The saying goes that two things in life are certain: death and taxes. On the surface, these two realities do not have much in common beyond their certainty, but, in fact, they are connected.
Taxes are part of a legacy that each person creates which will shape the world long after their death. But with a large portion of tax money in the United States directly paying for weapons of death and destruction, all of us owe it to ourselves to consider the legacy that we are creating with our role in the war machine.
The War Resisters League develops a pie chart each year to demonstrate the proportion of income tax dollars that go toward military funding. For fiscal year 2021, a staggering 47 percent of income tax payments went to covering past and current military expenses, which amounts to $1.644 billion.
This investment in war pays dividends to all Americans and even to people far beyond the nation’s borders in the form of:
• Attacks on racial justice protestors and journalists by SWAT teams, police, and military forces.
• Assaults on water protectors and environmentalists with rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons from heavily armored police vehicles.
• An increased likelihood of having a child born with a birth defect, thanks to a parent having been exposed to Agent Orange while serving in the military.
• The deaths of more than 17,000 Iraqi civilians killed by the U.S.-led coalition.
• The deaths of 40,000 Vietnamese people killed by leftover land mines dropped by the U.S. during the Vietnam War.
• A U.S. veteran suicide rate of 27.5 per 100,000, compared to 18.3 per 100,000 for the general population.
The list goes on and on.
* * *
Imagine what the United States and the world would look like if the investments currently made in the war machine were made instead in affordable housing, health care, education, and addressing the climate crisis.
The dividends from those investments might be the opportunity to safely house all people, to reduce our rates of preventable disease, to enjoy longer lives of better quality, to help young children reach their full academic potential, to find a cure for cancer, to lower atmospheric carbon, and on and on.
The payment of taxes is an endorsement of values and represents an everyday opportunity to look through a moral lens at the money being spent. Can the taxpayer live with that allocation as their legacy? Does supplying the money make them complicit in the dividends the war machine pays?
Most people never give these questions serious thought. Personal concerns, like the stress of filing IRS paperwork or the disappointment of seeing a paycheck diminish, tend to cloud over these overarching philosophical and moral considerations.
* * *
War-tax resisters are some of the few who acknowledge these deeper questions and look for ways to reduce their complicity while fostering a peaceful and just world. They do so by limiting their income (and therefore their tax liability), filing their taxes and refusing to pay some or all of their bill, refusing to file taxes, redirecting their tax money to organizations that promote peace, and lobbying their elected officials to put less of the federal budget towards destruction.
The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee functions as an information clearinghouse, offering numerous detailed resources and step-by-step guidance as well as access to war-tax resistance counselors across the country. Along with the War Resisters League, it offers support to individuals who are curious about refusing to pay taxes for war while hoping for peace.
If the best, most imaginative, and most compassionate ideas guided U.S. tax policy, then death and taxes would become linked not through a legacy of negative dividends but instead through positive, life-affirming, justice-oriented programs that would benefit generations to come.
This is the legacy we should cultivate.