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Commentary :: War and Militarism
How to refuse war taxes and get credit for it
22 Mar 2012
Modified: 01:11:05 AM
Is the refusal to pay small amounts of war taxes a useful dissident action?
Ah, the web in the hands of commercial outfits... Couple of years ago I found this on my phone provider's online adjustments page:
Recent Adjustments
Posted Date....Transaction Description..Type..Amount.. Status
10/21/09.......Refused To Pay Tax.......CR....-0.21...Success
10/21/09.......Refused To Pay Tax.......CR....-0.19...Success
10/21/09.......Refused To Pay Tax.......CR....-0.19...Success
and so on until
12/09/11.......Refused To Pay Tax.......CR....-0.21...Success
02/28/12.......Refused To Pay Tax.......CR....-0.19...Success
02/28/12.......Refused To Pay Tax.......CR....-0.19...Success

I was pleased that someone had finally taken care to characterize my arrears properly, though of course no one without my password would see this stuff. I'd love to be around when centuries from now some digital archeologist stumbles onto it. Would she say "Aha, this is how our world without war began"? Or, deep within her bomb shelter, would she puzzle over it as one more empty incantation of a forgotten civilization?

For the present, the refusals may be quixotic, but I don't think quite empty. And seeing them credited cheers me up. Still, they're only a mirror from my screen; I'm cheering myself more by helping them out from behind Verizon's firewalls.

I have no idea if anyone reads the declarations of amounts refused that I send to the Verizon clerks each month; but if nothing else, along with the boilerplate I can ask some hidden-away clerk to join in my crime, which also feels good, and I can restate the case for war tax refusal once again, in 25 words or less.

American dissidents of a certain age will recognize these refusals and credits, while war resisters whose memory goes back only a war or two are probably as mystified as our future archeologist. The story behind the refusal to pony up the federal excise tax (FET) on phone calls is told elsewhere.[1] What I'd like to do here is explain how the credits for my refusal got up on that web page, and of more importance, how my war tax refusal got to be so paltry and why it nonetheless may still be worth doing.

How it Came About

Long ago, America's war of the moment was so flagrantly wrong, criminal, and inexcusable to anyone with a moral sensibility this side of Satan's that a good part of the population was in an uproar; what with all the protesting and resisting, no one could get on with a normal life. More in a fit of righteous pique than anything else I totaled up the hours I was spending on various attempts to overthrow the State, assigned myself 10 bucks an hour, and on the year's tax return claimed a business expense for the aggravation. That year my tax liability was respectable, and at the time the refusal seemed bold and dangerous. (Not so neither, it's turned out.) Maybe that particular act of war tax refusal was the one that brought a functionary to my door asking why I was not in compliance, so I told him. That's how it went in those days. (When I mentioned to him that he may as well throw phone-tax refusal into the liabilities he was complaining about, he was mystified, but a levy notice a while later indicated that I'd encouraged him to do his homework.)

That war finally ended, in part because of suchlike exertions of the community of war tax refusers. Since I had conceived of WTR as a tactic to end that war I abandoned refusal with the coming of the more-or-less peace. But abstinence didn't last long as new enemies were invented and war has followed war.

Worries over legal repercussions and disapprobation by my neighbors lessened as the functionaries lost interest in me and my neighbors lost interest in wars that became less burdensome, but war tax refusal became more difficult from a different direction.

All Wars are World Wars

Thinking about the conscription of our money for war led me to recognize that modern America's wars are waged mostly in behalf of an addiction to well-nigh mindless consumption without concern for true costs, the "externalities" beloved by those economists who labor to convince us that we live in a world of infinite plenty; that is, in heaven.

The earth is small, and what it has to give is limited. The more it's depleted, the more fiercely nations and corporations compete to be the ones to gouge it. We don't have to be the gluttons amongst the 1% in order to take part in the fouling of our nest; all we have to be are ordinary folk, accepting the ordinarily assumed right to take and to have without the burden of considering the consequences to anything beyond our wallets. Over time these thoughts led me to a life of less stuff, less interest in leaping to buy whatever was offered. There was no struggle or heroism about this clearing of the decks, it just seemed to be a part of sensible living.

Yet diligent downward mobility was accompanied by a continual reduction in my tax liability. I was still a fan of paying for public good while refusing to pay for public evil, and still wanted to savor the contradiction of doing both at once. A while ago it reached the point that the only war tax available to me was the phone tax. It's gone up and down since it was first imposed, most often going up to meet the financing requirements of this or that war. There's more than a little justification for calling it a dedicated war tax.[2]

When refusal to pay the phone tax skyrocketed in the late 1960s and early '70s the phone companies went so far as to disconnect the service of phone tax refusers. (I incurred a shut-off of a couple of weeks, and remember being glad of the peace and quiet.) After several court cases[3] and vociferous insistence by the WTR community that its refusals be credited, the community and the phone companies came to a legally recognizable accommodation. For a long time now it's been possible to refuse to pay this tax and get credit on one's bill simply by writing every month the appropriate note to the appropriate bookkeeper at the phone company. As far as I know no one else has noticed that the credits can appear on his or her bill-pay web page.

Resistance as Habit

Though I'd gotten the ducks in a row, I was still for a long time reluctant to make a habit of this tax refusal. Whether I felt it was to be good or bad habit depended upon whether the mayhem of the moment was blatant, or, as more often these days, hidden from view. Sometimes I felt the refusals to be irrelevant, and quit until events made me think again. To tell the truth this more or less private refusal of the phone tax, while it seemed a right thing to do, was not particularly satisfying. I have no idea which if any of my notes reach the IRS, or what IRS does with them; I'm forever reminding the clerks at Verizon to get on with sending them up the pipe.[4] It's also become something of a lonely resistance as old neighbors have dropped away and new neighbors have appeared who in an increasingly unhelpful economy are less inclined to take a stand on wars from which we can be more easily uninvolved – particularly if we don't make the connection between war-making and that economy. In such times I suppose I can be excused for taking the small comfort in seeing my refusals up on my payments page. It's a small reminder to be satisfied to leave it at that as long as war is a national habit, I'll be a habitual tax refuser.

But is it Worth the Trouble?

My miniscule phone tax refusal hasn't ended any war or for all I know lessened any suffering; it's a busy month when the FET reaches a dollar. This so-called resistance takes a trivial amount of time. Or would, were I not so irritated at having to do it at all; I'm beginning to think it might again be helpful to my peace of mind this April to again file an aggravation deduction even though I have absolutely no taxable income to declare this time around.

Some of my comrades in resistance hold that WTR is a matter of numbers, that if there there were enough of even minimum-amount refusers we could put a perceptible brake on America's obsession with war. I'm not entirely sure of that; Still, in 2010 this tax on phone service pulled in $993 million.[5] Talk about chump change – this amount was about 1/10 of 1% of that year's military budget.[6] On the other hand at my roughly $12.00 per year, that's 83 million people – near a third of the population unconsciously allowing their money to be conscripted, all for not attending to at least one little thing that could be done, in person, to resist our country's obsession with war. It might be a worthwhile experiment for more of us to recognize or re-recognize that, and again make the small effort.[7] I don't know that enough would do so to make a difference, or how it would turn out. I'd like to think, though, that our future archeologist will understand what we were about, and smile.

[1] For the idea & history of phone tax refusal see
[2] "Federal telephone excise tax," where else, wikipedia.
[3] For some ancient court cases, see the Counseling Notes at
[4] Preprinted phone tax refusal forms: I'm told that a few phone companies still provide similar cards as a convenience to their customers. I prefer writing my own notes, working my 25-word rants into the boilerplate.
[5] $993 million in collected phone tax: See the chart of excise tax types at "Excise tax in the United States," wikipedia.
[6] For the US military budget see the WRL flyer at, for example.
[7] For Eastern MA Verizon customers interested in giving this a shot, the company's contact is: Verizon / P.O. Box 2004 / Andover MA 01810 / Attention: ADMIN. This is different from the address to which bill payments minus the FET are to be sent. Notices of the refusals have to be sent by postal mail even if one pays online. The information on other providers given at may be out of date. The members of the list may be able to give more current information. (It's not necessary to subscribe for a look-see; just scroll down and click on Archive. Those who wish to make their refusal more public could do worse than sign up for the boycott at .

This work is in the public domain
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