‘Let them march all they want as long as they continue to pay their taxes’, quote attributed to US Secretary of State Alexander Haig in response to the 1982 demonstrations against the nuclear arms race in New York City.
In 1849, after being imprisoned for withholding his taxes, Henry David Thoreau said that ‘if a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood’.
His words have inspired icons of peaceful protest from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, who believed that ‘non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good’.
Since then, we’ve seen the face of war change dramatically. 100 years ago the vast armies of WWI contained hundreds of thousands of conscripted soldiers. Victory was a matter of outnumbering and outlasting the enemy. In the last 50 years, success in warfare has become less dependent on sheer numbers and more on the financial power to deploy expensive technologies of destruction. War needs money rather than men.
We may no longer be subject to military conscription, but our taxes are. All taxpayers are financial conscripts in our governments’ wars, regardless of whether we support them or not.
The Peace Tax Seven are seven British citizens who withheld taxes in protest at military spending. They believe we should be allowed to choose to have the portion of our taxes that is destined for defence redirected into peacebuilding initiatives. Their case in the European Court of Human Rights is still unresolved. They’re part of a wider movement of people campaigning for the right to conscientious objection to financial conscription.
Ways to get involved and learn more about the history of war tax resistance