National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

We Refuse to Pay for War“In one week in Vietnam I went into five villages and saw about 900 dead people. I don’t want to be part of this. I want to be part of a movement that says no to that.”

Brian Willson
author, activist, Vietnam veteran

It is impossible to conduct modern warfare without soldiers and weapons. But before governments can buy weapons and hire soldiers, they must first raise the necessary money. That’s where our taxes come in. “The two decisive powers of the government with respect war are the power to conscript and the power to tax,” A.J. Muste once observed. In this era of high-priced weapons systems and military aid to regional wars, taxation is the closest war-making link between the government and most citizens. War tax resistance is a direct way to say “No!” to military programs, which cost U.S. taxpayers about a trillion dollars every year. War tax resistance is a powerful way to say “no!” to wars and occupation, nuclear weapons and weapons testing, military aid and arms sales, covert CIA violence and torture — to say no to the militarization of the U.S. federal budget. Through war tax resistance you take control over how your money is spent.

What is War Tax Resistance?

Very simply, it is refusal to pay some or all of the federal taxes that pay for war. While it is possible to legally refuse the income tax by lowering your taxable income, war tax resistance often involves an act of civil disobedience. In the U.S. war tax resisters choose to refuse some or all of their federal income tax and/or other taxes, like the federal excise tax on local telephone service. Income taxes and excise taxes are destined for the government’s general fund and about half of that money helps to pay for the military budget, including all types of weapons of war and weapons of mass destruction.

People take many roads to war tax resistance:

Most war tax resisters are motivated by a combination of reasons like these, and actively work for peace in many other ways too.

Refusing to pay federal income taxes is an act of civil disobedience with a long history in the U.S. America’s most well-known war tax resister was Henry David Thoreau, whose refusal to pay his poll tax because of the Mexican-American War earned him an night in jail and the experience that led him to write his influential essay, Civil Disobedience. During the Vietnam War authors and artists including James Baldwin, Joan Baez, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip K. Dick, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Grace Paley, Kurt Vonnegut, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Gloria Steinem signed public statements refusing to pay some or all of their taxes because of the war. In 1981 Roman Catholic Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle urged citizens to refuse to pay 50% of their income taxes to protest spending on nuclear weapons.

While those of us who refuse to pay war taxes believe this refusal is just and imperative — and some cite international law to back up this belief — the federal government through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers the refusal to pay these taxes to be illegal, and there are potential consequences through the IRS collection system. For most of us who resist, the dire consequences of voluntarily paying for war are far worse that what the IRS and government can do to us.

War tax resisters are not out to enrich themselves by evading taxes. Some live below the taxable income to avoid as fully as possible participating in war-making. Others who refuse to pay taxes to the federal government give that money instead to groups that use it for human needs here in the U.S., aid and relief work in war-torn regions, peacemaking, or international cooperation.

Which Are the War Taxes?

There are many different kinds of taxes and not all are war taxes. Taxes can be federal, state, or local in origin. They can be in the form of income taxes, customs duties, sales taxes, excise taxes, social security taxes, property taxes, etc. While people may take issue with state or local government spending and be concerned about their state’s contribution to national guard troops and other war-related expenses, the focus of National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee is on the federal taxes that fund war.

There are some federal taxes that pay into trust funds, which the federal government ostensibly holds in trust to be spent only on those programs for which they were collected. The largest such fund is the Social Security Trust Fund; contributions to which are removed from each paycheck as FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) or paid quarterly by self-employed people. The airport trust fund, which is collected as an excise tax on air travel, and the highway trust fund, collected as an excise tax on each gallon of gasoline, are examples of other federal trust funds.

Historically governments have often enacted taxes to pay for war; during World War II, for instance, a “defense tax stamp” was required for all cars. But today no single federal tax goes directly to war. Taxes are mixed into a general fund for government spending — perhaps purposely, to more easily disguise spending details and confuse the taxpayer.

All federally collected taxes contribute to military spending. The largest such tax is the individual income tax, which makes up almost three-quarters of collections for the general fund. Other taxes that contribute to military spending are corporate income taxes, some excise taxes (e.g., tobacco, alcohol, local telephone), estate and gift taxes, customs duties, and so forth. Savings bonds, formerly known as war bonds, though not a tax, are a means by which the government borrows money from people for federal programs such as the military.

The largest and most important war tax is the individual income tax and according to some estimates, about half of the money collected from this tax goes to military spending.

During every payroll period, employers send a portion of employee salaries to the federal government. This procedure, called “withholding,” is meant to add up to the worker’s total tax due for one calendar year. Thus when income tax forms are filed on April 15 taxpayers should owe or be refunded only a small amount — the difference between what was withheld and what is actually owed. What you pay to federal withholding throughout the year and any additional amount on April 15 goes to the general fund part of the budget. Other sources of general fund income include corporate income taxes, estate tax, customs duties, and federal excise taxes on tobacco, alcohol, telephone service, etc. A paycheck stub will show separate withholding for social security, Medicare, unemployment, etc.; these are trust fund taxes ostensibly earmarked for those purposes.

War tax resisters tend to focus on individual income taxes and federal funds, because they are part of Congressional spending authority and directly used for military spending.

Read more: How to Resist War Taxes