Bronwyn Shiffer

| Letters

April 15, 2003

Dear Internal Revenue Service of the United States:

In recent years I have become more aware of where my tax money goes. This year, I have made a decision of conscience to redirect 47%, the amount of the federal budget spent on the military, of the federal taxes I owe toward building peace rather than waging war.

I believe that money spent on the military could be better spent. Not only does the United States spend more on the military than any country in the world, but U.S. military spending equals the total military spending of Russia, China, Japan, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Italy, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, and Israel combined. How can we possibly justify this excessive spending?

Nearly twice as many jobs are created when money is invested in education and health care as in the military. Just one month of military spending ($38 Billion) could save 11 million lives by fighting infectious diseases around the world. One year of nuclear weapons programs ($16 Billion) could provide healthcare for 7 million children. The cost of just one stealth bomber ($2.1 Billion) is enough to pay for the annual salary and benefits for 38,000 elementary teachers. The minimum support to save Amtrak train service is $1.2 Billion; this much was spent in two months of U.S. warfare in Afghanistan. It is immoral to spend tax money on stealth bombers while children live without health care and people die from treatable diseases.

My high school history teacher taught us that one of the responsibilities of the Department of War (later the National Military Establishment, now the Department of Defense) was to plan and strategize for wars that had not yet happened. This bit of information appalled me. While one could argue the need to be defensively prepared, would it not save many lives to plan and strategize instead for peace?

State Department planner George Kennan gave some insight into our plans for war. In 1948, he set out the basic framework for understanding United States foreign policy:

[W]e have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. (Quoted inIraq Under Siege, Anthony Arnove, ed., 2000)

In 1999, Thomas Friedman reiterated this policy: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas….And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.” (Quoted in Iraq Under Siege)

I cannot in good conscience support this hidden fist. I cannot in good conscience support an invasion of Iraq or any other country that the United States is interested in controlling, especially with the use of depleted uranium shells which are devastating both to humans and to the earth. I cannot in good conscience support Plan Colombia, a military strategy that is ineffective in eradicating the sale of coca but far too effective in displacing Colombian people from their land. I cannot in good conscience support the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation whose training of North and Latin American military personnel has been linked to atrocious cases of torture and murder in Latin America.

What I can do in good conscience is to begin to follow the words of Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr., that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. In good conscience and in understanding that this is a willful violation of laws that demand I pay for war, I am withholding $457.15 of the federal taxes that I owe. Instead I am sending this money to Witness for Peace, a non-profit organization committed to nonviolence working for human rights, peace, justice, and sustainable economies.

Supporting Witness for Peace and their efforts to make the world safe and just is part of my contribution in a plan for peace. This money will be directed toward work in Colombia and will work to change U.S. policies and corporate practices which contribute to poverty and oppression. In Colombia, WFP partners with local organizations working for peace. WFP representatives living in Colombia, while being a presence of solidarity, stay extremely well-informed on Colombian and U.S. policies in order to report to Washington and to educate WFP delegations. Delegation participants witness first-hand how global economic and military policies affect the people of Colombia, and are introduced to a cross-border solidarity network for positive social change. I believe that the work of Witness for Peace is building a more peaceful world than the world that the United States military is building.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.


Bronwyn Shiffer

Cc: Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, Representative Mark Green, Senator Herbert Kohl, Senator Russell Feingold, President George Bush, Witness for Peace