Two months before the French King Louis and his wife, Mary-Antoinette, were imprisoned signaling the start of the French Revolution, a group of businessmen, farmers, writers, and physicians met across the Atlantic Ocean in Philadelphia. The date was June 20th, 1782. They came from 13 American colonies to meet in the church turned temporary Congressional Hall. The Capitol building standing today was not yet completed in Washington, DC. They met to choose a national symbol that best captured the American spirit., For the past 7 years, they fought the British monarchy-then seen as the world’s greatest war machine. With their combined will and might, Americans defeated England-an an empire with ten times the resources. The first Americans and their families fought for liberty, freedom, and equality for all citizens. The Second Continental Congress selected the Bald Eagle as the national symbol of the newly formed United States of America.
The bald eagle was a common sight in the Colonies in 1792. To most, it represented a new America “on the wing and rising”. The eagle embodied the unified sense of independence and might Americans have felt after a long struggle with tyranny. Not all of our Founding Fathers identified with the “American Eagle”. Playing the devil’s advocate, Benjamin Franklin wrote this lament about the Bald Eagle;
“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 [Ospry]; 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.”
He much preferred the Turkey:
“For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America. He is besides, tho’ a little vain and 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.”
Benjamin Franklin may have written this as an opportunity to express his famous wit, perhaps to warn fellow Americans of the natural enemy of a unified American people-self-interest and irrational fear.
Nearly 150 years later, Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt delivered these powerful words the Congress in 1941 after the terror attack on Pearl Harbor by the powerful Imperial Japanese navy:
“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
One of Japan’ great WWII admirals, Isoroku Yamamoto, who had opposed war with the United States, famously said,
“I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”
And that is exactly what happened. By 1944, American factory workers produced 25 times more bomber than the Japanese. Six million men and women volunteered to fight Imperial Japanese tyranny in faraway lands. Americans again united in response to an imminent threat to the American way of life, freedom, or equality for all. We became that “sleeping giant”, awakened, and we were supremely pissed off.
As we fight the COVID19 pandemic, the American spirit has again risen up across the nation, in pockets, to meet the challenge. Healthcare provides volunteering to treat critically ill patients in the New York City emergency rooms, a grandmother sewing masks for a nursing home resident, and 300,000,000 people sheltering in place to protect themselves and the elderly and sick.
When Americans saw the, after 20 years of the Opiate Epidemic, a landscape strewn with the bodies of our American youth, that sleeping giant began to stir. The tyranny of those policymakers, law enforcement professionals, and medical professionals who held to a moral or punitive approach to addiction treatment began to lose credibility. Our South Hill’s Recovery Project clients are familiar with the battle we fought with governmental agencies for our right to choose life-saving treatment with buprenorphine.
Our patients, being treated themselves for Opiate Use Disorder, have stepped-up. I can report we have had nearly 100% of our active clients have kept appointments. They paid their fees so those disadvantaged currently can receive care at South Hills Recovery Project. We don’t advertise this, but Natalie, co-founder, and coordinator gives away around $1000/month of free care.
The American Spirit, as symbolized by the American Eagle, lives in us 225 years later. An Eagle ever vigilant for predators, foreign and domestic, who would prey on our weak or disadvantaged. In these historic times of trouble, let us reflect on who we are, and what we can accomplish together. We must fight for life liberty, and equality for all Americans- our life, freedom and fair treatment depend on it.
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