’Tis the season to give thanks. Here are things I’m grateful for:
The U.S. Coast Guard. While the rest of us pointed fingers and bemoaned all that divides us during Hurricane Katrina, the Coast Guard was saving more than 20,000 people from the floodwaters. It was responsible for what should have been some of the most enduring images from the hurricane: rescuers and the rescued–black and white, young and old, male and female–intertwined in one another’s arms as they ascended in harnesses toward helicopters, and safety, overhead.
Haqy Asaad. An explosives expert with the Iraqi interior ministry, Asaad became adept at defusing roadside bombs, at great personal risk. “I can’t just leave these bombs in all these neighborhoods. I want to live in a peaceful Iraq someday,” he explained. It will be his kind of bravery that will save Iraq. He was killed by insurgents in August. RIP.
Google. Can anyone imagine life without it, and similar Internet search engines? More information is at our fingertips more quickly than ever before.
The U.S. economy. It has created 57 million jobs since the 1970s, while Europe has managed only 4 million. It shrugged off Katrina and Rita like a couple of summer showers, growing at a 3.8-percent rate in the third quarter. It is a dynamic engine for opportunity and change.
Rosa Parks. The late civil-rights pioneer demonstrated how the assertion of a simple moral principle can move the world.
The rule of law. The indictments of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former Dick Cheney Chief of Staff Scooter Libby and GOP lobbying powerhouse Jack Abramoff show that no one is above the law (even if the indictments themselves are of varying quality). In America, even the high can be brought low. And so we have cracked the problem that has bedeviled so many societies: How to hold their ruling classes accountable.
David McCullough. He is the most famous of a group of historians–including Richard Brookhiser and David Hackett Fischer–who have revived the historiography of the American Founding. Their books are readable, and unashamedly vouch for the greatness of the events and the men they portray. What a national service.
The Orange and Cedar revolutions. The most powerful force for freedom is an aroused civil society that doesn’t fear its oppressors and eschews violence. Ukraine and Lebanon made new starts for themselves on the basis of such civic action.
Parents of Down syndrome children. A new test will make it possible to identify children with Down syndrome earlier in the womb. As it is, 80 percent to 90 percent of parents decide to abort children with Down. Those who don’t, embrace life in all its heartbreaking and wonderful diversity, and believe in the redeeming power of love.
American generosity. The Asian tsunami and Katrina prompted massive outpourings of private aid–$1.5 billion and $2.7 billion, respectively. Every year Americans give more than $200 billion annually to charity, a rolling testament to our amazing civic-mindedness.
The drug companies. They get a bad name because no one wants to pay for their products, but from AIDS to heart disease to–one hopes!–the avian flu, they protect our health and ease our discomforts.
Penguins. With all the catastrophes, it wasn’t a good year for nature. But the documentary March of the Penguins reminded us of the astonishing intricacy, weirdness, and marvel of animal life. It’s why we follow the mating patterns of pandas, work to restore grizzlies and wolves to the West, and consume so many books, TV shows and movies about critters.
The Chicago White Sox. The World Series winners did it with pitching and good fielding–no steroids required.
Members of the U.S. military. How to credit their bravery and steadfastness? While the Beltway seems ready to quit on Iraq, re-enlistment rates for men and women who have served there are exceeding Pentagon goals. Semper fi, indeed.