Real Risks

Yesterday on Facebook, friend and fellow activist Sam Diener shared an article out of Afghanistan with me, “Afghan Taliban Reportedly Kill 20 Civilians Over ‘War Tax’.” The short article sourced from Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty/Radio Free Afghanistan reported:

An Afghan official said Taliban militants have killed 20 civilians who refused to pay them “war tax” in northern Kunduz Province. Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said on August 11 that the Taliban also shot and wounded 10 others over their refusal to pay the militant group.

I am immediately reminded of what minimal risks I face (and most of us in the U.S.) with my own war tax resistance. I hope I would be strong enough to say no to militarism under those circumstances too, but it’s impossible for me to really imagine that moment for those 30. I am awed at their refusal, which does not lessen the sadness at such news for lives lost in the name of endless war and killing.

Sam responded, “If secular pacifists honored murdered conscientious objectors as martyrs, it sounds like these 20 would qualify.” He wonders “if there might be a way to honor the 10 wounded survivors. Certainly, Malala Yousafzai has been a powerful voice for girls education, forgiveness, and nonviolent resistance.”

So many people who look into war tax resistance decide not to do it because of the risks, risks to bank accounts, salaries, relationships maybe. Hardly a risk of jail, but that one seems to loom large in people’s minds anyway.

Iconic image from 1967 by Marc Riboud

Iconic image, Pentagon 1967, by Marc Riboud

Can we end this endless violence without risks? What will it take? Sam notes the courage of a young girl who went to school in the face of unimaginable danger and continues to speak out for a better world.

We admire so many other risk takers: Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Today there are Israelis who refuse to take part in the assault on Gaza or the occupations and can expect a prison sentence. The organization Courage to Resist has a page of more than 115 profiles of U.S. military servicepersons who found the courage to risk court martial, prison, their careers, and say no to unjust war. NWTRCC also keeps a page of profiles of war tax resisters.

I believe war tax resistance can be a stronger force in opposition to war. If the government had to take more notice the risks would increase. It seems the least we in the U.S. can do to honor those unnamed civilians in Afghanistan is to find ways to strengthen our resistance and worry less about risks.

—Ruth Benn

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For a World Free of Nuclear Weapons: Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Today is August 6, the 69th anniversary of the US military dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. 70-80,000 people were killed by the bomb drop and the subsequent firestorms, while another 70,000 or more died subsequently from radiation sickness and other consequences.

On August 9, the US military dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 people died as a result of this bomb.

A destroyed temple at Nagasaki, with views of a devastated city behind it.

A destroyed temple at Nagasaki, with views of a devastated city behind it.

Nuclear weapons have the ability to destroy on a scale almost unimaginable to those who have not seen their effects. All war destroys lives and communities; nuclear weapons have the capability to destroy larger areas and numbers of people, faster and more completely.

This week, let’s remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and work to bring attention to the terror that US nuclear weapons have brought to the world. War tax resistance is one way to express our opposition to the development, proliferation, and storage of these weapons.

Print copies of our Hiroshima/Nagasaki flyer.

View a collection of photos of the destruction.

Check out The Nuclear Resister, a newspaper of news in the anti-nuclear movement, including support for anti-nuclear activists in prison. Run by war tax resisters!

Rad Geek People’s Daily on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Flashback 2009: Gaza and War Tax Resistance

Note: This piece by NWTRCC coordinator Ruth Benn was originally published in the February/March 2009 edition of NWTRCC’s newsletter, More Than a Paycheck. We still operate the War Tax Boycott site and you can sign on to the boycott here. The flyer, using an older image by artist Doug Minkler, developed for Northern California War Tax Resistance, was created this year in response to Israeli attacks on Gaza.

[Parent holding injured child] Who Pays for War? US taxpayers to Israel: $3.1 billion/yr military aid. Over 10 years: 670 million weapons. Don't let it be you. Refuse to pay.

Printable flyer for distribution at protests.

Reflections on Gaza: Renewing the War Tax Boycott
By Ruth Benn

Today I got out the notebooks and photos from my first trip to Palestine and Israel in 1988 at the time of the first intifada. I was on a human rights tour with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The goal was to show U.S. activists the view from occupation and for us to bring that information back home.

With Gaza under attack, that trip has been on my mind. In particular I wanted to look up my notes from a meeting with a lawyer (a young man then, but is he still alive?) at the Gaza Lawyers Association whose words led me to increase my war tax resistance.

“Watch your taxes. Don’t kill the kids. Don’t participate in this.”

His three simple phrases ring all too true today. U.S. aid to Israel, along with all kinds of loans and weapons deals, allows the occupation to continue. I was truly horrified at seeing firsthand a military occupation and to get a taste of the daily humiliations that are an aspect of controlling a population. On a few occasions our group was also the target of stones thrown by Palestinian young people who saw us as the enemy.

Sometimes it seems that the cycle of violence has cycled around so many times that it might be impossible to find the way out. I just want to shout at all the soldiers and fighters, “STOP IT.”

But there is always more to the story, and the U.S. desperation for a toe-hold in the Middle East is a powerful factor behind the intractable appearance of this conflict. When I came home after that trip in ’88 I changed my W-4 in order to stop paying 100% of my federal income taxes. Up to that point I had been refusing a percentage of whatever was due, but I could no longer stomach supporting militarism by writing a check of any size to the U.S. government.

At the same time, I became more diligent at redirecting refused tax dollars to help victims of war, people working for peace, and other programs that serve humanity. Mine is such a small contribution given all the desperate needs around the world, but it is my way of shouting for change.

Does the government hear me? I think so, but they don’t like to talk about tax resistance because they don’t want more people to realize they can choose how their money is spent. And, it takes more than our separate voices to really force a change in priorities at the highest levels.

Whether your resistance, or consideration of war tax resistance, has been motivated by violence in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, or the lack of services here at home while the government builds more weapons, I hope that we can amplify our shouts through the 2009 War Tax Boycott and redirection. The longer the list of public signers to the Boycott, the louder that shout becomes.

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