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WAR TAXES


In the past kings and emperors have plundered their kingdoms and empires for money to pay for their wars. Today armed groups around the world resort to similar tactics; some also get money from wealthy individual supporters as well as from nation states. The United States is a major, though by no means the only funder of such armed groups.

During the 20th century the growing power of the state over its territory has enabled it to raise money in a more organised way through compulsory taxation. Income tax was first introduced in Britain by William Pitt in 1798 to help finance the war against France. It was abolished in 1802 during the Peace of Amiens but was reintroduced in 1803 when hostilities restarted. It was again abolished in 1816, one year after the Battle of Waterloo and finally reintroduced in 1842 to deal with a growing budget deficit. In the Unites States income tax was first imposed to fund its war against Britain in 1812. After the war ended in 1816, the tax was repealed but reintroduced to fund the Union armies in the war to prevent the secession of the Confederacy

People’s attitude to the state vary but most accept that paying the state for it to do some things on our behalf is sensible and practical; what these things should be is sometimes hotly debated. The issue of ‘privatisation’, for example, continues to be hotly contested. Some people see the only legitimate roles for the state to be the imposition of ‘law and order’ and ‘military defence’. Indeed it is through the exercise of power - that is brute force - that nation states were forged. Control over its subject people and protection (or enlargement) of its territory were the prime concerns of rulers in the past. All else was left to fate.

Increasingly as industrialisation progressed during the 19th century the state began imposing rules, such as compulsory minimum education to create a sufficiently numerate and literate workforce for the new industries. The crucial step in the state's control over its population in Britain came with compulsory military conscription in 1916.

In the run up to the introduction of conscription a right to exemption on the grounds of conscience was wrestled from an unwilling administration. This ‘right’ in various forms has since been adopted by many countries and enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Money, as well as bodies, was always essential to embarking on war, but increasingly and especially since the ending of compulsory military conscription after World War Two war has become increasingly mechanised and needs less people. For people who objected to war non-participation was no longer an issue but money – the taxes they were forced to pay – was and campaigns for the non-payment of a proportion of taxes began to appear.

In Britain it is not easy to avoid paying taxes. VAT, for the individual, is inescapable and as most people’s income is taxed by their employer who is liable for its collection this too is untouchable unless the employer is willing to be prosecuted. For pacifists (or indeed any concerned citizen) this is a very real problem – they can object to war as much as they like but are forced to pay for it. Their compulsory conscription into the military system is every bit as real as if they were conscripted themselves.

Some self-employed individuals, who pay their own taxes, have withheld a proportion of what was due and all have faced prosecution, had their goods seized or been sent to prison.

Arising out of this frustration in the early 1980s the Peace Pledge Union initiated what later became the independent Peace Tax Campaign, now Conscience, with the idea that the war element of taxes should be diverted to socially useful purposes.

Meanwhile individuals continue going to prison, and for twelve years the PPU itself refused to pay war taxes until a court ordered the money to be seized from its bank account in 1994.

| conscientious objection | UK military expenditure |