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The Commons
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Photoillustration based on images from U.S. Marine Corps/Wikipedia and IRS

Voices / Viewpoint

Taking personal risks not for war, but for peace

War-tax resistance comes with a price, but brings gifts of the spirit

Daniel Sicken, a longtime representative of the Pioneer Valley War Tax Resistance, has been a musician and an activist, “non-violently resisting nuclear weapons, war taxes, and cooperation with endless war, plus courts, trials, county jails, and federal prisons” since the early 1980s. On Saturday, April 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., war-tax resistors will have a table at the Brattleboro Food Co-op with information about their movement. From 1 to 2 p.m., Tax March Brattleboro will begin at the Whetstone Walkway and end with brief speeches at Pliny Park.

Originally published in The Commons issue #403 (Wednesday, April 12, 2017).



For many years, an image has often appeared in my mind, always when I’m disheartened by what I am observing.

In the image, a punch-drunk boxer (representing the people of the United States) is standing in the middle of a boxing ring, arm hanging at each side, looking down.

The opponent (our government) strikes the left side, and the boxer’s head jerks to the right. Then the right side is struck, and the boxer’s head swings to the left.

This cycle repeats over and over. The punch-drunk boxer, simply worn out, has neither the will, the energy, nor the capability to fight back.

* * *

Young people coming of age cannot remember a time during their lives when our country was not at war. War has become a part of our national DNA. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians from other countries die in our warmaking, yet there is no accountability and little visceral reaction by the American public.

There is no justice in U.S. violations of international law and war crimes. The already-bloated military budget is further bloated each year, then the money (our war-tax dollars) is doled out to profiting military corporate contractors, earning the U.S. the reputation as the world’s largest supplier of military hardware.

Those who object to this obscenity are labeled as “soft on defense,” and the beat goes on, the blood money machine unobstructed.

Left in the dust are the people at the economic bottom — namely us, the 99 percent.

Noam Chomsky sees nuclear weapons and climate change as threatening human extinction, singularly or in combination. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warns that its Doomsday Clock is at 2{1/2} minutes to midnight.

* * *

Since the end of the Vietnam War, we have seen very few acts of resistance to our government’s walking hand-in-hand with death.

I’m referring to resistance that comes with a price, a sacrifice.

It could be jail or prison. It could be the loss of a job, possessions, or community standing; it could be the loss of friends or professional status or family members. It could be all these combined.

It could mean changing our lifestyle to a subsistence level to avoid paying war taxes. Fighting in war, soldiers are willing to risk death. They return home dismembered, mentally and emotionally wounded — and they do die in battle and suffer wounds, by the millions.

A visitor from another planet, in observing our actions, would likely conclude that we are willing to take personal risks only to win wars and not for peace.

In his essay “The Price of Peacemaking,” Daniel Berrigan writes, “[W]e cry peace and cry peace and there is no peace.”

“There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war — at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as likely to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.”

* * *

These are very troubling times. Many people are apprehensive about the future and what it holds for us, the children, and future generations.

It’s so easy to slip into immobility, denial, escapism, and cynicism, which are often ironically the tools that prevent us from falling into a full-blown depression.

However, this is an incredible opportunity to become fully human. It’s an opportunity to reach to the depths of our spiritual beliefs so that we may be given the strength and endurance to nonviolently resist the doomsday death march of the institutions of power.

My experience confirms that this gift gives us a hunger to know more about the reality of the world we live in and how to deal with it, instead of being depressed when the subject comes up.

The children will be more fully alive when they know that those they love are taking risks on their behalf. I’ve delightfully watched such kids grow up over the years, following in the active footsteps of their parents.

I believe that we, the people, are being tested through the Trump presidency.

If we fail the test and his stated twisted goals become government policy through our inaction, the resulting repression by our government may make it too difficult for us to resist. The fear to speak out will become pervasive.

That is a scary thought.

I do see the beginnings of a very powerful nonviolent movement for positive change that will benefit us and all living things. It’s occurring all across our country, including right here in Brattleboro.

Will it last and grow?

I hope so, and I very much want to continue to be a part of it.

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