Thursday, November 22, 2001

Since the morning of September 11, I have been surrounded by daily, hourly, even moment-by-moment television and radio coverage of terrorism and our war against it. In my house, the sound of the newspaper hitting the front porch about 5 a.m. provokes a Pavlovian urge to jump out of bed to get it. At the office, televisions feed bulletins all day, and the Internet brings both real news from all over, and a steady stream of mostly ridiculous rumors. For those of us who spend time writing about the war, time spent researching or talking about the war and the politics of it seems supreme to every other activity except actually sitting at the computer and generating articles.

At home again in the evening, Fox News and MSNBC are interrupted only briefly for the network news or a Redskins game. By bedtime, I can’t close my eyes without the latest from MSNBC. It’s gotten so bad that I had to reassure my wife that I wasn’t about to run off to Islamabad with Ashleigh Banfield.

Does your family debate not only the war, but the coverage? Can you name the military reporter for every major news program? Do you spend time wondering why all the women reporting for Fox News wear glossy lipstick? Do you fail to change channels even when Hillary Clinton or Barbara Boxer is pontificating on how the war should be conducted? Do you feel guilty if you miss the live broadcast of a presidential speech? If you answered “yes” to two or more of those questions, you need a serious break. And I don’t mean another news break.

The war against terrorism is properly in the front of our minds each day. Just as World War II was the event of our parents’ lives, this is the event of ours. Nothing can or should diminish its importance. Some of us in the too-old-to-serve category are feeling guilty about not being able to be in the fight. Even some of us who served in Vietnam (which I did not) are frustrated at being left out. We compensate for it by burying ourselves in the news. But even for us, once in a while, we need a break. We all need a time to think things are almost back to normal, to appreciate how good life really is at least most days.

At the time this is being written, the Taliban have not yet surrendered, and the air campaign continues. Our special forces are performing the hard, slow task of finishing off the Taliban in their last hiding holes, trying to find and kill Osama bin Laden. Unless we get lucky and find bin Laden, this stage of the war is not something that is going to end for a few days at least. If there can ever be a wartime status quo, we may have reached it. We hope that the status quo passes quickly into the ultimate demise of bin Laden and his ilk, but just for today, we can afford to take a break.

On Thanksgiving Day, we can spend a little time talking about other things. In our case, one son is applying to transfer between colleges, and another is a high school senior applying to several around the country. On Thanksgiving, I promise I will say something to them other than, “Not so damned loud. I can’t hear the news.”

Let’s all take a Thanksgiving break, and set the ground rules for doing it. First, when you first wake up, leave the television and the radio off. No cheating, no “honey, I’ll just check the headlines.” You and I will live without one day of Ashleigh Banfield. Next, when the newspaper comes, bring it in, but do not read it until breakfast is over. If you can do that, the rest of the day will be a piece of cake.

So go bake one. Or a pie, or whatever. Just start cooking. I plan to fire up my charcoal grill and my smoker, and spend the whole day out on the deck cooking the Thanksgiving dinner, and anything else people want beforehand. Given the fact that we’ll have three teen-age boys here, that should keep me pretty busy. And there is no radio or television out there. I promise to not sneak the portable out there. Come on. If I can do it, so can you.

If you’re indoors, put music on your stereo, and don’t listen to the radio news. Call relatives, and do not hang up on anyone calling from out of town precisely on the hour or half-hour. Remember, you’re not watching the headlines. Especially not on CNN. If you’re a conservative, and still addicted to the Clinton News Network, you need to break the habit anyhow. Use Thanksgiving Day to break the habit.

More than anything else, take the time to sit back and appreciate what we all have as Americans. Over dinner, whether or not your family says grace before eating, say a little thanks for the brave men and women who now go in harm’s way to defend our way of life. Those who are there particularly the special operations tough guys walking from cave to cave aren’t likely to be eating as well as we are. But if you know these people as I do, you’ll realize that they’ll grouse all day about the cold weather and the lousy MRE version of Thanksgiving dinner. But without saying anything, they will exchange knowing grins, taking a special pride in what they are doing. They won’t mind at all if we stuff ourselves, watch football games all day and, sometime, briefly remember them without spending the whole day watching the news. After all, Thanksgiving Day is a big symbol of what they’re fighting for.

Jed Babbin is the former deputy undersecretary of defense in a prior Bush administration.

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