Nov. 23, 1944, was a mixed Thanksgiving for millions of Americans gathered around their tables that day.
While they had more reasons to be optimistic than at any time in recent memory (In Europe, German forces were retreating back to the Fatherland and in the Pacific the liberation of the Philippines was underway and the Battle of Leyte Gulf had just delivered the final blow to what was left of the Imperial Japanese Navy.) there were sadly far too many empty chairs at those tables.
The number of chairs that would be forever empty was already well into the over 400,000 American war dead while millions of others were missing the fathers, sons, brothers and cousins serving literally around the world — each one not knowing if he'd survive the fighting still before him, yet determined more than ever to make that last deployment back to the home front alive and able.
President Franklin Roosevelt, having just been reelected to a record fourth term, put forth to the nation a Thanksgiving proclamation reflective of the time.
It began as a reminder of how far we'd come since that Day of Infamy in December 1941 and continued with a warning that our very way of life was at stake:
“In this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule, it is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our heavenly father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings he has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our allies, to his children in other lands.
"For the preservation of our way of life from the threat of destruction; for the unity of spirit which has kept our nation strong for our abiding faith in freedom; and for the promise of an enduring peace, we should lift up our hearts in thanksgiving.”
But what really struck me was what followed further in:
“To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas. Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved.”
And then his closing request:
“Now therefore I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the United States of America ... do hereby proclaim Thursday, the 23rd day of November 1944, a day of national thanksgiving; and I call upon the people of the United States to observe it by bending every effort to hasten the day of final victory and by offering to God our devout gratitude for His goodness to us and our fellow men.”
"Heavenly father," "blessings," "faith," "almighty God," "Holy Scriptures," "God" ... words and phrases that in just 75 years have virtually disappeared from our public square.
Compare that with the current state of our political affairs and you begin to see just how far this nation has strayed from its founding principles and the divisions born from it.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats are whipping themselves into a frenzy pursuing their fantasy of at last undoing the results of the 2016 election. Meanwhile, their 2020 campaign trail is a cacophony of pandering and promising on a scale never before seen in American history.
One of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's favorite memes to the press these days is the retelling of the story of Benjamin Franklin emerging from Independence Hall in 1787 and responding to the question, “What do we have, a republic or a monarchy?” with, “A republic, if you can keep it."
The implication is that she and her fellow Democrats are the only thing standing between our great republic and the evil emperor Donald J. Trump.
Pelosi's claim couldn't be further from the truth (see: impeachment, precedents of procedure, minority party rights, fundamental fairness in proceedings), but with so many Americans today ignorant of their own history, it's sadly effective.
In the years since FDR's last thanksgiving proclamation, there have been tens of thousands more empty chairs placed at the thanksgiving table.
And while we shall never forget their sacrifice, we must also remember the good of these past years — a vaccine for the polio that crippled a president; the Civil Rights Act; the Voting Rights Act; Mercury, Gemini and Apollo; the personal computer and the internet that followed; and above all the millions upon millions of citizens here and people across the globe who have been lifted out of poverty thanks to an economic system second to none.
And yes, thanks to God.
May your Thanksgiving be as blessed in this year as Roosevelt proclaimed it to be those oh so many years ago.
Geoff Caldwell lives in Joplin. He can be reached at email@example.com.