AT home and abroad, Americans are beset by some difficult challenges this Thanksgiving. At home, the economy is spluttering and many Americans are suffering inconvenience and hardship as a result.
Abroad, a couple hundred thousand servicemen are bivouacked in the desert of Saudi Arabia anxiously waiting to find out whether they will be embroiled in an ugly war with Iraq.
But if you take the broader view, the whole world has a lot to be grateful for in what has transpired over the past 12 months.
Here are at least 10 developments on the international and national scene for which we should give thanks:
1. The End of Communism. True, Cuba and Albania stand out as diehard followers of a now discredited ideology, and China's outmoded leadership has yet to fall. But Eastern Europe is grappling with new-found freedom. In the USSR itself, the mind-shackling restrictiveness of Marx and Lenin has been flung aside and there is breathtaking dialogue about what is to follow. This world-changing revolution has taken place in quite a short time. It was just a year ago that the Berlin wall came tumbling down.
2. A New Era in US-Soviet Relations. With the end of the cold war, the US and Soviet Union are working together for peace. The threat of nuclear confrontation between the two superpowers has lessened substantially. The world is a safer place. US-Soviet cooperation on the Iraqi crisis is a remarkable example. In earlier years, the dispatch of 200,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia could have triggered a nuclear ultimatum from Moscow. Today, Moscow stands firmly with Washington, and Washington invites the Soviets to participate in Middle East diplomacy.
3. Revitalization of the UN. The international response to Iraq's invasion has gone forward under the mantle of the UN. Once relegated to the sidelines, the UN has been revived as a significant factor in the resolution of international disputes.
4. A Break in the Drug War. Nobody suggests that drug abuse is ending. But the statistics show declining use of cocaine. It may mark the turning of the tide in the US, and thus bad news for the drug-producers and drug-traffickers elsewhere in the world.
5. Heightened Awareness on the Environment. There is the danger of over-zealousness, but some intelligent campaigns are bearing fruit for the preservation and improvement of our environment. When McDonald's discards its styrofoam containers, that is an indication of increasing sensitivity.
6. Declining Tension in Central America. Nicaragua is still in a mess. But it is no longer the flashpoint it was during the Reagan administration. The Sandinistas no longer rule Nicaragua. Noriega no longer rules Panama.
7. Apartheid's Decline in South Africa. We are far from a tranquil, multi-racial society in South Africa. But there has been astonishing movement away from the racism that has bedeviled that country. Black and white leaders are groping for a non-violent transition.
8. Reinforcement of the Anglo-American Alliance. In military terms, Britain is no longer a world power. But it retains significant moral authority. Once again, Margaret Thatcher has directed that authority in unswerving support of the US. Just as, in support of a principle, she assembled a costly armada to defend the Falklands, so she has dispatched British forces to Saudi Arabia to help thwart Saddam Hussein. She has been the truest supporter of President Bush's present Middle East policy.
9. Peaceful Elections in the US. Americans take them for granted, but we should ever be grateful that a nation so large, so disparate, elects its representatives in such a routinely democratic manner. In a world where so many countries have determined who rules by the crack of the rifle and the thrust of the bayonet, this peaceful transition is something to be grateful for.
10. Before War, a National Debate. President Bush threatens war against Saddam Hussein but the American people will not let him declare it single-handedly. Leading clergymen are now debating the morality of such a war. Congressional leaders are debating its constitutionality. Newspaper editorial writers are offering a diversity of viewpoints from caution to exhortation. All this is in the best tradition of democracy. And again, something else to be grateful for.