As a child, I realized that killing another person is the ultimate act of violence. One takes from that person consciousness, the ability to appreciate the world, to make choices, to give and receive love and to create.
As a young adult, I protested our nation’s involvement in the Vietnam and Central American wars because of the violence suffered by the people of these countries and our own soldiers.
I became involved in peace and justice groups and joined the Society of Friends (Quakers), a church with a testimony of nonviolence. I became a physician, because health seemed the most essential of human needs.
On tax days, I joined peace activists who passed out leaflets reminding taxpayers that 40 percent of their federal tax dollars was being spent on current and past wars. I was inspired by two Quakers who protested military spending by resisting payment of federal income taxes.
During my first year of medical residency, I refused to pay what I owed in federal income taxes and sent a letter protesting military spending to the IRS. Over the last 34 years I have filed my tax returns yearly, but redirected my federal income taxes to organizations that meet basic human needs and promote nonviolent conflict resolution.
My sister asked me: “if you are against paying taxes for war and the military, what are you for?"
I am for personal training in nonviolent conflict resolution. The Alternatives to Violence Project taught me to respect myself and others in a conflict situation, to think before reacting, to communicate my feelings without judging others, to seek a nonviolent solution and to be open to creative solutions.
I am for prevention of war by attacking its roots: lack of food, housing, health care and security. Once these needs are met, a country can focus on the education and infrastructure needed to achieve economic stability, a prerequisite of a strong civil society and democracy.
I am for the abolition of weapons that maim and kill, so people can survive conflicts long enough to find solutions. Guns increase the risk of suicide by those who possess them and the risk of lethal attacks on others. Weapons sent to our allies often find their way into the hands of our adversaries. Nuclear weapons have now spread to eight other nations, increasing the risks that they will be detonated accidentally or intentionally. We and the rest of the world are being held hostage by a weapon that was supposed to make our country safer.
I am for development of technologies, military and civil strategies to defend without harming others. Many animals have developed systems of defense that do not involve aggression: highly developed senses, early warning systems, sophisticated forms of disguise and safe hiding places. They use noxious odors to repel and mount coordinated efforts to distract and harass predators.
Why can’t we use our imagination to do the same? The guiding principle of any type of “defense” would be that it is something we ourselves would be willing to have used against us.
Invading another country in the name of “self defense” does not work. We cannot kill an idea by killing a person or group of people. An idea or belief will remain alive as long as it empowers and inspires people.
As horrific as the actions of groups like ISIS and al-Qaida are, its members have an idea that is attractive to young people from Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds. We must seek to understand that idea and present a better one. And we must show that nonviolence will reach more people than violence.
Paula Rogge is a family physician in Madison. The biannual National War Tax Resistance Gathering will be held at the Casa Maria House, 1131 N. 21st St., Milwaukee 53233 on May 1-3. firstname.lastname@example.org, 800-269-7464 or 718-768-3420.
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