We Americans should be very thankful we have Freedom of Speech. It is by far the most important right we have. A democracy cannot exist where opinions cannot be freely and safely expressed, which is why totalitarian regimes suppress it brutally, imprisoning, torturing and even killing those courageous enough to protest. A crucial factor is our Constitution does not require our spoken or written words to be factual.

After all, truth can be murky and one person’s fact may be just an opinion or downright lie to someone else. Old but forever relevant words of wisdom are, “Truth is in the eye of the beholder.” Our spoken and printed news sources are insulted by some, including referring to honest reporting as “Fake News,” and even calling reporters “Enemies of the People.” Reporters are humans and, as such, can make mistakes, but for the most part, they restrict opinions to news analysts and editorial pages, and provide facts otherwise. Humans are reluctant to admit mistakes; accordingly, investigative reporters play a critical role in revealing unethical or dishonest behaviors. In some countries, reporters pay with their lives for revealing the truth. They are unsung heroes.

We should be thankful for the right to peacefully assemble and seek redress for perceived wrongs, a “close cousin” to freedom of speech. There are reasonable restrictions, including actions that interfere with the rights of others.

Our military is rated very highly by most objective observers, but perfection will never be found in human affairs. An investigation by ABC News exposed a cover up by high-ranking Marine Corps officers in the case of four Marines killed in 2017 in Niger (a country in Africa). A Marine Corps captain strongly objected to sending his 10-man team on a mission to a very dangerous area. Higher ranking officers overruled him, resulting in the team (patrolling with 34 Nigerian soldiers) being ambushed by more than 100 Islamist fighters. The official report placed the blame solely on the dead Marines, failing to include the Marine captain’s objections, thereby completely absolving the higher-ranking officers. Not until after the ABC News report was published did the Defense Department order another review. (Information was obtained from the July, 2019; issue of National Geographic.) Even if the new investigation places primary blame on the dead men, the initial failure to note the Marine captain’s objection indicates a cover up. What else is new? Be thankful for investigative reporters.

We should be thankful for the multitudes of volunteers who donate millions of hours to religious, fraternal and other public service organizations. While not volunteers, paid police officers, firefighters and military personnel risk their lives for us and surely deserve our gratitude. Also worthy of special thanks are volunteer firefighters. The training hours they are required to participate in just to face danger with little (or no) financial gain requires tremendous dedication. The training I received prior to becoming a paid firefighter in the city of Eureka from 1961 to 1966, pales in comparison to the training required of today’s volunteers. Their primary reward has to be the knowledge they are performing a critical public service.

We should be thankful for our teachers. The age-old phrase, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” is a disgusting insult to our educators. There is no more important career than teaching. Whether in arts, science or any field, if not for individuals who learned and passed on critical information, we would still be in the Stone Age. The vast majority deserves praise, but receives little credit … and often low pay.

We should be thankful for leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). Among many other accomplishments, he had previously been a reform-minded Republican leader in the New York State Legislature, New York City’s police commissioner and Undersecretary of the Navy, leaving that post to lead the renowned Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War of 1898. His heroism in that war made him very popular with the American public, but his powerful reformist speeches made him unpopular with that segment of rich industrialists who were greedy and ruthless in business. Consequently, he was persuaded by the powerful to run for vice president, a post with little influence, in the 1900 presidential election. President McKinley was assassinated just six months after taking office; the worst fears of the unscrupulous capitalists became fact. Roosevelt was pro-business, but against those all-powerful corporations that callously destroyed competitors. He used the previously ignored Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 to break up unprincipled corporations, earning him the “Trust Buster” reputation. He also fought corruption in some graft-ridden governmental agencies. He pledged a “Square Deal” for Americans and kept his word, increased our military strength, established national parks, forests and monuments. Theodore Roosevelt was, without a doubt, one of our greatest presidents.

Finally, we should be very thankful we live in the United States of America. A perfect country? Of course not … just the best.

Ted Shannon is a Mokelumne resident and retired California Highway Patrol officer. Contact him at tsuj12@yahoo.com.

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