Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Man never is, but always to be blest:

—Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, 1733

By almost any measure, save perhaps for adversity and woe, 2009 has not been the best of years.

Almost six years after it was launched with “shock and awe,” more than 6,000 men and women from the U.S. and allied nations have died in the Iraq war and more than 1,500 in Afghanistan. No firm figures are available on the number of Iraqi/Afghani civilians killed, but estimates are in the range of 135,000.

Nor are reliable figures available on the cost, but estimates for the U.S. alone are in the range of $1 trillion to date — more than $3,000 for every man, woman, and child in this country. Eventually, according to some estimates, $3 trillion.

More than 30,000 U.S. men and women have been injured, many horribly maimed. More than 1 million U.S. troops have served there, some several times, and nearly 200,000 will spend this holiday there. The impact on families and nation is incalculable.

We can, once again as another year wanes, wearily hope this is all leading to a resolution and that this loss of lives and treasure will somehow be stanched.

In Africa, most of the world continues to turn a blind eye to despotic governments that, on a scale unmatched since the holocaust of World War II, have allowed the slaughter of perhaps 1.5 million people and left hundreds of thousands more horribly maimed — often with limbs hacked off by machetes. More than 4 million are displaced, often in the most miserable circumstances, yet their governments restrict humanitarian access. Malnutrition and starvation continue rampant; in some cases, lifesaving grain from the U.S. has been refused by their governments simply because it contained modified genes. Thousands more perished of hunger, but hey, their officials kept them from dying with GMOs in their bodies (and various activist organizations celebrated that the U.S. had been defeated in using food aid as “an economic and political tool”).

Hope? How much hope in a land beset by utter, unceasing hopelessness?

Sadly, we don’t have to look beyond our own borders for homelessness and hunger. In the U.S., in 2008 and 2009, more than 2 million people lost their homes to foreclosure, and the numbers continue growing. An estimated 3.5 million Americans are homeless this Christmas, including nearly 1.5 million children. Some 15 million people are unemployed, without jobs to provide for their families. In an economy still struggling for its bearings, charities and aid organizations find it difficult to meet the increasing needs of the down-and-out.

This, in America, among all nations the ultimate beacon of hope?

In this season in which all of mankind’s hope had genesis, may we resolve anew to do what we can, wherever we can, to nourish the spark of hope, however faint.

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com