Simple words of Thanksgiving

Posted: Nov 23, 2004 12:00 AM

As Americans sit down to turkey and cranberries this holiday season, the family and friends of American soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan will grapple with unbearable loss.

Perhaps we should pause a moment to reflect and give thanks for America and the American way of life - a way of life that is bound up in the Bill of Rights, a way of life that treasures basic freedoms like the freedom to better oneself, to determine one's own fate, to pursue happiness on one's own terms and, most importantly, the freedom to be left alone.

I have in the past used this space to write that America's success has made its citizens comfortable to the point of complacency. I have warned that this sort of decadence leads to the fall (Exhibit A: Rome).

Perhaps, in retrospect, the point was overstated.

After terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, we were not complacent, nor did we fall. In the days following Sept. 11, people volunteered for the armed services. Many are in Fallujah right now killing strangers, running from enemy fire and ignoring the sight of friends as they crumple to the ground. There is a scene in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" where a young man gets his arm blown off. He stumbles around, gazing at his shattered limb, unsure of what to do. War is confusion. War is detached horror. I mention this only to point out that those Americans who endure this horror do so to preserve man's best - his institutions of freedom, democracy and individuality.

As we consider what to be thankful for this year, it hardly seems enough to remember these soldiers in cliched terms. It is not enough to reduce the service of our patriots to an excuse for a really big Thanksgiving sale at the mall. It is not enough to dilute this holiday with ostentatious displays of consumerism and pageantry. Not this year. This Thanksgiving should be about coming together in a large communal ritual to reinforce the notion that these soldiers, that these people, have actually died to strengthen our individual freedoms.

Some of those American soldiers came form the inner city. They grew up on welfare. They had few opportunities. Yet, they volunteered to fight for an idea so powerful that it moved many of them to die for their country.

What cannot be forgotten is that what's best about this country rests on their shoulders.

With that in mind, I offer these simple words of thanks.