Monday, November 26, 2007

A Nation of Ingrates

So, how did Americans spend their Thanksgiving weekend?

We could print the usual laundry list of activities, but that misses the point. You may recall that Americans were asked to do something over the holiday, an activity that would take only a few seconds and cost almost nothing. And sadly, early figures indicate that the request was almost universally ignored. So what did we forget over Thanksgiving?

Eat less? You're kidding, right? Heath experts have been making that plea for years, but no one pays any attention. Pass the gravy.

Spend more? Mission accomplished. Retail sales from "Black Friday" were eight percent higher than last year, indicating that shoppers were out in force over the weekend.

Indeed, amid the usual orgy of food, football and consumerism, most Americans couldn't be bothered to fulfill one simple request, offering a brief "thank you" to the men and women that defend our freedom.

Before Thanksgiving, "American Supports You," a DoD-run program that connects "the rest of us" with military personnel and their families, announced an effort to send text messages of thanks to service members over the holiday weekend. The program, appropriately titled "Giving Thanks" began on 17 November and ran through Thanksgiving Day. By dialing 89729, participants could end a short message of thanks that would be directed to a military member.

Well, the early numbers are in, and the public reaction to "Giving Thanks" was underwhelming, to say the least. According to the American Supports You website, a total of 130,000 text messages of thanks were sent during the five-day period. Alison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communication, described the response as "great," but that's little more than p.r. spin. Consider these numbers:

According to the CTIA-Wireless Association, at least 250 million Americans have cell phone service--roughly 82% of the population. With those phones, we send over 5 billion text messages a month, or just over 160 million a day. The number of text message "thank yous" sent to American troops represents less than one tenth of one percent of the daily total in the United States. And those messages were sent over a holiday weekend, when most of us were away from work.

There are words to describe that level of effort. Pitiful and pathetic come to mind. In a nation obsessed with mobile phones and text messaging, over 99% of cell customers couldn't be bothered to send a simple message of thanks to the men and women defending their freedom.

And it wasn't because the campaign was under-publicized. The major broadcast networks mentioned it during various news programs and there were reminders in other media as well, including digital billboards in Times Square. Tim Russert even highlighted the effort at the end of "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Still, most of us were too busy--or just couldn't be bothered--to send a text message thanking those who wear the uniform. Ideally, there should have been a flood of messages that strained the system, but the majority of Americans were preoccupied with the usual drivel; WYD? NMU? TLK2UL8R, GG..BYN.

The feeble response to "Giving Thanks" highlights the enormous chasm between those who serve and those who don't. Roughly one out of every 30 Americans is a member of the active military, the national guard or reserves, but you wouldn't know that by the volume of "thank you" messages sent over Thanksgiving. In fact, the number of text messages logged by America Supports You doesn't even equal the number of troops currently deployed to Iraq.

And despite our indifference, outstanding young men and women still answer the call to duty. Listen to the words of Marine Corps recruits, recently interviewed at Parris Island. Or talk to Pat and Kathy Hickie of Bristol, Tennessee (H/T: Chief Buddy). The Hickies have three sons; all are on active duty in the Air Force. One has already pulled two tours in Iraq, and another is preparing to go. As Mr. Hickie told the Bristol News: "I’m thankful that all three of our sons are safe and healthy...Every day that the phone doesn’t ring is a good one."

The Hickie family and those young Marines at Parris Island understand the ideals of service and sacrifice--concepts that are largely lost on the rest of our population. Over a long holiday weekend, amid the travails of gluttony, shopping and travel, most Americans couldn't find the time to say "thanks" to the men and women who deserve that accolade, perhaps more than any other group in our society.

One hundred and thirty thousand messages of support--in a nation of 300 million--is simply shameful. Members of the U.S. military should get more than text messages of support. They also deserve an apology, from a nation of ingrates.


ADDENDUM: For the record, both Mrs. Spook and Your Humble Correspondent sent messages of thanks. But like most Americans, we could have--and should have--done a lot more. The same holds true for the cell phone companies participating in "Giving Thanks." Standard rates still applied to text messages sent as part of the campaign.


F said...

I am properly scolded. Does it take away any of the sting to say that I don't watch TV and didn't know about the program? I guess I'll have to tune in the news now and again -- ugh. I really don't like a single news program out there, including Jim Lehrer's New Hour. F

halojones-fan said...

f: I agree. I knew nothing about this program until I read this blog post, and Christ knows I would have commented about it elsewhere had I known.

Nom dePlume said...

I'm pleased to say that I put the 'Giving Thanks' banner on my Web site (www.mentalmeds.orgZ), after reading about it on blogs such as this one. I have no way to know how many people clicked on it and sent messages, but I hope at least a few did. I've taken the banner down now, as Thanksgiving has passed.

J.R. said...

I am yet another reader who had no clue this was going on. I don't watch television news ever; I catch a few dramas during the week but mute the commercials. Because I read most blogs through a feed reader, I never saw any of the ad banners either.

That said, I can't carry a cell phone at work, and I don't think I could successfully send a ten-word text message in under ten minutes. I do send a few e-mails a month to a junior Naval officer I know who is serving aboard a boomer, mostly to keep up morale and give him a taste of virtual daylight.

OmegaPaladin said...

Like many others, I had no idea this was going on. I think I recall seeing something about it, but I didn't pay too much attention.

It is actuallyplausible that people did not know about the program.