Reflecting on texts that have inspired war tax resistance
The following few lines can only provide pointers towards what was a very rich and enjoyable session, in which the sixteen participants could explore their recollections of the varied routes by which they had arrived at their convictions about war tax resistance. This was done initially by a circuit of the room, just mentioning significant names. Of these, the most frequent to emerge were Gandhi (though not a particular text), the first world war poets, and the New Testament. Roger Franklin, the facilitator, spoke of the overwhelming impact of Thoreau, both in 'Civil Disobedience' and 'Walden'.
Thoreau (in Civil Disobedience) tackles the question of the whole relation of the individual to the state, and the limits of his duty thereto, and gives ringing endorsement to the primacy of conscience in the making of decisions. In his own day, he was convinced that 'this people must cease to hold slaves and to make war on Mexico'. Because these things were in fact happening 'I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the state, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually'. Since he meets the state directly in the person of the Tax Colector, he therefore declines to pay any tax. 'Unjust laws exist'. They must be resisted, but disarmingly, he admits 'A man has not everything to do, but something, an because he cannot do everything it is not necessary that he do something wrong'.
Understandably, the evidences that were brought forward in discussion came not only from writings but from other sources of experience as well. We spoke at length about the poets of the first world war who had deeply affected readers over several decades. The Peace Testimonty of the Early Quakers, the Sermon on the Mount, Anne Frank, Father Zabelka and the long-enduring Ploughshares witness were all brought forward. The recent success of the four Ploughshares women in Liverpool, who received a Not Guilty verdict for their damage of a Hawk aircraft, was recounted to those who had not heard about it. One of the group explained how her first experience of seeing for herself the siz and strength of Molesworth (a military base usedfor Cruise Missiles in the 1980s in Britain) made her understand completely why the wire had to be cut, and this led to some discussion about the importance of imagination and the uses of language in both concealing and revealingthe true impacts of modern warfare. Several others witnessed to the effect of Gandhi's actions in encouraging the passive resistance which is prepared to take the blows and suffer but not to yield obedience.
The whole session was summed up in 'We live on such a small planet and are here for such a short time that the only important thing is the struggle for peace.'