Giving Thanks for What We're Not

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Many American families touched by terrorism will have a difficult time celebrating this Thanksgiving. Yet as the world continues to watch America's reaction to the September 11 attacks, there's cause to celebrate what we Americans have proven of late we're not.

First and foremost, we are not cowards. Before anyone had a chance to wave a picture of Osama Bin Laden on the streets of Pakistan, 300 New York firemen had perished trying to save the lives of World Trade Center workers they didn't know - comprised of every race and ethnicity and from 86 countries.

In Washington, D.C., Army reservist Capt. Darrell Oliver, at the Pentagon for a meeting when Flight 77 hit, ran to the aid of victims of the attack, lifting a desk off a trapped secretary and hoisting her on his back to carry her out of the burning building.

And what of the average American? Workers in Washington took just one day to absorb the shock before returning to work on anthrax-vulnerable metro cars in droves. In Boston, the day Logan airport re-opened, American passengers got back on board.

In a climatic coup of bravery, our own president took the mound at Yankee stadium amidst enormous security concerns to hurl a hardy pitch that won over even the world's toughest critics of true heroics - Yankee fans. Cowards, it seems, we are not.

Greedy Capitalist Pigs. Contrary to the WTO/IMF protestors' PR campaign against global corporations as "greedmongers," American and international corporations rushed in to help victims and relief workers at the first stroke of crisis.

In fact, the often-targeted pharmaceutical industry set an early example for corporate giving. By September 27th, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company had donated pharmaceuticals and other products to the New York and New Jersey Departments of Health and pledged a significant financial donation. Pfizer had announced donations to relief funds totaling over $10 million, while Johnson & Johnson had delivered medical and other disaster relief products by helicopter to New York's St. Vincent's hospital, pledging its own $10 million plus as well. Pharmacia also chipped in a healthy sum to the relief effort.

Hundreds of other companies from large to small donated their products and resources to the New York and Washington rescue and relief efforts.

Mars, Inc. (Uncle Ben's) donated thousands of pounds of rice and soup and 10,000 plus meals; Proctor and Gamble gave food to the NYC Department of Health and dog food for canine rescue teams; PepsiCo, Inc. delivered truckloads of food, shirts and drinks; the Sara Lee Corporation provided thousands of pairs of socks and garments, Campbell Soup supplied hot soup meals; Colgate-Palmolive delivered toothpaste, brushes and soap; the Clorox Company donated cleaning products, the Eastman Kodak Company gave X-ray film, and on and on. The point is that U.S. and international corporations proved far from greedy. In fact, the fruits of workers' labor were returned to them by corporations in spades in the wake of September 11. That's capitalism, or compassionate capitalism, at its finest.

Selfish, Overindulged Yanks. We all saw them outside our grocery stores. You name the charity, they were there - teenagers tapping on our car windshields, entertainers donating their time and energy, fireman raising funds to bury their own.

By early November, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans had poured over $1 billion of their hard-earned dollars into private charity relief funds sponsored by a variety of charities. Before September 11, almost ninety percent of American households donated money at an average rate of $1,620 per household or 3.2% of income, according to a recently released study by the Independent Sector, a coalition of 700 charities. Selfish, we are not.

Alone. On October 11, Winston S. Churchill, grandson of the late British Prime Minister, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington supported the American-British alliance against terrorism with a fervor eerily reminiscent of his grandfather. A former Parliamentarian turned journalist who witnessed the September 11 attack from a Manhattan hotel room, Churchill described the current U.S./U.K. relationship as joined at the hip in spirit. He called the September attack, like the London blitz of WW II, "a deliberate attack against civilians; an attempt to cow the population." Cowed, we are not. Nor are Britain, Russia, France, or the United Nations.

It's time to give a collective thanks for the silver lining of this sad chapter - we have been given the opportunity to be reminded of what we are not. Perhaps, like Londoners, we'll look back fifty years from now and remember this as one of our finest hours.