Sunday, November 24, 2019


Lauded as the King of Beasts and King of Birds, respectively, lions and eagles are fearsome alpha predators atop the food chain. Both are living proof of the savagery and, paradoxically, the intrinsic beauty in creation. Watching a maned lion strut across the savannah at dusk or an eagle soar effortlessly out of sight can take the breath away. So regal, awe-inspiring, and oblivious of external validation are they, that humans have extolled them for ages. 

From ancient Mesopotamia to the Middle Ages, and beyond, the lion has long been associated with sovereigns and the aristocracy, who shamelessly appropriated the lion’s stardust. Consider the intriguing case of King Henry I who, in 1100 AD, added the lion to the royal banner of England, then co-opted a second from his wife’s family. By 1154 AD, two lions became three, courtesy of King Henry II.

Empires like Persia and Rome, on their part, celebrated the eagle as a symbol of courage and divinity. The German coat of arms features a muscle-flexing black eagle with a red beak and red feet. Not to be outdone, Russia incorporated the double-headed eagle in its official emblem. Last but not the least, the seal of the United States projects the bald eagle as a mark of freedom, liberty, strength, power and majesty.”

Although lions are indigenous to the tropics and numerous species of eagles dot continents, the traditions of diverse cultures allude to the creatures’ nobility, mystique and legend. Lions may appear languid but few natural phenomena can match the sudden explosion of a crouched lion’s onslaught. Yet, lions are known to spend 80% of each day asleep, patrol at night to protect prides, prefer to hunt solo, but leave heavy chores like food sourcing and taking care of the young to lionesses. If any of this sounds familiar, reflect on the lifestyle of the privileged ruling class. But to prove their superiority as the ultimate predators, royals often made a big show of hunting and bagging lions as trophies, wisely from a safe distance.

Notably, the eagle is renowned for being able to glide to heights that other birds cannot reach, which enables it to build its nest at discrete locations. From its vaunted perch, and with eyesight that is up to five times better than human vision, the eagle can spot its prey from afar, swoop in at incredible speed, and attack with its talons. When breeding, a female eagle usually lays two eggs. After hatching, a grotesque process unfolds whereby the stronger of the newborns often kills its kin without the parents batting an eyelid.

In short, lions and eagles are highly efficient killing machines that are universally admired for their power, audacity, ruthlessness, independence, and imperious aura. On a planet noted for its survival of the fittest doctrine, early humans may have drawn pragmatic lessons from nature to ensure their survival. However, as human beings evolved and became more civilised, should we really continue to live according to the dogma of aggression and barbarity?

The pacifist gesture of stripping the images of lions and eagles from institutions' coats of arms, crests and banners is obviously very radical, and possibly naive. No doubt, the idea would leave many traditionalists crestfallen and may rattle the cages of power hogs. Mind you, how many hereditary rulers and old-fashioned monarchs with real power are left anywhere? But, given that the world remains highly militarised and operates under the principle of might is right, will anything ever change?

Not only are military strategists always fighting the last war, for long the mindset hardly shifted from bygone days when armies deployed soldiers wielding swords and shields, and fought toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose on blood-soaked battlefields. Those were the days when it paid to look and fight like a lionheart. A century ago, when military aviation commenced, many pilots proudly depicted the eagle on their aircraft fuselage. Now what?

Increasingly, the world’s most powerful nations are building and deploying lethal pilot-less drones. They are also designing and testing autonomous fighting troops, essentially robots, that are programmed to destroy enemy combatants. It is therefore possible to envision a future when armed forces will activate elite commando units on special missions, while infantry soldiers and pilots would operate joysticks attached to digital workstations. Of course, old-fashioned shooting wars will continue in poorer regions of the world, whereas the big powers dare not confront each other for fear of triggering a nuclear exchange.   

In my opinion, the world has two choices: to pursue global peace or to live under the constant threat of mass and indiscriminate destruction. On the face of it, the former sounds utopian and unrealistic, since it would take the wisdom of Solomon to negotiate total and verifiable nuclear disarmament. On the other hand, the calculus of the next world war does not compute, simply because it cannot be fought and won. Remember that the humiliated ‘losing’ side will still possess residual warheads and motivation to destroy the world many times over. So, what alternative do we have? I have a token, anti-war, proposal.

On thimplausible path to global harmony, let us replace the lion with a lamb and the eagle with a dove, their temperamental opposites. By symbolically breaking from the past, at least future generations will have a more positive frame of reference. Maybe someday we will finally realise that the meek are indeed destined to inherit the earth.


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