Gratitude - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics

It was two days before Christmas. I was shopping with a friend in Beverly Hills. The sun was bright and the temperature was almost perfect. As we turned a corner coming back from Dutton’s Bookstore, a real gem in Beverly Hills, we passed a manicure and pedicure shop. The door was wide open. As I looked in, I saw a woman in late middle age sprawled backwards on a chair. She was having her foot massaged by a young Asian woman.

To me, the woman who was having the massage looked Jewish, although I might be wrong. I looked at her in her bliss and I thought, “I wonder if two generations ago her ancestors were selling bananas from a pushcart on Delancey Street on the Lower East Side or if they were trembling at the approach of the pogrom in Lvov or just what they were doing. And now she is basking in luxury on a sunny day in December in Beverly Hills. Glorious, glorious America. Glorious America.”

Then I thought, what about the Vietnamese woman who is massaging her feet? It’s not the job I would want, but it’s probably a lot better job than whatever was likely to befall her in Vietnam. Probably a lot better than working in a rice paddy for barely starvation wages. She probably has a car and an apartment with air conditioning and color TV, and most of all, she’s free. Again, glorious America. Great, glorious America.

And then we walked for a half hour among the crowds in Beverly Hills just to wait for some photos I had taken to be developed. There were Japanese, Russians, Iranians, ordinary Americans, all hustling and bustling about to buy whatever they wanted and needed for Christmas. Later, my friend bought an enormous piece of jewelry for his wife and I waited while he waited for the ring, then watched him write an immense check for a diamond ring the size of a postage stamp.

And I thought, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.” And then I thought of something else. None of this, absolutely none of it, would be there without the men and women of our armed forces. Every bit of what we have by virtue of being a free and prosperous nation, every ability to buy whatever book we want at Dutton’s, every ability we have to come here from foreign lands and escape oppression, every speck of a chance we have to make it and become prosperous enough to have foot massages — all of this is behind the shield of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, National Guard and Reserves. Every speck of everything good we have by having full pantries and full stomachs is because someone fought and died for us at Bastogne or Tarawa. Every Jewish person like me or that woman getting her feet massaged owes our bare survival to the men and women who fought and won World War II. Hollywood didn’t do it. The NBA didn’t do it. Martha Stewart didn’t do it. Donald Trump didn’t do it. The U.S. Congress didn’t do it. Men and women from places like Prescott, Arkansas, and Bedford, Virginia, men who we never heard of-they are the ones who did it.

And the freedom we live in, the truth that we did not succumb to Communism….that we owe also to the men and women who fought the Cold War, in Korea and Vietnam and in Europe and in Greenland. We owe them the very air of freedom we breathe.

Now, we do not have to fear an Al Qaeda that owns a whole country — Afghanistan — and can use it as a base to attack us. And this, too, is thanks to the men and women who liberated that sad country and tore Al Qaeda out of it.

Today and every day, men and women are fighting in Iraq in horrible conditions, with saboteurs and terrorists among them to give that poor nation a chance to live in peace and democracy and to deny it as a haven for terrorism.

How much do we owe them? Far, far more than we can ever pay them. How much do we owe them for spending Christmas so far from their families, so far from safety, so far from comfort? How much do we owe men and women who offer up their very lives for total strangers like the people like me who were strolling up and down Beverly Drive?

Pay them more. Send their kids to school for free. Love them. Take them to our hearts. In the privacy of our homes — a privacy that their lives assured-be on our knees with gratitude to God that He sent such great souls into our lives. At this season of peace, all glory to the men and women who go to war far from home so we can indeed live and breathe and get our feet massaged and pray in peace. We are nothing, just zombies, without them.

Ben Stein
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Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes “Ben Stein’s Diary” for every issue of The American Spectator.
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