November 24, 2010


Pilgrims in Beirut, Pumpkin Pie in Manhattan: Gravy, for a man of the Mediterranean, is irredeemable. (FOUAD AJAMI, 11/24/10, WSJ)

Americans have always celebrated Thanksgiving, even in the oddest of places—in foxholes in the bleak mountains in the Korean Peninsula, in Vietnam, in the Arabian desert, and in Baghdad. In the bleak winter of 1950, in Korea, a Thanksgiving dinner for the troops had it all: turkey, the trimmings, giblet gravy and cranberry sauce. "The gravy froze first, then the mashed potatoes," one veteran recalled years later in a Marine journal. "The turkey was a little warm in the middle, if you ate real fast."

Four decades later, George Herbert Walker Bush, in anticipation of a war with Saddam Hussein, would get into the "chow line" and have his Thanksgiving dinner with American troops in the desert "at long tables under a camouflage net," as he and Brent Scowcroft tell it in "A World Transformed." His son would make a more dramatic trip in Thanksgiving 2003. He would journey in secrecy from Texas to Baghdad, surprise American troops, and share a meal with them—a trip he describes as "the most thrilling" of his presidency in his new memoir, "Decision Points."

Nowadays, Thanksgiving has woven into it all the changes that have settled upon our country: the high rates of divorce, the separations. Families are torn, and some children are given two Thanksgiving dinners as they shuttle between paternal and maternal families.

For families that have come apart, Thanksgiving is doubtless a melancholic reminder of what has been lost. Still, Americans brave distance and traffic and airport security procedures to make their way to their families. A big, continental country is made smaller on the last Thursday of each November.

And for a good segment of Americans, though decidedly not the majority, Thanksgiving has to make an accommodation with America's wars abroad. In our family, and not for the first year, this Thanksgiving will be marked by the absence of two young men, my twin nephews. Captains in the U.S. Army, one is in Iraq on a second tour of duty, and one is in Afghanistan after a deployment in Iraq. They shall be missed and remembered.

Amid these wars and economic anxiety at home, our country has a lot to be thankful for—and a lot to ponder and worry about at the same time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 24, 2010 6:34 AM
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