by Rosemary and Walter Brasch

Segued into a 10-second afterthought, smothered by 60-second Christmas commercials, is the media acknowledgement of Thanksgiving, which nudges us into a realization of all we are thankful for.

But the usual litany, even with the omnipresent pictures of the less fortunate being fed by the more fortunate, doesn’t list well this year. Our thanks seem to be at best half-hearted or at least insensitive and shallow.

All of us might be thankful for peace if America still hadn’t been involved in two recent wars. The Iraq war lasted almost nine years; the other, in Afghanistan, has lasted more than 12 years and is the nation’s longest war. And now it appears that we will be in Afghanistan for several more years.

When we first went there in 2001, it was to capture Osama bin Laden. We can be thankful that has been done. But why are we still there? And why should Americans still be getting wounded and killed? There were 4,486 killed and 32,000 wounded in Iraq, an unnecessary war that was launched with bravado and no long-range plans.  In Afghanistan, there have been 2,292 killed, almost 18,000 wounded.

American children who are 12 years old years and under have never been able to be thankful for peace! We used to say some Irish children never knew peace—now it’s us.

We know there are thousands of veterans who have committed suicide or are trying to overcome the aftermath of traumatic head injuries, loss of limbs, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The care has been so abysmal that combat veterans, who were given excellent care by combat medics in the field, are dying in VA hospitals while waiting for simple surgeries or treatment for more serious health issues.

We remember to say thanks for their service, and attempt to salve our collective conscience with charitable funds, flowery words, and flying flags. But it must be hard for those who served to be truly thankful to a nation that holds parades on Main Street without acknowledging that many of those honored sleep on that same street every night, with no affordable decent housing available to them.  And they hope for something warmer than an American flag to wrap themselves in. More than one-fourth of all adults who are homeless are veterans. Is our one line of thanks really enough?

In addition to our country’s homeless vets, whole families are also homeless—many direct victims of corrupt banks and semi-corrupt politicians, who never thought twice before foreclosing on the homes those families cherished, leaving them on the street, while not one executive had to give up his or her opulent office for a prison cell, despite the crimes they committed against the people.

For those foreclosed upon who managed to find a new way of life—to find shelter, to find work—their reward is a worthless credit rating despite having excellent credit before companies downsized and outsourced to “maximize their profits,” and banks foreclosed upon them. Unlike major financial institutions and corporations that squandered funds and went into bankruptcy and then were bailed out by the Congress, families can’t even get small loans to pay security deposits on their downsized apartments. Many families are living in one room in cheap motels—so many that schools have redirected bus routes for stops for the many school children living like this.  Those families would surely be thankful for a secure home. Who should we direct all our thanks to?

Many of the executives who sit on bank boards are heads of companies—the same companies that have chosen not to recycle their profits by expansion. That, of course, would provide new jobs, something so many Americans would be truly thankful for. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs are grateful as we gather around our holiday tables and give thanks for the bounty before us. Unless, of course, we’re the working poor. For them, the horn of plenty may be empty this close to the end of the month—and every month. Many, including those working minimum wage jobs, have to rely upon food stamps to help provide food; Congress, willing to spend fortunes on junkets, now plans to cut foodstamps.

There are those who earn upper-class incomes who decry the “welfare” recipients who they believe are predators of tax funds. There are some who are welfare cheats, but most just want a job and enough income to feed and clothe their families and have some left over for other basic necessities. If the politicians would hire more caseworkers, there would be better care for the nation’s underclass—and far fewer people scamming the system because there would be better oversight.

Many charitable organizations struggle mightily to get enough funds to feed more and more of our nation’s hungry as more and more workers are forced to accept part-time jobs at minimum wage. Full-time jobs could provide benefits, but Congress and our state legislatures, always willing to raise their own salaries, won’t raise the minimum wage to at least a few cents above poverty levels. The reason? The working poor have no lobbyists.

And yet both houses of Congress have dozens of committees, including ethics committees, that seem to be more of a way to showboat their politics than to meet the needs of the country. Maybe we need one more committee, this one made up of people who aren’t millionaires and aren’t able to parlay lobbyist money into November victories. This committee, made up of the working poor, will advise all of us of what the problems are, and what the solutions can be.

If on this Thanksgiving Day our thanks seem hollow, perhaps it’s the hollow victory of our veterans surviving combat only to be subjected to problems at home, or the hollow sound of an empty house that has been foreclosed upon, or the hollow growling of a worker’s empty stomach, or maybe the hollow pain of those who should seek medical assistance but can’t because there are some among us who want to destroy federal law, which allows those who are less fortunate to have adequate medical attention.

Most Americans want to help others; there are some politicians who mouth the words but say nothing.

May we all remember that when the basic needs are filled for all Americans, only then can we be truly thankful for the day.

[Rosemary R. Brasch is retired, after a career as a secretary for state and federal agencies, as a labor studies instructor at UMass and Penn State/Hazleton, and as a family services specialist for the Red Cross disaster Services. She and her husband, Walter, the author of 18 books, were editors of Oasis, a Red Cross-sponsored newsletter for families of combat troops.)

Photo by Blodeuwedd, used under Creative Commons license