The American Phoenix: A Follow-Up

Last week I published a blog post comparing the phoenix to the bald eagle. As a recap, I discussed the adoption of the phoenix as the national bird in Zone One by Colson Whitehead. The United States now even refers to itself as the American Phoenix, and sells merchandise depicting the mythical creature in order to foster cohesion among the survivors, while giving them a sense of optimism. They even refer to the bird as the “pheenie” (Whitehead 99), as they become friendlier with the concept. Later in my post, I compared mortalities of the birds–the bald eagle is said to lead a long life, while the phoenix lives for hundreds of years, dies in a burst of flames, and is reborn from the ashes.

Professor McCoy sent me a link to an article from (I’ll attach the link below) shortly after reading my blog post, where Benjamin Franklin compares the bald eagle to the turkey. The article, “American Myths: Benjamin Franklin’s Turkey and the Presidential Seal” by Jimmy Stamp states that excerpts of a letter from Franklin, discovered by the Franklin Institute, comment on the respectability of the turkey and the bald eagle. According to Franklin, the bald eagle is “lazy” in the context that the bird often won’t fish for himself, but will wait for hawks to catch the fish first, and then steal the sustenance from the hawk. This idea of dishonesty brings us back to the first classes of this semester, where we discussed Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington. It reminds us of the larger course questions, such as consent–taking what’s not ours. For example, leading gynecologist Dr. Marion Sims tested black women against their will. “…a man who bought black women slaves and addicted them to morphine in order to perform dozens of exquisitely painful, distressingly intimate vaginal surgeries” (Washington 2). Dr. Sims cured various women’s disorders, however, he did this at the expense of the health of the women he tested. This doctor essentially stole the fish from the hawk. He is a human example of the bald eagle, in this context. He is precisely the creature Benjamin Franklin doesn’t want representing the United States.

Franklin then states:

“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” (Stamp).

This quote makes me wonder: how would a “leader” who cannot achieve his goals in a moral and ethical way be expected to help our country if it were under attack? Why do we want a bird of such few morals representing our country?


The link to the article:

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