Good ol' Ben Franklin had the goods on them. In 1784, in a letter to his only daughter, Mrs. Sarah Bache, he let it be known that he was not at all happy with the selection of the bald eagle as the national bird. No siree.
In a fit of anthropomorphic pique, he wrote that eagles "are of bad moral character," because they steal food from other birds. He called the bird "lazy" and also, most unkind cut of all, "a rank coward." He wrote that he would much rather have the wild turkey as the national bird.
A nation of turkeys? Now, see here, Ben.
The citizens of Haines, Alaska—the winter home of 3,500 to 4,000 bald eagles, the world's largest concentration of the species—are also saying nasty things about eagles these days. For example:
"Preservationists could use manipulation to tie up a vast area. In that case the eagles would be in real danger. People in Haines might be so frustrated they would vent their anger in a wholesale slaughter of the Haines eagles. There's no question but what these eagles can be destroyed in a very short period. It would take a platoon of army to protect those eagles"—Spokesman for the Haines Independent Business Association, as reported by the Southeast Alaska Empire, Dec. 4, 1978. And: "Blank them blank eagles"—Patriotic citizen, overheard in the Rip Tide Bar, Dec. 4, 1979.
What has happened in Haines is that the bald eagles, some of which winter in a relatively small local sanctuary, have become an anti-symbol for most (yes, most) of the local citizens, who number 1,500. Behind the cry of "Rally round the flag" and in true American tradition, a petition was circulated, asking that Haines "create a permanent legal defense fund by any method deemed necessary, including taxation, sale of property or otherwise, in the amount that will provide adequate legal defense on issues affecting our destiny...." The petition was put in stores and local bars by a group known as the Haines Coalition, an alliance of the Alaska Miners' Association, the Haines Independent Business Association and other local groups. In the first week more than 500 adults signed—a substantial showing from a town of that size.
A letter to the editor in the local weekly, Lynn Canal News, from a spokesman of the Haines Coalition stated that "your signature [on the petition] symbolizes your desire to prevail over the enemies of liberty and justice, and to defend the concept of a democracy and government by the people, for the people."
Pretty heavy stuff. Confusing, too? No, downright bizarre. Perhaps a brief question-and-answer session might be of value.
Q. Who are these enemies of liberty and justice?
A. The people who want to save the eagle.