Memorial Day doesn’t mask divisions from an old war


We united Monday to celebrate Memorial Day, but now it’s time to divide & conquer again.

Memorial Day has a disputed origin but an undisputed purpose – to pay respect to fellow countrymen who fought and died during the American Civil War. We’ve been celebrating this national holiday since the late 1800’s, — and we’ve gotten pretty good at memorializing fallen soldiers — but we haven’t gotten any better at burying the hatchet.

It’s been nearly 150 years since the Civil War officially ended yet remembering those we lost in battle has done little to move our divided country toward becoming a more United States.

Memorial Day has largely evolved since the War Between the States, but it’s those we lost in the war we waged upon ourselves we are compelled to remember each May — even though fewer Americans realize it. The Civil war exposed precisely where our country’s deepest divisions lie, demonstrated precisely how much we’d be willing to lose before we’d be willing to compromise and drew deep lines our elected representatives have had to recognize since.

It’s been more than a century and any map will prove we are just as divided today. The same borders that divided us into the North and the South then divide us into liberal and conservative states, wealthy and poor states, and blue and red states today. We may not be declaring war on one another in the traditional sense, but every time we have federal elections we enlist men and women into campaigns, arm our activated civilian soldiers, and then command them to fight one another at the ballot box. And after all this time, the boundaries of our discontent haven’t budged.

Being a divided country might not be the American Dream, but it is quite literally the American Way. Memories of Memorial Day will fade fast as federal elections approach. As always, our federal elections will deepen our ever-present divides as those running for office ignite their constituents by distinguishing themselves from their opposition. Parties will pull Americans left and right and back again – all the while claiming to be in search for a hallowed middle ground – waging the same battles over civil liberties and economic disparities we’ve disputed since the founding of our country.

The reason we haven’t gotten any better at burying the hatchet after all this time is because the hatchet makes the mark that divides the left from the right, the conservatives from the liberals, and the winners from the losers. We use the hatchet to open wounds and create division. The hatchet cleaves, and the more we sharpen the hatchet, the deeper and wider it divides. So the question has never really been if or when our country is divided; it’s always been a question of where our country is divided.

Today’s women’s reproductive rights dispute is yesteryear’s women’s suffrage movement. From slavery to Jim Crow laws to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and even desegregation, the only thing that unites us are the arguments that divide us — year after year, decade after decade, election after election. Take one look at a map where marriage equality exists today, and you’ll see it bears a striking resemblance to maps where the Equal Rights Amendment is ratified, which bears a striking resemblance to what we once defined as the North and the South when the Union and Confederate armies marched against one another.

The Mason-Dixon line hasn’t moved. The monuments, memorials and wax museums that surrounded my childhood home in the heartland of Pennsylvania are dedicated to the memory of a war that ended with an agreement to disagree. The candy coating on the outside may have changed, but the milk chocolate left on the inside leaves the same taste in our mouths — which is why we still fight — brother against brother because the best we can do is agree to disagree.

It is important to remember fallen soldiers. Recognizing Memorial Day continues to remind us of our history. We should always remember the value of life, and those who have given their lives in the name of our Country. But until we learn to bury the hatchet we’ll just keep using it to carve up the very country the Americans we’re asked to remember sought to preserve.

Copyright © 2014, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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