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The Tax I Pay Should Be for Peace, Not War

Sir Mark Rylance: I have the right not to kill during military conflict. Why am I forced to pay for others to do so on my behalf?


A young man I know joined the armed forces to fight in Afghanistan because he wanted to have an experience that money couldn’t buy. He is not an ardent patriot or believer in any particular cause. He just wanted a unique experience in his life; to have done something difficult, something money cannot buy.

I wanted to talk to this brave young man; ask him if he was prepared to kill or maim another human being. But I didn’t. His father impressed me with his understanding that this was what his son wanted to do with his life and therefore he should be allowed. It was his son’s right to decide.

What a dreadful world this would be if we were all the same. But, should people have the right to kill? Yes, in certain circumstances, such as war. That’s our present position as a society. Should we have the right not to kill? Obviously. But do I have the right not to kill in war? Unless parliament passes a new bill this Friday 24 March, the answer is no. Wait a minute. March 1916. One hundred and one years ago. The Military Service Act. What was it? With this act, the United Kingdom became the first nation in the world to grant its citizens the universal right of conscientious objection to war. If your conscience tells you that you cannot kill another human being, your government will not, cannot, force you to do so.

What a wonderful act. And we were the first. Since then most other countries have adopted similar laws, giving men and women the right of conscientious objection to military service on grounds of thought, conscience or religion.

So, why am I claiming I have lost the right not to kill in war?

July 2016. Last year. A day after parliament voted to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme, Ruth Cadbury MP raises the uncomfortable truth that everyone who pays for war is complicit in it, especially when most violence is achieved technologically rather than by soldiers on a battlefield. She proposes a solution – the “taxes for peace” bill. It recognises that those who are compelled by thought, conscience or religion to refuse to kill are also compelled on the same basis to refuse to pay for others to kill on their behalf.

It would enable people who identify as conscientious objectors to redirect the military portion of their taxes to peaceful means of conflict resolution. Money is manpower on the modern battlefield. We as taxpayers are conscripted to fight it. With this new conscription must come a new right to conscientious objection. Why do we need a new bill? Today mass conscript armies have been replaced by technological weaponry. Fully automated weapons systems will soon make it impossible for my young friend to fight in person on any battlefield. Soldiering like taxi driving is coming to an end. In this new technological age of warfare the bill would simply maintain the right so nobly granted to us in 1916 by the Military Service Act. A right granted, notably, in the midst of a world war, not in the peace we now enjoy.

And how much is that supposed peace costing us? On average, I am told we each pay £500 a year in tax towards the £35bn budget for war and preparations for war. Not to mention an additional estimated £420m in annual subsidy to promote the British arms trade and an additional indirect subsidy of £570m through government funding of weapons development costs. Donald Trump insists that we pay more.

If you are a member of our armed forces then I have paid you an awful lot of money to kill, develop new ways to kill, and promote killing to others, all on my behalf. And apparently, many of those dying will be civilians. I am told 90% of casualties in warfare are now civilian – due, I imagine, to the increased use of long-range technology. Depleted uranium will cause birth defects among children in Iraq for 50,000 years. That’s some range. My income tax enables these technological weapons of murder. I am arguably more responsible than a soldier on the field.

In our relationships, our families, our jobs, our towns and cities, we don’t tolerate violence as a method of resolving conflict. Even our police forces are still predominantly unarmed. Why do we actively promote it in our international relations?

You will surely hear objections along the lines of, “if we let conscientious objectors redirect their tax, every minority cause will claim a similar right. No one will want to pay their taxes for anything of which they don’t personally approve.” We argue that military spending makes a very different ask of us than other forms of government spending – it asks us to support the deliberate killing of others.

This is not about a personal preference but about upholding a legally and internationally recognised right of individuals to practise non-violence. The bill simply maintains that given right in new circumstances of technological war.

Also, we are not the first. We follow recent government moves to hypothecate taxes for beneficial purposes, as they have done with the tampon tax and the sugar tax. If we can hypothecate, quite rightly, for women’s sanitary products, why not for conscience about murder?

Millions of British citizens have made clear their aversion to war. Millions marched to stop the war in Iraq. Conscientious objection is not a niche cause.

I am deeply disturbed about my forced collusion in technological violence, especially against civilians, even if accidental. To get by I find myself looking away, turning off the news and ignoring the quiet voice of my own conscience. This can’t be good. My conscience, like an immune system of my mental health, is suppressed.

No society should force any of its citizens into a state of bad conscience. Surely a citizen’s conscience is the most precious and necessary characteristic of a healthy democracy.

I am a supporter of Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War, which has campaigned since 1979 for the right to allow individuals to redirect the military portions of their taxes towards peaceful forms of conflict resolution. This bill represents conscientious objection in the 21st century. If parliament denies us on Friday, we will persevere. Those who don’t wish to kill should have the same freedom of choice as my brave young friend, who was apparently willing to do so for the experience.

Source: The Guardian

Tags: united-kingdom