Thanksgiving 2018: A Time to be More Than Thankful

By: Brigadier General Douglas Murray, PhD, Chief Academic Officer/Dean of Academics

Each year for the past five years, I have shared my reflections on the meaning of Thanksgiving to us as Americans. My inspiration comes from the anniversaries celebrated during the current year. Many readers might argue that as a nation, there is little to celebrate in 2018. They would point out numerous examples of violence, a polarized society marked by an equally polarized political process, and an attitude that says to disagree with me makes you wrong. Yes, the argument can be compelling, but are these events a true reflection of America? One who did not believe so quoted John Meacham, author of The Soul of America, in a Guest Editorial in the Northwest Florida Daily News. He said, “History shows us that we are frequently vulnerable to fear, bitterness, and strife. The good news is that we have come through such darkness before.” Senator John McCain wrote that America  could meet any challenge “when we start believing in ourselves again and when we remember that our exceptionalism hasn’t anything to do with what we are … but with who we are: A people united by ideals.”

As I look back over the year past, there are three anniversaries that relate to this thought: the 10th Anniversary of the ending of World War I in 1918, the 50th Anniversary of what Time Magazine called “the year that shaped a generation, 1968, and the 50th anniversary of the television airing of “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” in 1968. Together, they highlight some of the darkest hours in our history, and how we came through them. That is what makes us Americans and deserves our gratitude this Thanksgiving.

On November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed ending the Great War. The celebration that began that day is marked each year since as Veteran’s Day. This year, in fact, there was a grand celebration in France. The horror of that war led President Wilson in 1918 to turn to the ideals in our Constitution and propose a way other than war to resolve conflict. That proposal became the League of Nations, which, while not preventing World War II, did offer the model for what became the United Nations.

This year, we also marked the 50th anniversary of the year that the Wall Street Journal called “the year America came apart.” Some in our society and media would characterize 2018 the same way. Lance Morrow, in his 1988 written essay, explains the Wall Street characterization. He writes, “American culture and politics ventured into dangerous and experimental regions…Nineteen sixty-eight was a tragedy and horrific entertainment: deaths of heroes, uprisings, suppressions, the end of dreams, blood in the streets of Chicago, and Paris, and Saigon.” We emerged from those challenges in 1968 ever the more stronger. One year later, we landed a man on the moon, and twenty years later, ended the more than eight decades of the Soviet threat to the free world, and ended the cold war. In 2015, I wrote in this newspaper, “Resolutely, each time we as a nation have been challenged; we have met and overcome the adversity. Doing so has bettered us.” And, that is something quite significant to be thankful for on this holiday.

No person better reflects that spirit than Fred Rogers who in 1968 invited the world to visit his neighborhood. In it, he introduced the audience, particularly the children, to the values and principles that characterize the American culture and literally in the words of the Time article above, “shaped a generation.” Is it more than coincidence that in 1968 – that year of darkness- there should emerge Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which in the words of one analyst created “a balm of kindness and empathy in divisive times.” Fred Rogers’ legacy reflects the spirit and commitment of the American people to strive to be ever more than they could be. As a people, and as a nation that is something to celebrate as we sit down with family and friends for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Finally, Fred Rogers’ legacy suggests one more thing we should do as part of celebrating this holiday.  He talked to the children about America, and his example must inspire us to spend some time to talk to our children and grandchildren about the real meaning of this holiday and why it is a uniquely American holiday. Many of our youth do not know the story of America, of a nation dedicated to the freedom, rights, and dignity of the individual and the first government in history based upon the consent of the governed rather than the authority of a king, czar, or emperor. Surveys of our youth reflect acceptance of authoritarian governments. A World Values Survey in 2011 indicated nearly 25% of Americans between 16 and 24 felt a democracy was not the best way to run a country. That must change. Ben Franklin, upon being asked following the Constitutional Convention, “What have we got a republic or a monarchy?” responded, “A republic if you can keep it.” Something to also think about this Thanksgiving day.


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