Talks... In More Ways Than One
By Pab Sungenis
Any historian, not to mention any collector of ancient coins,
will tell you that one of the best ways to judge a society
is by what they put on their money. Commemoration of great
events, beloved leaders, and symbols of what a society considers
important are immortalized through the images on coins and
Consider what is probably the most recognizable ancient coin:
the tetradrachm of Athens, whose portrait of Athena and an
owl signified the city state's appreciation of wisdom. A modern
version of this coin can be seen on Greece's new Euro coin,
renewing that commitment to the ideals of Athens.
There are symbols on our money, as well. From the beginning
the United States has used its coins and currency to express
our values, from the early idealized heads of the Goddess
of Liberty to the commemoration of great leaders like Abraham
Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But this year, the Bush Administration
is changing two of the more important pieces of currency,
and their choice of symbols sends a shockwave through anyone
with enough knowledge to decipher the symbols.
First of all, take out a dollar bill and turn it over. See
the eagle on the back? The eagle, as our national bird, represents
our country, and holds two items in its talons. In its right
claw (the position of honor) the eagle holds an olive branch,
in its left a bundle of arrows. This placement, taken from
the Great Seal of the United States, represents that our nation
prefers peace but is prepared to defend itself when needed.
Every eagle on our currency (at least those that carry the
two symbols) since 1807 has followed this example, sending
the message that the United States is a peace-loving nation,
but will not allow its love of peace to be taken advantage
of any more.
Not any more. This fall, the Bush Administration is rolling
out a new $20.00 bill. Even though it is the most common bill
in circulation, the $20.00 is not the most often counterfeited;
that honor goes to the $100.00. But Bush has decided to lead
the way in this wave of currency redesign with the bill that
most Americans, and most foreign nationals, will see the most
One of the "enhancements" to the bill is the addition
of what the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (you can see
the design for yourself at the their
website) refers to as Symbols of Liberty. To the left
of Andrew Jackson, the bill shows a large eagle facing the
former President and the bill holder. In its right talon the
eagle holds…a bundle of arrows. In its left talon, held as
far away from its body as is anatomically possible, is an
Anyone who knows symbolism (and, more importantly for Europeans
who might see the bill, knows heraldry) can easily decipher
the message that those of us who have been fighting the dictatorial
grip of Bush for years have long known. Bush's America holds
war in the highest regard, but is willing to accept peace
when (and only when) it suits our purposes. Bush is sending
a message to the world: the United States' doctrine is now
one of war whenever possible. While some may say that the
decision was a mistake (like the claims that Iraq was trying
to buy Uranium from Niger?) Bush's actions in the past two
years suggest otherwise.
As if this change wasn't enough, there is a new nickel on
the way as well. Later this year, the reverse ("tails"
side) of the nickel is being redesigned in commemoration of
the Louisiana Purchase. The image that the Bush Administration
has selected for this coin? The reverse of the Jefferson Indian
Peace Medal of 1803.
While some may find this selection reassuring, consider the
medal's history. The Jefferson Peace Medal, like those used
by most early Presidents, was given as a gift to the chiefs
of tribes who signed treaties with Washington. Of course,
the United States has abrogated most, if not all, of the Indian
treaties it has signed. Using this design commemorates the
American tradition of "say what it takes to get them
on your side, then go ahead and do whatever you want."
As the President who pulled out of Kyoto and the ABM treaty,
Bush will feel at home with a nickel that remembers broken
promises and false treaties.
The message to the world? You may think you're our allies
now, but when we choose to, we will gladly turn our backs
on you, as we did with the Native Americans. Hopefully, they
won't get the impression that we will take the next step with
all of them that we did with the Indians: wholesale slaughter
and genocide. If they do, then we may find ourselves on the
receiving end of a Bush-like doctrine of pre-emptive war.
In 1996, right after the $100.00 bill was redesigned for
the first time, Presidential candidate Steve Forbes promised
that if he became President, he would order the bill back
to its old design. If a Democrat unseats Bush next year, I
would hope that he or she would follow through on a commitment
to order the values expressed on the new $20.00 bill and nickel
back to what they had been before: peace, preparedness, and
co-operation, not war and self-interest.
Pab Sungenis is a radio host, Democratic Committeman, movie
theater owner, and wishes he had more of the older designs
of money, or indeed any money, than he currently does.