As Americans prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving – our annual feast of harvest and gratitude – it’s fitting to remember just how blessed we all are. I claim a particular insight here, as my family and I celebrated many Thanksgivings in the Third World, far from loved ones back home. Absence might make the heart grow fonder, but it’s hard on families, and Thanksgiving is truly a family celebration.
During the annual observance of this uniquely American holiday (only Canada shares Thanksgiving with us, although they do so on a different date) we often reflected on how fortunate we are in the United States. Favored by divine providence, for sure, given the natural resources that are available in abundance on the North American continent. But blessed especially by the vision of our founding fathers and their design of a government that traced its authority to the will of the governed, not to royal lineage or supposed “divine right.”
The true genius of the American experiment in government — the reality that separates us from most other countries of the world — is the freedom we have to define ourselves as individuals, to innovate and to create. Labor guilds don’t dictate a child’s line of work in adulthood any more than old school ties determine where he will attend college.
American wealth doesn’t come from exploiting mines and forests in faraway colonies. We are rich because of the creative ingenuity that has been unleashed and allowed to flower here, in our industries, our farms and our popular arts, which are consumed as hungrily outside our borders as within.
In one century America went from a horse-and-buggy society to a land where 137 million passenger cars are privately owned; where paved roads take us to the remotest points in the land, where abundant food is sold everywhere without rationing, and where air travel is inexpensive and common. OK, we’re treated like cattle on most airlines, but that’s another matter.
In short, the situation we find ourselves in is worlds away from where we were not so long ago. In two lifespans our existence is immeasurably more advanced, healthy and comfortable than it was for our grandparents. Just think central heat and air conditioning if you have any doubts. Or roasting that turkey in an electric oven instead of a wood-fired stove.
Last year’s election was one of the most contentious in our history, yet there were no tanks in the streets or jets strafing the presidential palace, as happened in countries where I served. True, there are still a few angry voters who refuse to accept the outcome of the election – bitter clingers who met to howl like werewolves on the election’s anniversary and who still imagine they can convince the President to step down and turn the office over to the defeated candidate.
But consider for a moment what we’re not talking about in newspapers and coffee shops: childhood diseases like polio or smallpox that kill a third of our newborns, or schools shuttered for lack of teachers, or maybe someday getting a telephone link that connects us to the big city so we can summon emergency help. These were issues where my family celebrated past Thanksgivings, just as they were in America less than a century ago.
We need to acknowledge honestly how much progress we have made, how much we as a nation and a government are committed to further progress, and how large a role private enterprise plays in our national development.
Let us give thanks to our founding fathers for their vision. Let us celebrate Thanksgiving every day.
Fred LaSor lived in Third World countries from 1969 to 1997. He is now retired in the Carson Valley.