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.
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.