War Tax Resistance
Letter to My Family

"Again this year I have refused to pay Federal income taxes because I will not voluntarily contribute to the mass annihilation provided by the weapons these taxes buy. I do not want anyone killed in my name. The State has chosen an enemy, but I have no enemy. I do not accept the notion that the State can choose an enemy for me and force me to help annihilate the State's enemy...I must decide the degree of allegiance I choose to offer the State. I offer no cooperation with the State's assumption of its right to kill. I hope the State will relinquish this evil death-power."

—Marion Coddington Bromley

April 8, 1990

Dear Friends and Family,

Last year on April 17th, Tax Day, I publicly declared my war tax resistance for the first time. I have been a tax resister my entire working life and now, having anonymously declared my feelings to a group of strangers, I'm ready to tell you, my relatives, friends and associates.

I know that each of you has spent some time thinking about issues of peace and justice. I don't have any particular desires concerning what you should do as a result of reading this letter, except that you think a little more. If any other inspirations come of it, they must be guided by your own principles and style.

I don't have any cute stories about how I first noticed injustice, or pitted myself against it in my small way; I only know that somehow I was confused and scared by most of the actions taken by the United States government in its interactions with the world. The more I learned, the more appalled I became. I concluded that as long as foreign policy was indistinguishable in deed from military policy, I could not believe that the government had the security of humanity as one of its operative goals. I decided I would refuse whatever support was being demanded of me.

In 1977, the first year I had a "real" job, I received a full rebate on all tax withholdings. On tax day I thought—with dread—about the day when I might earn enough to be legally liable for income taxes. I decided that I would delay that time as long as possible and, before it came, figure out whatever way I could to continue my tax refusal.

In 1979, I spent more time scrutinizing U.S. policies than any other year, before or since, because President Carter was requiring men my age to register for military conscription. I couldn't imagine killing to defend my country, or for any other reason. Raised by philosophers, I instead tried to imagine understanding killing to defend one's country. I couldn't even do that very well. I had to make my first risky choice: I became a public non-registrant.

I started attending candlelight peace vigils and speeches and I decided that I am a pacifist. I went to meetings to see what I could do. I helped a local group set up "nonviolence trainings" and workshops to help people make more informed decisions about draft registration. I gave talks and speeches myself, mostly to youth groups at churches and eventually even did a few radio interviews.

The work I was doing was a good context for thinking about my values. I remembered and thought about, at the age of seven, kicking someone in school and being very upset at the pain the kid I kicked showed on his face. I was upset when Eric [my stepfather] bought me boxing gloves and tried to teach me ways to "defend" myself. I decided I would rather be beat up than risk hurting someone. I think I have been a pacifist since that age. I recall asking Joan [my mother] if she would visit me in Canada, in the event that I had to run away from the draft when I grew up.

Sometimes, especially in my work against the draft, I feel I have actually seen some concrete accomplishments. My town had a sign-up rate estimated at around 50% (even by the government). Many of those who attended our workshops decided to wage peace by refusing to register. And there have been some successes in my more recent work.

Yet, after struggling with the issues of draft registration, interventionism and nuclear annihilation, I find that tax resistance holds the most consistent emotional charge. It is not simply a symbolic act: it is active defiance. If enough people were to refuse to pay, results would be automatic. Just as ecological and nuclear proliferation concerns have recently infused society, someday a rejection of the use of force for conflict "resolution" will convert the economy to peace.

I have not filed a tax return in any year since that first, and I always declare myself EXEMPT on W-4 forms for my employers. This has made it simple for me, since I have had nothing withheld from my pay. The IRS doesn't contact me, despite the W-2 copies sent to them by my bank and my employer, indicating my earnings. [The IRS did contact me, the next year: there's a link to the transcripts of that contact at the bottom of this letter.]

The War Resisters League publishes a handbook which outlines numerous other methods for nonpayment of taxes, and I like to imagine that, were it less simple for me, I would have done (and also will do) what is necessary to keep my money from being used for dishonest and destructive purposes. I want to do whatever is in my power to change our violent society, so that governments might focus on the important functions of providing resources and standards which can't be consistently achieved by small communities acting alone.

I am willing to go to jail rather than pay for weapons and wars. But I don't try to call attention to myself in ways which would greatly increase my chances of going to jail. I've decided that my time and my money is better spent working actively for a more livable and just world. The IRS would probably not get much from me even if they were to "catch" me: I try to keep my income and savings in balance with the real needs of my health, enjoyment of life and pursuit of fulfilling work.

I decided to tell you about this for the reason that I can no longer quietly accept decisions—undemocratically and often covertly made by experts and generals—to spend precious resources and billions of dollars inflicting fear and death in the name of "security interests." We must break through the gimmicks and secrecy in this public relations era to face the fact that we are together responsible for the genocidal pursuits of the policymakers.

I realize that, in writing this, I may have raised more questions than I have answered, and it may be that some of you don't agree with my interpretations of the government. We each have our own ways of deciding our actions and I hope I have managed to explain something about mine.

Joel Pomerantz


[Read the transcript of my talks with the IRS the year after the above letter was written.]



Joel Pomerantz

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