'And also that we may beseech Him to pardon our national and
-- George Washington, from the 1789 proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday
Peace and peas. Many Americans will be praying for one this week and getting the other instead. My guess is that few in America's current political leadership will even silently ask for the divine national pardon envisaged by Washington in the original Thanksgiving proclamation. And that's precisely why peace isn't currently on the American menu and won't be for some time.
So what should America be asking forgiveness for? Well, there are a number of things that come to mind all of which fall under a single catchphrase: ignorance at home, arrogance abroad.
It would be convenient for the more liberally inclined to pin blame for these American attitudes entirely on Bush administration officials. They are after all the chief architects of a war built on ill-informed pretenses that has killed thousands of innocents, weakened our key alliances, and emboldened our enemy. They are also the ones who have backed out of and, in some cases, attempted to scuttle a number of international treaties designed to make the world healthier, more just, and sustainable. These acts alone would seem to justify a collective 'sorry'.
Yet, the roots of America's foreign policy arrogance reach back many years and enjoy fertile ground in both political parties. Recall that it was President Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who declared that the United States is 'the indispensable nation' that 'stands taller' and 'sees farther' than the rest of the world. You can guess how well that type of comment goes down in diplomatic circles.
Clearly, our arrogance comes at an international price in terms of lost credibility and damaged working relationships. So why not dispense with it and replace it with a foreign policy based on integrity and humility? That's where the other side of the coin, domestic ignorance, comes into play. Many, if not most, Americans think that America really is superior in every way and want to hear this opinion echoed by their political leaders, be they democrats or republicans.
Yet, this commonly held opinion is both based on ignorance and fueled by it. Those of us who have traveled or lived abroad know that there are countries whose social and economic policies are every bit as visionary and effective as ours, if not more so. I had the good fortune to live in Europe for a number of years and was very impressed by the high standard of living enjoyed by the average European.
Unlike the US, Europe has been able to invest its post cold war peace dividend in 'butter' rather than 'guns'. Somehow, they have managed to be active at the international level politically and economically without engendering the same hatred felt towards the US. In Europe, ideas like 'low crime rates', 'universal healthcare', 'affordable higher education', and 'living wage' are not goals, but reality. And everyday is 'code green' in the EU in terms of potential terrorist threats.
It's true that Europe's tax rates are higher, especially for the wealthiest segment of the population, but European citizens have decided that public goods of these sorts are worth the price. Although the US is desperately in need of some?fresh political thinking, I don't expect to hear any of the presidential candidates lauding Europe for balancing strong economics with enlightened social policies. Instead, I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more of the usual chest-thumping, 'we're number one' from both sides of the political aisle.
Benjamin Franklin saw some of this coming a couple of hundred years ago with the selection of the Bald Eagle as the national emblem. He argued that the haughty bird was 'of bad moral character' and that the American spirit would find a more suitable representative in the humble and industrious wild turkey.
This week, the President made the press by rescuing the national Thanksgiving turkey from the chopping block.? This got me thinking. Instead of granting pardons, perhaps President Bush should use this holiday to ask for one among those friends we've angered and alienated in the past two years through our arrogant foreign policy. Similarly, in place of apple or pumpkin, Americans might try a slice of humble pie for a change. Although difficult to swallow, it may be the only way of putting peace back on the menu for next year's Thanksgiving celebration.
Roger Doiron is a writer, educator, activist, and the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, a nonprofit organization promoting home-grown, home-prepared foods in their many international forms.