Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How NOT to Pay for a 1.6 Trillion Dollar War

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Nov. 14, 2007 -This week, the Democratic Party leadership in Congress announced that the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are projected to cost American taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.6 trillion dollars over the next decade or so. Of course, these numbers don't include the price tag for a major military venture into Iran, which is clearly on the drawing board, or possible armed intervention into any other place on the planet with petroleum deemed necessary for the American consumption machine.

A hundred billion here, a hundred billion there, and soon, as the saying goes, you're talking about real money.

But on a more intimate and comprehensible level, the Democrats estimate that this cost for war, just in Iraq and Afghanistan will amount to a tax burden something in the neighborhood of around $20,600 for every family in the nation.

To be honest, I've been in the business of trying to quantify the real amount of American annual military spending for the last 16-years, and frankly, I've failed miserably at coming up with a precise number.

Do you add the CIA and covert operations budget to the Pentagon total, if even Congress isn't sure what that figure is? Do you calculate into the total, for example, the part of the Department of Energy budget that is devoted to maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal? How about the part of the NASA budget that is related to military technology and applications in the space program? Or the amount that the Pentagon gets (under a very big table) from less-than-honest weapons contractors? Or greens fees at the numerous golf courses for the generals and admirals?

Obviously, whatever the cost of war is, it's a very large amount of money. And you and I pay for it with our tax dollars.

Most of us are probably aware of a category of citizens who are known as Conscientious Objectors, or CO's for short. This is a group of men and women, largely part of the Christian tradition, who believe, as a matter of individual conscience, that war is morally wrong. Many of them are part of "peace" churches like the Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), or members the Catholic peace tradition. Usually (but not always) these war objectors are exempted from military service, or at times, like in World War II or the Vietnam conflict, they may be assigned to non-combat related jobs while serving in uniform.

But the problem also comes down to this: How might people who object to war have an legal, and respected, option to not pay for it?

There is, in fact, a long and honorable tradition of war tax resistance in America, going back to a period even before the American Revolution. Many people who object to killing have elected to stop paying all or part of the income taxes that are used by the United States government for military expenditures. However, the government does not recognize, at the present time, this form of civil disobedience as legitimate dissent, and many war tax resisters were, and are, penalized by wage and property seizures from the Internal Revenue Service.

However, since 1972, there has been a small, but determined movement to create a fund into which citizens can pay taxes that will not be used for killing. It's called the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.

The moral principle underlying the idea is simple: If you chose, as a matter of conscience, to decline to pay for military expenditures, you should have a legal option to pay your taxes and designate them for human services that are not based on militarism and violence.

Interestingly enough, the idea of a peace tax fund is gaining more note, and respect, from members of Congress. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), an honored hero of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's, is the principle sponsor of The Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill (H.R. 1921) before the House of Representatives that would make the fund a legal option for taxpayers. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Rep. Eleanor Holmes (D-TX), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), are also H.R. 1921 co-sponsors.

But some Republican members of Congress, like Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who happens to be a candidate for his party's 2008 nomination for the presidency, also believe in the right of religious freedom to decline to pay for war, provided that individuals fulfill their obligation to pay taxes.

The successful passage of peace tax legislation is certainly a long way off, but it's important, I believe, for Muslims to know about this issue.

I believe that the question of how our taxes are used by the government is not just a fiscal issue, but a moral one as well.

You have a voice in making this choice. Unless, of course, you prefer things as they are, and you happen to have an extra $20,000 or so in your checking or savings account that you'd love to send to the Pentagon.

Ibrahim Abdil-Mui'd Ramey is an individual advocate of the right of conscientious objection to war, but neither MAS nor MAS Freedom have official positions on the issue. More information on the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund can be found at:

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