Thursday, November 22, 2001

Despite the terrible toll of death and destruction that struck our country this year, Americans have a lot to be thankful for on this day of feasting, family reunions, remembrance and prayer.

More than two months after the attacks, bodies were still being found among the smoldering dust and twisted wreckage of New York’s World Trade Center. The families and friends of the dead still grieve. Searchers at Ground Zero sift through the ruins for remains, as America wages a fiery war to bring down the monstrous, evil people who committed this crime.

And yet out of the terror, tears and tragedy of September 11 and its aftermath, Americans have somehow emerged stronger, better, more united and more purposeful and caring than ever.

It is an ever-shining characteristic of America and Americans that the worst of times brings out the best in us as a people and as a nation. It was in the minutes, hours, days and weeks that followed the attacks when we saw inspiring acts of heroism, self-sacrifice, faith, charity, and simple goodness.

Future generations will be told the stories of the brave firefighters, building-security officials and other rescuers who raced into the towers to save lives. Of the people who would never be seen again. And of the office workers who thought of saving others before saving themselves.

It was a time when the entire nation put aside its political and social differences and became one. Throughout the country, everyone talked about how much nicer people behaved toward one another. Have the simple words to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” ever sounded more moving?

Our leaders, too, rose to the occasion, as they always seem to do in times of national crisis, fear and doubt. President Bush, who was still being tested in the infancy of his presidency, struck just the right tone of healing and comfort for the afflicted and a steely military call-to-arms to hunt down and punish the murderers who worship at the altar of hate. And he acted and led. There has never been a broader wartime coalition brought together so quickly.

And New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, preaching hope, optimism and determination in the midst of chaos and death, rallied a great city to regroup and come back from the brink of despair. His political future looking brighter, and this was his finest hour.

Twenty-one years ago, in his first Inaugural address, Ronald Reagan rallied a dispirited nation, saying he utterly rejected the view held by pessimists and cynics who maintained there were no heroes in America anymore. Mr. Reagan said that such doubters just didn’t know where to look. There were heroes all around us, in all walks of life. And so they were on September 11, and so they have always been.

Then there are those, especially in the news media, who have a hard time dealing with America’s rapidly growing prosperity over the past two decades, calling them the decades of greed.

Last week, it was reported that Americans have shelled out more than $1 billion to 200 charities that are helping the families of the victims. This is an astonishing reminder of how unselfish we are when our fellow Americans need a helping hand, and especially when our country is under attack.

The U.S. economy also took a punishing wallop, but here, too, we see tentative signs of renewed enterprise and revival. Some of the economic data rolling in for October and November gives us reason to hope that the recession we are in will be short and shallow.

Retail sales jumped by a record 7.1 percent, pushed up by car and truck sales fueled by no-interest financing. Oil and gas prices have fallen sharply, giving the economy a needed boost. Declining mortgage rates, now down to an average of 6.2 percent, have sparked a rush of refinancing that is putting more discretionary income into people’s pockets. New jobless claims have fallen, suggesting we may have reached the bottom of the downturn. The stock market has rallied.

Certainly, the terrorists will try again, if we do not get them first. But we are better prepared to defend our homeland and more experienced in counterterrorism warfare.

Meantime, despite all of the violent threats America faces, we have so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. Our brave soldiers and pilots and Special Forces are risking their lives to keep us safe and rid the Earth of this pestilence. We have freed the tortured Afghan people from their Taliban captors. We remain the shining beacon of hope, freedom and goodness in an ever-dangerous world.

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