Talking Turkey

Bird of Bad Moral Character  – Just Look at Those Beady Eyes!

Many countries use animals both real and mythical as national symbols.  As mentioned in the last post, Singapore chose the mythical Merlion (a creation by a Public Relations Agency) to symbolise the country’s importance in maritime trade as well as giving a nod to the traditional story that the city was founded after a prince saw a lion on the island.

Most countries choose as a national symbol, an animal that is closely related to the country (e.g. Ecuador’s Andean Condor) and/or one that represent some coveted attribute like courage or strength.  Hence the tiger is a favorite symbol as is the eagle.

The Royal Bengal Tiger is the national animal of both India and Bangladesh.  Both North and South Korea lay claim to the Korean Tiger while the Malayan Tiger is the symbol for Malaysia.

Eagles in some form or another are symbols for Armenia, Albania, Austria, Egypt, Germany, Mexico, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia and Serbia.

In most cases, these national animal symbols are held in high regard but that does not seem to have helped keeping these animals safe and many of them like the Malayan Tiger and the Philippine Eagle have become endangered.  Australia though, takes it one step further  in that two of their national animals, the kangaroo and the emu, are also often available on  restaurant menus.

Of course, the Bald Eagle is the national symbol of the United States.  In 1782,  Congress adopted the Great Seal which had the bald eagle as its centerpiece.  It is interesting that Benjamin Franklin was not in favor of the bald eagle.  He considered the bald eagle as a bird of bad moral character and had recommended the rattlesnake.  Later, in a letter to his daughter, he regrets the use of the bald eagle by the “Cincinnati of America,” a newly formed society of revolutionary war officers and instead espouses the merits of the turkey (see below).

Franklin’s Letter to His Daughter (excerpt)

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country….

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.” .

I think the decision by the United States to choose the bald eagle  instead of the turkey is one of those pivotal moments in history.  A United States with a turkey as a national symbol would be a very different country with a very different national psyche.

Consider the U.S. 101st Airborne Division (the Screaming Eagles), a highly esteemed military unit with an impressive track record in World War II and in the Vietnam War; would it have been as successful and it’s men been inspired to such heights of bravery and service if they had been known as the “Clucking Turkeys”?

The bald eagle also featured prominently as a symbol for America’s Apollo program.  When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Niel Armstrong famously said, “The Eagle has landed.”  Would it have been as quote worthy if he had said, “The Turkey has landed.”?

Would America’s enemies have been as intimidated if there was the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Turkey instead of the F-15 Eagle?  And how could patriotic Americans eat their national symbol every Thanksgiving?  Wouldn’t that be akin to burning the flag?  Eating the bird?  Would a great deal of psychiatric counseling be required?

What is your national animal symbol and what are your thoughts about it?  Inquiring squirrels want to know.


14 thoughts on “Talking Turkey”

  1. Ben Franklin is a fine one to be criticizing the morals of the eagle! He was, as far as I can gather, infamous for many lapses from morality himself!

  2. oceangirl,
    I agree. I have always considered most females as femme fatale just because sadly most males are hormone controlled morons.

    Maybe that is why Ben Franklin liked the rattlesnake. Um, paleface Ben speak with forked tongue.

  3. While the Bald Eagle remains the symbol of the States, it doesn’t stop Americans electing turkeys to office… Regan, Dubya, even Clinton to a degree.

    Canada’s national symbol (besides the pretty but inert Maple Leaf) is the beaver. Now, some dismiss him as a rodent with overly large teeth–and there is some truth in this obsrvation. OK, a lot of truth, as the beaver is a member of the otherwise disreputable rodent family and his teeth are very large. But there is an underlying truth to his selection… in that of his behaviour.

    Inherent in the beaver’s selection is the belief that, by applying oneself, working hard and following through one can achieve anything, whether it is taking on challenegs apparently bigger than oneself (such as felling trees), or making a secure home when one didn’t have a home before, often in an unfamiliar environment (like emigrating to Canada in a way). We Canadians realise we can achieve anything we aim for, we can change the face of the Earth and the way people live on it if only we stop apologizing all the time and are willing to work for it–or, we ought to realise this anyway.

    Sorry for the long post and patriotic fervour. Very Un-Canadian of me. Sorry, LGS.

  4. I think Franklin was not talking about birds at all but rather speaking in code. Most old nursery rhymes and sing-song games are code for something political (like “London Bridge is falling down” and “Round the Mulberry bush” for example). I imagine he was speaking in code and referring to Washington as the eagle and Adams as the turkey. Adams was quite vain and was the first choice of many in the big political circles to be the first president. And if I am totally wrong on this, Franklin was still right in some respects: Most bald eagles have the character of vultures or sea gulls – eating trash and rotting things.

  5. Hey Crag,
    Didn’t you just say that Canadians should stop apologising all the time? So Stop apologising! Anyway, I fully agree with you. I am one fervent maple leaf waving Canadian-phile (especially after the Canadian Ice Hockey team beat the USA for the Olympic Gold medal).

    I think you are just bias cause turkey is more tasty.

  6. Unfortunately, I believe the animal symbol for Canada is the beaver *sigh* or the moose ~~ both comical characters, not to be taken too seriously. Oh, yes, and then we have the Canadian goose, which of course is loved all over the world (…not).

    We have a lot of mountain lions (cougars) here in British Columbia; they are beautiful, they stay in the background most of the time, and I have a great deal of respect for them. I guess if I had to choose, that would be my choice for Canada’s animal symbol.

  7. Hi Jo,
    There’s nothing wrong with the Moose. Why, squirrels and moose have had a long standing partnership fighting for justice and freeing the world from evil dictators! Or have you forgotten the great partnership of “Rocky and Bullwinkle”! As for the beaver, see Crag’s spirited defence of the beaver in his comment above. And finally, everywhere in the world, the maple leaf stands for a country of peace and justice. What more can you want! Another popular symbol of Canada is Pamela Anderson (I kid).

  8. Germany choose the eagle, I think it was because it was the Prussian Wappen Tier – and there was no other option 1871. Today it is displayed in the parliament, somtimes called “Fat Hen” (Fette Henne). Bavaria has a lion. We Franconians – at least to my actual knowledge – have no animal, but the “fränkischen Rechen as symbol. I think we simply are not that “national”. The German eagle btw came in a lot of variations through the last century or so, becoming overweight only on the Euro coins.
    A Franconian animal … I’d prefer either a squirrel or a cat. Definitly something furry, lovely and maverik (eigenwillig).

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