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More Thankful Than Ever

November 18, 2001

by John K. Bates

With all that has happened in the past two months, the so-called “holiday season” has snuck up on us. As this column is published, it will be just five days until the Thanksgiving holiday, and barely a month until Christmas. But it is an odd season this year. More so than any other Thanksgiving in recent memory, this holiday will find many who question what we as a nation have to be thankful for. We have endured death and injury and bioterror and fright and, this week, yet more tragedy. If ever a country would appear to have less to be thankful for, it is America in 2001.

But a closer look paints a different picture, especially for those determined enough to look for the good. While the wounds are still raw and the damage to New York still visible, it becomes more apparent with each passing day. This country has, in many ways, not only escaped a far worse disaster, but also has been blessed. Though terror has tried to strike at our hearts, it has largely missed its target.

Consider some of the facts of the September 11 attacks. There were 5,000 casualties in New York City. But there were 50,000 workers at the World Trade Center. While the attacks were devastating, they could have been far worse had the buildings collapsed immediately. The same thing applies at the Pentagon, where many more thousands work than were killed or wounded. Let’s not forget Flight 93, which may have been headed for the White House or the Capitol but was instead crashed into a field far away from anything. And let’s even consider the fact that, although the terrorists had control of four airplanes, it apparently never crossed their minds to crash one of them into a truly nightmarish target, such as a nuclear power plant. This is not meant in any way to diminish the tragedy that befell Washington and especially New York City. But what was a very bad day could indeed have been catastrophically much worse.

Some solace and yes, even some thanks can also be found in the anthrax. The anthrax sent to Senator Daschle’s office was of a high grade, and of sufficient quantity to afflict many thousands of people. Yet whoever sent it either did not have the ability for more effective dispersal or simply made a monumental tactical error in assuming the pathogen could spread easily through the mail. Four dead and a score injured is nothing to dismiss. But compared to the obvious aim of many more dead and sick and a nation completely paralyzed, it is unlikely those who sent the anthrax are very pleased with such a meager casualty list. That is something to definitely be thankful for.

Of course, a Thanksgiving holiday would still be pale if all we had to be thankful for was that things were not as bad as they could be. “Thank you, Lord, that our lives aren’t worse” is not very inspiring when uttered over the turkey dinner. But this country - this nation of ideas that is at once young but old, powerful in its strength but weak in its openness, and grieving but resolute - has come together in ways that many skeptics doubted were possible. We are a serious nation now, working again towards a healthy sense of purpose. Whereas we were formerly obsessed with the peccadilloes of Bill Clinton and Gary Condit, we now want to know the latest news from Afghanistan and the American terror front. We may still watch Survivor, but we care far more about how long Usama Bin Laden survives. Sports and leisure are still obsessions, but they are now more expressions of escape and release than simply ways of channeling a bored society. All of this new focus is important, especially in a democracy, where an informed electorate is critical to good governance and a successful society.

There is yet more. America is as united as it has been since probably the Korean War. Patriotism is in vogue for the first time since the early days of Ronald Reagan; there is immense interest in the things that have made this country great in the past and which will do so again today. Our youth are showing increased interest in the concept of democracy and the positive differences between American values and others, such as those in the Middle East and throughout the world. Political correctness - while trying to make a comeback in certain enclaves - is still on the run as people embrace what is right instead of what is “socially acceptable.” From coast to coast, the people of America have embraced the concept of America. This is something that deserves a great deal of thanks.

But the most important thing to be thankful for as we approach the holiday of thanks is how this nation, which for so long has dismissed or even rejected the principles of God and faith upon which this nation was founded, has begun to acknowledge that God and Jesus Christ must be allowed a central place in daily American life. How many churches opened their doors on September 11 to allow people to seek some sort of meaning from the awful events of that day? How many of those people have concluded there is something missing in their lives and in this nation? How many Christians have suddenly had to compare and perhaps defend the holy and loving precepts of Christianity with the harsh and violent doctrines of Islam? And how much of the New Age philosophy that all doctrines are essentially equal went away when people sought out the one true God?

Tragedy is not good. It is painful. But tragedy is an inevitable part of life. What matters most is how a society deals with it. America should be thankful that the scope of recent tragedy was not as bad as it could have been. America should be thankful for the response of millions and millions of ordinary people who have been moved to a better citizenship in response to those who have attacked us. And America should be thankful, just as our original forefathers were thankful, for a God who lives in love and blessing and who confers that love and blessing on those who seek Him. Despite all that has happened, this nation is strong and resolute and faithful. And on this Thanksgiving, America should be more thankful than we ever have.

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