Sermon for Memorial Day – May 23, 2014

Far removed from its post Civil War roots, Memorial Day is now the official beginning of the summer season and an occasion for large scale sales at the local malls. We take a few minutes this evening to remember those who served in the armed forces of the United States, who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom. This tribute to the military is no longer widely observed in this country because so few of us today have personal ties to those in the armed forces. Since we have had an all volunteer military, fewer and fewer of our young people are serving. The Army, which during the Civil War and World War II, acted as a melting pot and binder of national ties, is now the province of a few. Without a draft, the military does not form a cohesive force for national unity. This lack of connection to the American military is especially true within the Jewish community. While there are still Jewish servicemen and women in uniform, the vast majority of young Jews attend college and even graduate school. They do not need the military as a vehicle for career advancement as do so many of the current volunteers. The military is not an attractive option for our children. Without a military draft or compulsory national service, we give nothing back to our country accept for taxes that are due. I have long advocated a return to national service, in which high school graduates, both men and women, would give two years of their lives to national service, whether in the military or another beneficial venue. This would make us better appreciate our country, end some of our parochialism, and strengthen the ties that bind us to other Americans, not to mention the positive value on the young people themselves.
It is the fraying of the ties that bind us together that so concern me. Not since the Civil War was fought one hundred fifty years ago, has our country appeared to be so disunited. For thirty years prior to the Civil War, centrifugal forces operated on many levels to pull our country apart, finally culminating in the Civil War, the most deadly war this country has ever known. On this day, 150 years ago, the Civil War was raging. Sherman’s army would soon take Atlanta and go on to split Georgia in two. Skirmishes were still taking place in the Western theater of the War, in Missouri, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee but, since the Union’s capture of Vicksburg and control of the Mississippi, they would have no effect on the outcome of the War. Grant’s Army of the Potomac was slogging its way through Virginia, just having fought the costly battle at Spotsylvania and making its way to even more ferocious fighting in the future. Lincoln’s hold on the presidency was in jeopardy as McClellan declared his candidacy and seemed to have a chance to defeat the president in the November election. Lincoln persevered and defeated McClellan. Six months later, the Civil War ended and the Union was preserved.
There are three brief points I will make to illustrate my concern for our future. I am afraid that centrifugal forces are again working to tear us apart. The first is our ideological split into red states and blue states. Politics is supposed to be the art of compromise, where opponents reach across the aisle to strike deals so that both sides win without getting all they want. Today, both red and blue states elect legislators who define the word “compromise” as obscene. They act simply on behalf of the narrow constituency that elected them rather than for the good of the United States. The result is a deadlocked Congress and an impotent Executive branch. There are no signs on the horizon that give any cause for optimism.
The second is the Supreme Court’s destruction of our campaign financing system. Big money is now openly controlling our government. Study after study illustrates the power of the moneyed interests over those of ordinary people. Congress pursues big money like bees go to honey. Our legislators are addicted to it, and therefore are hearkening more and more to the behest of special interests. I commend to you Congressman Sarbanes’ bill, endorsed by 154 representatives, which will bring sanity back to the political system by publicly funding congressional campaigns. Congressman Sarbanes’ bill restricts campaign contributions to no more than $150 per person, to be matched up to six times by Federal contributions. Even the most venal of legislators will not sell his soul for $150!
Just last month, a militia of 1,000 armed civilians faced down Federal agents in Nevada. The Department of Interior claims that a rancher owes the Federal government $6 million for grazing rights on Federal land. The rancher claims that the Federal government has no right to compel him to pay for the right to graze his cattle on empty land. The rancher’s argument was compelling to many right wingers who descended on the ranch with heavy armament, literally forcing Federal agents off of land belonging to the national government. We have heard little of this case, for the Department of the Interior must be loathe to force an armed confrontation. The emergence of private militias that take the law into their own hands does not bode well for our country. There are a host of separatist movements in the United States, including one in Western Maryland, which resent the authority of the Federal and State governments. Many of these right wing groups are affiliated with groups such as Aryan Nations and Posse Comitatus, groups that have challenged Federal authority in the past and explicitly express their hatred for minorities, Jews and the ZOG, Zionist Occupied Government, they claim has no authority over them. These right wing groups constitute a serious threat to our national unity and act as a centrifugal force in loosening the bonds that hold us together.
Dear friends, while the subject of a second American Civil War is still the subject of science fiction writers, I for one am concerned that the seeds have already been planted. These are weeds that must be pulled from our nation’s soil, so that forces we cannot control will once again someday tear us apart. Then the sacrifices of those who fought for this nation will be in vain.
Amen and Shabbat shalom

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