By Cindy Sheehan July 3, 2014
Aw…the 4th of July!
Picnics, cookouts, hotdogs, watermelon, barefoot American children burning their feet on discarded sparkler wires, three-day weekend, FIREWORKS! Did I miss anything?
Oh, yeah! Today we are allegedly celebrating our Declaration of Independence from an oppressive empire. I would usually write about how the Empire we replaced has in less than 2 ½ centuries become far more bloody and oppressive than the one our ancestors supposedly replaced, but today, I want to talk about a personal hero of mine: S. Brian Willson (b. 4 July 1941).
For those not familiar with Brian’s story, to give you a “Brian in a nutshell” seems trivial for everything he has sacrificed and endured to live as close to his values as possible, but I shall try.
Brian joined the US Air Force as a young, patriotic man in the 1960’s after he earned a Master’s Degree. As he told me on an interview I did with him for Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox, (April 12, 2012 HERE) on a tour in Vietnam, he was confronted with hundreds of dead civilians and found out that the indiscriminate slaughter was not an “accident” or “aberration” but that “body counts” were policy.
At a devastated village in Vietnam where he stood among the carnage he said he looked at the eyes of the dead civilians and realized two things: everyone is connected in a “web of humanity” and he also came to the painful conclusion that he was “the savage.”
During that tour of Vietnam he also came to the awareness of how “absurd” it was to follow orders and travel thousands of miles to kill people one didn’t even know. I believe it’s human nature to place blame on exterior actors or circumstances, but few people can do such self-examination, go through the depths of despair that confronting naked truths demands and come out the other side as a more compassionate and aware individual.
Brian left the military as a Captain and joined Vietnam Veterans Against War and Veterans for Peace. Fast forward to the eighties when Brian, as a trained lawyer, writer and human rights activist who documented US abuses in other countries, like Nicaragua and El Salvador, he was protesting in California at the Concord Naval Air Station which was shipping arms to those countries in Central America in its war on campesinos.
There were prolonged protests at the base in 1987 and on September 1st, Brian and two other veterans determined to stop the illegal and immoral shipments decided to lie on the tracks as they had done before.
Unbeknownst to them, this time, the conductors were ordered not to stop being told that Brian and his comrades were “domestic terrorists” who were planning on hijacking the train! The train was going 17 miles/hour when it struck Brian and ultimately he lost both legs below the knees and sustained a severe skull fracture.
Even since before Brian’s courageous and loving stand for his brothers and sisters of Central America, he came to the conclusion that paying income taxes was contributing directly to the crimes of the US government, and according to the Nuremburg Code:
“Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience…Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.” (Nuremburg)
As with the case of most of us War Tax Resisters (Brian calls himself a tax “refuser”) Brian had to come to some very difficult decisions.
Many USAians are terrified of crossing the IRS and even though a person may sincerely oppose what the US government uses his/her money for, that person will grudgingly fork over hard earned money to avoid any personal consequences. Some of us, including myself and Brian, have come to terms with the fact that we would rather go to prison, then fund crimes against humanity. That’s one obstacle that must be overcome.
The second hurdle to becoming a War Tax Resister that I think is even more frightening to the average USAian is living a simple lifestyle: Divesting oneself of property and anything that the government can confiscate. During the April 12, 2014 interview I did with my friend, Brian, he said that he pared his life down to where there was nothing for the IRS to “seize” but his “body.”
Brian doesn’t own a car; rides a hand bike every where in the town where he lives in Portland, OR. He even rode his bike down from Portland to the SF Bay Area when he was on tour for his book: Blood on the Tracks, The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson. It’s been years since Brian has flown on an airplane and he ironically takes Amtrak if he has to travel far.
Today, Brian is interested in permaculture and building community to create “horizontal power structures” to break free of the “vertical patriarchy” of Empire.
I don’t remember when I first met Brian and his partner Becky Luening, but knowing Brian and his example of humanity above his own self-interest has made me a better activist and a better human being. In my opinion, Brian’s journey of self-awareness and putting his core values into daily practice can be an example to all of us who are on that same journey.
In that interview Brian very humbly rejected the idea of being a role model or hero stating that he just does what he knows is right and he doesn’t try to be a leader, just an exemplary human being.
That’s why S. Brian Willson is my hero!