition that wars, like the terribly destructive ones in our past and going on now, are inevitable. I say this because I’ve become more and more aware of the growing research by scholars, activists, professional soldiers, and “defense experts” all around the world citing inspiring examples (very often thanks to leadership by women) of creative nonviolent strategies, protests, actions and campaigns that have succeeded, against all odds, in preventing or resolving violent conflicts in countries all over the world.