Still so many blessings to count

November 22, 2001|By David D. Perlmutter

BATON ROUGE, La. - Our sons and daughters are in harm's way in foreign lands.

Every indicator of the economic health of our country is flat or falling.

Most Americans are poorer, more likely to be unemployed, more depressed and anxious than at any time in a generation.

Millions of us are mourning the sudden death, by terror, of thousands of our relatives, friends, coworkers and compatriots.

Yet America has a lot for which to be thankful, even amid the relentless bombardment of dire warnings and bad news since Sept. 11.

We should be thankful that we are the most tolerant people on the planet.

Monsters of one ethnicity and one religion committed crimes against us, and our response has been uniquely humane in the history of our often vindictive and bigoted species.

Yes, American Arabs and Muslims have suffered acts of vandalism and harassment, but these deeds pale compared with the reactions of tens of thousands of Americans who have stood up for Muslim neighbors and against blind prejudice.

We should be thankful that we are unified in grief, in outrage and largely in action against those who committed or aided and abetted the infamies of Sept. 11.

By unity I don't mean the lock-stepped chanting of fanatics, but rather debate, discussion and even cross words that nonetheless result in a united effort.

This paradox, we should recall, was one of the mysteries of America that Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville tried to unravel in the early 18th century. How could these people, he asked, who squabble endlessly about politics, religion and money, maintain the world's only stable democracy?

The answer was, then as now, our sacred compact to resolve arguments on the editorial pages, in the courtroom and in the voting booth, not by the gun or the knife.

We should be thankful that Sept. 11 did for the nation what occasionally happens to individuals who suffer a near-death experience: We have been given a chance at renewal.

Who did not look at the wrecked airliner in that Pennsylvania field, the imploded ramparts of the Pentagon or the smoking moonscape of the World Trade Towers and think, "That could have been me in there?"

We have the opportunity to look at our families, friends, co-workers and our faiths and ask what really matters, what do we value, what is important.

Do we love our families enough? Do we love our country enough to sacrifice for it?

We should be thankful that even after the shocks to our wallets and portfolios, and the legions of Americans out of work or worried about unemployment, we are still the most prosperous nation in history.

In 1942, the first full year of American involvement in World War II, the country spent $600 billion in today's dollars on the military; this is nothing like even the most astrological projection of what the present war on terrorism will cost.

We have the money to keep our people fed - and feed others as well.

We have the money to safeguard our borders, but also to clean our rivers.

We have the money to guard our airports, but also to send poor kids to college.

We should be thankful that, although a few people have died and a few more have become sick from an unfamiliar disease, we are spared - because of our superior medical system and resources - the common scourges of the rest of the world.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, 30,500 children die every day throughout the world because of disease and other preventable causes, 3,000 from malaria alone.

We have the doctors, the hospitals and the drugs to fight any microscopic threat. There is every reason to be grateful and none to be fearful.

These are the general thanks we can all give.

Each of us will gather with our families and consider individual reasons for gratitude to our god or our country.

Some will have more to mourn than others, but they, too, may find solace in what is good to see in the faces of those they love and in the nation that still stands under a flag that still waves. All of us can find some blessings to count.

Our children and our enemies should know this: Thanksgiving is still with us.

David D. Perlmutter, a senior fellow at Louisiana State University's Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, is an associate professor of mass communication. He is author of Visions of War (St. Martin's, 1999).

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