Should we kill that turkey?
Survivor’s Guilt. Committing a crime just by being who you are. A massive genocide committed twice a year every year in a supposedly free country. This is the sad, terrifying way of life for millions in America. Every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, millions of turkeys are slaughtered without mercy.
Except for one.
One lone turkey among the millions of his or her fellows is always spared. But is it compassion? No, it’s an injury inflicted on the poor bird worse than the deaths of its friends and family. That turkey is taken to the White House and pardoned.
The origin of this cruel and barbarous act by the leader of we “victors” in the turkey slaughter are now lost in the mists of history and legend. One source says that a turkey was given to the Lincolns in 1863 for their Christmas dinner, but was spared by the president because his son Tad had befriended the bird. The modern tradition is generally attributed to President Harry Truman, when the National Turkey Federation presented him with one in 1947. However, there is no evidence of this in any of the archives in which his papers and photos reside. All the turkeys presented to President Eisenhower over his two terms are known to have been eaten. The first attested evidence of the president pardoning a turkey is dated in 1963, when John F. Kennedy spared the one presented to him a few days before he went to Texas (Perhaps the turkey was afraid Kennedy would change his mind). The tradition was formalized in 1989 during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, who issued a formal presidential pardon to the turkey.
After being pardoned, the turkey has usually been taken to a high security concentration camp (i.e. a farm) as part of a life sentence. In more recent years, as part of a new way to emphasize their subservience and demean this proud and noble flock, the turkey has been taken to a Disney resort to be grand marshall in the Thanksgiving Day parade.
Good God! That’s like the Soviet Union celebrating its birth with a parade led by supporters of the Tsar or Mensheviks.
Just imagine what the poor turkey must be going through. A few weeks before the parade he discovers that he’s the one who will survive the eating, who will be pardoned by the president while his parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, wife and his children will all be killed ruthlessly, then have their corpses desecrated, cooked and eaten. Contemplating that future throughout the year must have stressed him out, given him nightmares and depressed him.
At first, as you or I would be, he is elated. In love with life just from the mere fact of being alive, and maybe even feeling a little immortal. Full of vitality and energy, and happy for the first time in his life … until he sees a turkey who wasn’t so lucky. Instantly, reality sets in and the turkey’s psyche is utterly destroyed by the guilt of being the sole survivor of his generation. Of having to pass on the knowledge and history of the turkeys to the young ones and bear their questioning stares, “How did you survive?”
The turkey, now emotionally hollow and a shell of his former self, is then taken to Washington and from there to Florida to be grand marshall. He is made to be the guest of honor at a parade celebrating the genocide of his fellows. How can anything be so cruel?
An even crueler aspect of this barbaric presidential tradition is that the turkey’s life is not just spared. He receives a presidential pardon. Pardons are usually given out when the president feels that a person has been imprisoned (or may be imprisoned, as was the case with Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon in 1974) wrongly or unjustly. In other words, to be pardoned, a person needs to have been accused of committing a crime.
What crime has any turkey committed? They have always been loyal Americans, living and defending this land before there were any humans around, and they have kept themselves thoroughly protected against avian flu. Apparently, it is a crime for a turkey to be a turkey, and the punishment is death.
I believe that bald eagles are responsible for the oppression of turkeys. They have the best motives, having been rivals for many years. Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be America’s bird, pointing out “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 noting eagles’ bad morals, laziness and cowardice.
This is paranoia on the part of eagles, the turkeys are no threat to them. But perhaps, in the end, that’s the point. Mistrust, jealousy and fear have created a state of affairs where the ordinary eagle needs little motivation to abuse and torture the turkey. The eagles have also lost sight of their own role in the situation, forgetting that encouraging people to eat turkeys would result in there being more turkeys, while the eagle population has dwindled into endangerment. Let us all remember the horrifying consequences of such hatred this Thanksgiving.
Oh, and pass the gravy.
Matthew Robare is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.