Recently, as Congress debated funding the “moderate” Syrian rebels, Representative Charles Rangel proposed that old chestnut of Democratic politicians, reinstating the draft. On top of that, he also proposed the related chestnut, instituting a specific war tax to pay for the new war. The theory goes that because Americans aren’t making sacrifices like they did for the Good War, they don’t realize the costs and impacts of war and are more likely support a war. It is promised that if we all share the sacrifice, we’ll be less likely to go to war in the first place. (Never mind that the Good War was widely supported despite the sacrifices required.)
I disagree. Rich and powerful people will always find a way to profit off, rather than pay in any manner for, wars. Furthermore, I want to point out that we are all already making great sacrifices for our current war. We have all, already, been drafted and we are all, already, paying war taxes. In fact, the two are the same. We have been drafted into the military by paying for it.
According to War Resisters League, for the 2015 fiscal year, approximately 45% of every income tax dollar paid to the US government will end up being spent on war. For many years, war spending has taken up around 50% of incomes taxes. In other words, about six months worth of your income taxes every year go to war, and the other six months of taxes go to health, human services, housing, agriculture, and every other program.
And if you don’t make enough money to owe taxes, whether involuntarily or by choice, the war budget still uses all those tax dollars, which could be funding social services or creating cheaper jobs than those created by war.
In fiscal year 2011 (October 1, 2010 – September 30, 2011) the US government budget included $876 billion for current wars and military spending, plus $522 billion for veterans’ benefits and interest on past war debt. With this money, the government employed over 3.6 million active-duty, reserve, and civilian military personnel (note that these were not all full-time jobs). In addition, Robert Reich reported in 2010 that 1.6 million Americans were employed by military contractors. This combined $1.4 trillion in military spending funded a combined 5.2 million jobs; in other words, it cost the government (and by extension, all of us) around $270,000 per job making, maintaining, or practicing with equipment and infrastructure for war.
Of course, military spending funds other projects besides war preparation, and sometimes those projects include technology development or disaster relief that is useful to civilians. But if the military didn’t do these things, we’d find other ways of doing them and at much lower cost.
War tax resister Ed Hedemann says, “They tried to draft me during the Vietnam War and I refused, then they wanted to draft my taxes and I refused, because I don’t see the difference between doing the killing myself or paying for someone else to kill.” War tax resisters have understood this for hundreds of years – it’s no different, morally, for you to go to war or to pay taxes to the government so it can pay someone else to go to war for you. Either way you are complicit. You have already been drafted.
William J. Astore asserted in The Nation that our incredible loss of privacy and the laudatory treatment the military almost universally gets in society add up to a form of the draft. Our lives are up for scrutiny by the intelligence agencies and our minds are colonized by the idea that soldiers and the military institution always deserve praise. Astore is right about the nature of surveillance and the atmosphere of military worship, although I don’t think the simile holds up when comparing the surveillance state to a draft. We’re not being conscripted to fight through surveillance. Rather, we’re being spied on because we are all, as far as the national security establishment is concerned, potential enemy combatants, and anyway our privacy is not as important as catching the terrorists.
But the government couldn’t maintain the surveillance state or this atmosphere of military worship without our cooperation with the tax system.
In the past, and in other countries to this day, individuals opposing conscription into the military have taken one or more of the following steps:
becoming a conscientious objector (if the option is available)
resisting the draft publicly or overtly (e.g., going to jail for draft resistance, burning draft cards)
resisting the draft quietly or covertly (e.g., fleeing to Canada, going underground)
We do not yet have the option to become conscientious objectors to military taxation, although the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund has been working on this option for many years. In the tradition of draft resistance, we can resist war taxes by:
purposefully earning an income low enough to be nontaxable
filing a tax return and refusing to pay some or all of what’s owed
refusing to cooperate with the IRS by not filing tax returns or by not reporting all one’s income
These methods can be combined and changed over the course of one’s resistance. Each method has its own risks. The IRS can seize one’s wages, bank accounts, or property to pay resisted taxes, plus penalties and interest. But the IRS cannot seize one’s conscience or one’s satisfaction at resisting oppression and war
War tax resistance in any form can be an intimidating prospect, but there are thousands of people around the US already resisting who have gathered a lot of experience on the subject. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), the only national organization in the US focused on providing information about war tax resistance and supporting resisters, is an excellent resource for those wishing to commit modern-day draft resistance through tax refusal.
You have already been drafted. Now, will you resist the draft, or cooperate?
Erica Weiland has been involved with the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee since 2008, and is currently its social media consultant (though opinions expressed here may not be shared by the organization as a whole). She is passionate about connecting social justice issues to build movements for collective liberation and demilitarization. firstname.lastname@example.org