On Gratitude: A Reflection on 2012
2012 brings to a close one of the most politically exhausting times I can remember. The presidential election was the culmination of a campaign that went on literally for years. It ended with the victory of President Barack Obama, just as the nation embarked on a harrowing ride to the fiscal cliff.
Washington is a city that lives and even thrives on stress and the emotional highs and lows that come with it. But the last eighteen months have been unusual, and often especially unpleasant. Despite this, I come to the end of a very tough year buoyed by what I will call the “magic many” – that is, the many personal and public reasons why I am feeling upbeat.
The inspiration for this blog post came from The American Jewish Historical Society’s annual dinner earlier this week. The AJHS was honoring the Monuments Men for the indispensable role these 345 uniformed men and women, from thirteen countries, played during World War II. They saved millions of priceless artistic works, cultural artifacts and documents, including the Mona Lisa. Under orders from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, they were dispatched across Europe — even in the heat of battle – to rescue, restore and return to their owners the treasures that the Nazis had looted.
That evening I was seated next to Carol Wall, a philanthropist and one of the Society’s supporters. “The 1950s,” she told me, “were years of gratitude…. For my family it was a time of vast relief that the loneliness and uncertainty of the war years were behind them.” She talked about the power and poignancy of being able to do simple things again, like barbequing beef on the backyard grill.
Carol’s words got me thinking. Even if there seems to be no relief in sight on the current public policy and political front (the debt ceiling fight is up next), it is never too soon to focus on gratitude. So, here is a small selection of the things that have meant a great deal to me this year. They are not necessarily numbered in order of importance.
- The Opportunity to Interact with Rising Generations: In September I gave the opening address to the incoming class of White House Fellows, an event that has become something of a tradition. This ongoing relationship has given me considerable faith in the caliber of young leaders who are coming into positions of power. This was reinforced in early November when I took four students from Gettysburg College with me to West Point to participate in a conference designed and run by the cadets called the Student Conference on United States Affairs. What a lift it was for me to watch civilian students and cadets discuss together the myriad of issues facing this country. My students reported that the event left them with a “new sense of optimism” about the future. In watching civilian and military undergraduates together, I could only share their confidence and excitement.
- My Father’s New Books: John S. D. Eisenhower’s distinguished career as a military historian has not abated for one moment. This year he came out with two wonderful books: Soldiers and Statesmen: Reflections on Leadership (University of Missouri Press) and Mabuhay: Coming of Age in the Philippines (Ferrous Books). Mabuhay features more than forty original photos taken in the 1930s by John, with a camera given to him by his father, Dwight Eisenhower. The hardback version of the book is a signed, limited edition. It is also available in paperback. Both books demonstrate his remarkable historic reach.
- The Help from My Friends: This year a handful of people gave me unstinting support, for which I will always be grateful. They were also part of a larger group that seemingly appeared out of nowhere and helped my family protest the design for the Eisenhower Memorial, along with hundreds of well-wishers from across the country who contacted us or wrote publically about the memorial. They provided the wind at our backs. These wonderful people know who they are.
- The Lives of Fellow Colleagues: I will mourn the passing but will always celebrate the lives of Greg Guroff and Spurgeon Keeney. Greg was a Russia expert, former USIA official and founder of the Foundation for International Arts and Education. Greg never stopped trying to improve US-Soviet /US-Russian relations. How fortunate I was to call him my friend and colleague. Spurgeon was trained as a Russianist, but had a distinguished career in many high level defense jobs which led him, eventually, into arms control advocacy. Spurgeon and I served on the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on International Security and Arms Control for many years. Throughout his career he mentored many of the leading professionals in the international security field today. Both men will long be remembered.
- The People Who Preserve the Past: After decades of selfless service to the Eisenhower Presidential Library and then the Eisenhower Foundation, Mack Teasley is retiring. He will be impossible to replace. At other institutions, including AJHS (above), I admire the remarkable work of Kim Sajet at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Tim White at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. I spent three unforgettable days visiting that exceptional museum and roaming Buffalo Bill territory.
- The American Voter: Despite the Super Pacs and the flood of other money, the people who flocked to the polls this November could not be “bought.”
- Glenn Kessler—“The Fact Checker”: No one should be able to get away with misleading statements or lies. Thank goodness they can’t get away with it now.
- The Readers of This Blog: For every person who leaves a comment on this site, many more people find a way to reach me privately. What fun I had this year, sharing my thoughts and hearing your responses. Not only did the number of readers rise exponentially, exceeding 50,000 readers on some days, but it was read regularly in 74 countries.
As the year draws to a close, I will stand back and reflect with gratitude on the many people this year who enriched my life. I hope you will, too.
Happy holidays and very best wishes for a productive and happy new year.
On December 7, 2012, Susan Eisenhower gave an interview to Sky News on Hillary Clinton’s legacy as Secretary of State: