WRL Pie Chart — Escape from Responsibility?

A Distraction from Direct Action?

Since the 1970s the War Resisters League’s annual Federal Tax Pie Chart has been a very effective vehicle to channel outrage and protest, by radicals and liberals alike, against U.S. wars and military spending.

"Occu-Pie" sign at 2011 Occupy Wall Street demonstration, NYCHowever, I’ve recently come to realize that all too often the pie chart (as well as similar analyses from FCNLAFSCNational Priorities Project, and even the OMB) has been used as a means to avoid taking action or, at least, direct action. Having these obscene specific dollar figures and percentages readily displayed can be seductive (even mesmerizing): billions of dollars going to this or that imperialist war or horrible weapons system. Though this can spur people to lobby Congress or the President, generate letters to the editor, and even provide ammo, so to speak, for protest signs (“No More Money for War!”), all too many people seem consumed by the mechanics of the budget process to such an extent that it paralyzes them from moving beyond protest. (Don’t get me wrong: protest is good and it’s essential but not as a substitute for outright refusal and resistance.)

Even with the media, when I’ve appeared on talk shows or spoken with reporters and the subject turns to – or worse, begins with – the pie chart and military spending, the venus-flytrap3interviewer often just gravitates, like a bug into a Venus Fly Trap, to these mind-boggling dollar figures, allowing, at best, token discussion of resistance. It’s almost as if protesting military spending – they (the government) did to us so they have to fix it – is safer and less threatening than contemplating taking matters into our own hands by declaring “The U.S. war and military spending is a crime against humanity. I refuse to wait for the politicians to correct these injustices, so I will refuse to be complicit and, from this day forward, will resist payment of war taxes to the IRS!”

It can be frightening to shout “No!” then – without waiting for the guaranteed comfort of molasses-encumbered grinding gears of governmental inaction to set things right – act.

In a sense, it was easier to be a draft resister (as I was so many decades ago) when the government forced me to make a decision about whether I would go into the Army and kill Vietnamese, or refuse to go and suffer the consequences. U.S. taxpayers aren’t put on such a spot. Obama (or any president) seduces us with “Pay us some money and we won’t bother you (until next year, of course) or rub your nose in the consequences of your tax payments.”

I dare say that many more of us today, if put to the test, would refuse to be drafted – if so ordered by Selective Service – than are now refusing to pay taxes. Wherein lies the moral, ethical, or political difference between shooting an Afghani citizen or paying someone else to do it?

Next time I’m being interviewed by the media, I’m not going bring the pie chart. And if it comes up, I’m going to say, “I don’t care whether the U.S. is spending $8 billion, $80 billion, or $800 billion to kill people. One dollar for death is too much and I’m not going to give it to them! Not now, not tomorrow, not ever! What’s the worst they will do to me?”

—Post by Ed Hedemann, Brooklyn, NY


Uncle Sam: I Want You to Stay Home!

Remember when we wanted to fight a war, I’d order you (or your loved one) to quit your job (or school), move out of your home, leave your family and community, adopt uncomfortable living conditions, eat terrible food, go through indoctrination and excruciating training, travel thousands of miles, kill people, and risk getting maimed or killed yourself? Just because I said so?

Today, I don’t need you to risk your life or even kill anyone. I want you to stay home, remain in school, hang on to your job, go to the movies, keep seeing your buddies, risk no discomfort or inconvenience, and, best of all, have fun and enjoy life as you know it. I just need a reasonable yearly tribute for this privilege. Besides, your money is more important for our purposes than your body. And I’ll take care of those pesky Afghanis for you. Out of your sight, out of your mind.


3 thoughts on “WRL Pie Chart — Escape from Responsibility?”

  1. Erica says:

    Right on, Ed; this is really thought provoking. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I mention the percentage of the budget going to the military a lot to people. When we focus on 45% of the budget going to the military, considering that a few years ago the percentage was 51%, it’s almost like we’re saying there’s been progress. But it doesn’t matter if the percent goes down, the fact is that the wars are still happening and the militarization of society is increasing (especially through the police/prison systems). And what if the federal budget increased a lot and made a consistent military budget look smaller over time? When we refuse to cooperate with the government, we mean that we won’t stop our refusal until the military expenditure is eliminated, not just because it’s too high.

  2. Ed Hedemann says:

    Quite right not to focus too much on percentages, especially since every other organization seems to have a different one. The bottom line, however, there’s been a steady rise in absolute dollar amounts of U.S. military spending since the 1990s so even if in one year the percentage drops, the dollar amount invariably goes up.

  3. David McReynolds says:

    A good piece, Ed. Thanks. David Mc

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