There but for the Grace of God
This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for all the mundane but vital blessings: happy children, a loving husband and family, work that I love, the health to enjoy it. I'm also thankful that we Americans still live in relative peace and prosperity. And this year, I'm particularly thankful I don't live in Israel, that America is not Israel, and that America's path long ago diverged from Israel's.
That it did so is hardly to our credit, since the American Republic was built upon the virtual destruction of the Native Americans. Our peace and prosperity owe much to happy accidents of geography -- how lucky to have oceans on two sides! -- and more to the suffering of others (slavery, too, casts a long shadow).
But we should not assume that America is exempt from Israel's fate. Stunned by the 9/11 attacks, in 2001 the United States began a blind lurch towards the Israeli path, ultimately embroiling ourselves in two bloody wars of occupation. With our temporary embrace of torture, we came perilously close to losing our own national soul.
Although we have now repudiated torture, we continue to find the Israeli path tempting. Indefinite detention has become an accepted reality for America, along with an aggressive, expanding surveillance state. Before 9/11, the United States condemned Israeli "targeted killings" of alleged terrorists. Now, targeted killings have become the American weapon of choice.
Like the Israelis, we're increasingly playing counterterrorism whack-a-mole -- and as with the Israelis, each drone strike may pull us that much further into an endless cycle of attack, retaliation, counter-attack, and counter-retaliation, with nothing gained at the end of the day but dead bodies on all sides.
Israel is what the Pilgrims imagined themselves to be building, and if we are not both lucky and wise, Israel is what we may yet become -- but not in the way our forebears imagined.
The Eyes of All People Are Upon Us
Shortly after the First Thanksgiving, Robert Cushman urged his fellow Pilgrims to "win [the natives] to peace both with yourselves, and one another, by your peaceable examples." The lesson didn't really take.
Few Americans have heard of Cushman, but most are familiar with John Winthrop's Arabella Sermon, delivered nine years later. Like Cushman, Winthrop exhorted his fellow American settlers to set a good example:
[We must] follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.... We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities.... [So] Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.... For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill. The eies of all people are uppon us.
Less often quoted is the more ominous passage that follows:
For if wee shall deale falsely with our God in this worke wee haue undertaken... wee shall be made a story and a by-word through the world....Wee shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into curses upon us, till wee be consumed out of the good land whither wee are a goeing.