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Presidential War Rhetoric. Kriegsrhetorik Amerikanischer Präsidenten am Beispiel des Irakkonflikts

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2004 47 Seiten

Medien / Kommunikation - Medien und Politik, Pol. Kommunikation


I. Structure

1. Introduction

2. Legitimisation of a war
2.1 Aims to improve the social and political situation in Iraq
2.2 Establishment of “friend- and foe-images”
2.3 Comparison Hussein’s with Hitler
2.4 Tenses and time references
2.5 Description of efforts to avoid a war
2.6 The worlds interest in Hussein’s banishment
2.7 Religious motives

3. Rhetorical devices
3.1 Pronouns
3.2 Syntax
3.2.1 Concise language structures
3.2.2 Colloquial language
3.2.3 Superlative forms and boosting devices
3.2.4 Intransitive verbs
3.3 Linguistic figures
3.3.1 Introduction
3.3.2 Anaphora
3.3.3 Anadiplosis
3.3.4 Tautology
3.3.5 Polysyndeton
3.3.6 Climax
3.3.7 Hendiadys
3.3.8 Alliteration
3.3.9 Asyndeton
3.3.10 Pleonasm
3.3.11 “Three-part-list”
3.3.12 Contrastive pair
3.3.13 Euphemism
3.3.14 Metaphor
3.3.15 Personification, Metonymy and Synecdoche

4. Conclusion

II. Bibliography

III. Enclosures

George H. Bush: Address on the Start of the Persian Gulf War. While the World Waited (1991) 41

Bill Clinton: Radio Address of the President to the Nation (1998) 43

George W. Bush: President Says Saddam Hussein Must Leave Kuwait Within 48 Hours (2003) 45

1. Introduction

Politics is connected with power. The acquisition of power, and the enforcement of a political belief can be achieved in a number of ways. One of the most obvious methods is through physical coercion. Under despotic and military regimes (for instance the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler), those in power often control people by using force. But also democracies can utilize language as a force to manipulate, influence and control people.[1] In this assignment I will illustrate how language is employed to achieve political aims; particularly I will show how even nowadays politicians adopt original Greek rules of speech to increase the impact of their ideas and to persuade their audience of the validity of the politician’s basic claims.[2] Rhetoric is the “ancient skill of elegant and persuasive speaking”[3] or the “art of persuasive discourse[4][5]. And persuasion “is an art, primarily verbal, by which you get somebody to do what you want and make him at the same time, think that this is what he wanted to do all the time”[6]. The Greek philosopher Plato and Socrates believed rhetoric is the “mother of lies… distorts and conceals the truth”[7] and people who are insincere in their motives manipulate their audience.[8]

To examine the war rhetoric throughout U.S. history I will use three speeches of George H. Bush (“While The World Waited”, 1991), Bill Clinton (“Radio Address Of The President To The Nation”, 1998) and the ultimatum speech of George W. Bush (“President Says Saddam Hussein Must Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours”, 2003), which opened the attack against the Iraq. All of the speeches are characterized through the long traditional presidential war rhetoric of America[9]. They realize their aims and objectives through rhetorical argumentations and linguistic persuasive devices that are similar in all three speeches.

In the first part of this assignment I will show how the presidents clarify reasons and define purposes of war, explain and justify their sanctions and create a “friend and foe image”. Subsequently I will have a closer look to rhetorical figures and linguistic strategies that are employed by the presidents.

2. Legitimisation of a war

2.1 Aims to improve the social and political situation in Iraq

To justify and legitimate a war in front of the United Nations and the American people the president’s use the following strategies: In all speeches is said that war is not only based on economical interests, there must also result an improvement of the social and political situation. The USA is symbolized as the defender of the principle of peace. Peace can be also enforced through war. Therefore under international law classified war of aggression against Iraq is modified into a defensive warfare. The president’s emphasize their good intentions in the following way. George H. Bush says for instance: “Our objectives are clear. Saddam Hussein’s forces will leave Kuwait. The legitimate government will be restored to its rightful place and Kuwait will once again free” (line 21-23). Clinton’s speech illustrates it as well: “I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, in the Gulf and all around the world, who work every day to defend our freedom, promote stability and democracy, and bring hope” (line 47-49) and George W. Bush also emphasizes their social objectives: “we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down apparatus of terror and we will help you to built a new Iraq that is prosperous and free” (line 64-65).

2.2 Establishment of “friend- and foe-images”

Furthermore America’s self-perception and well-prepared “friend and foe image” play a very significant role in the argumentation of the presidents referring to justify a war. Hussein occurs in the three speeches as the personalization[10] of the ill and evil. The “foe image” is only pointed at him (and his regime). George H. Bush blames over 30 times Saddam Hussein and over 20 times Clinton and George W. Bush blame him. Nearly in every paragraph of the speeches Saddam Hussein is personal charged and indicted. It is also underlined that the president’s “foe image” is not pointed at Iraqi people. (George H. Bush: “We have no argument with the people of Iraq” (line 62-63), Clinton: “we will continue to support the ongoing program to provide humanitarian supplies to the people of Iraq” (line 38-39), “we’ll strengthen our engagement with Iraqis who want a new government, one that will respect its citizens” (line 41-42), George W. Bush: “If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you [Iraqi people].” (line 61-63))

Moreover, one solution to justify external aggression is to manipulate and control the fears of the own people, to establish a strong “foe image” and to emphasize the difference between good and evil (George W. Bush says “evil man” in line 110). Reasons for a war are weapons of mass destruction, an undemocratic state, oppression of Iraqi people, and in the speech of George W. Bush are also terrorist activities explained. Therefore if one argument fails, it is possible to use another argument to wage a war. Through the high number of reasons the Iraq is described as the biggest danger for the whole world. All presidents use negative framework to establish a pessimistic image of the world. They use a number of linguistic techniques to instill the image of a dark and evil world in connection with Saddam Hussein. Catastrophic words and pessimistic phrases create the atmosphere of fear and anxiety and establish the impression of a scary view of a world where Saddam Hussein still rules. All presidents employ frequently and excessive words like “threat”, “to threaten”, “attack”, “destroy”, “dictator”, “weapons”, “brutal”, “cruel” and call Saddam Hussein over and over a “danger” to the whole world that could bring terror and destruction. The mediated message is that Saddam is coming, that he is coming soon, and the United States should better act before Saddam Hussein strikes America, strikes “you”- meaning the audience.

On the one hand the president’s point out the cruelty of their enemies (“foe image”) and justify through it (negative) reasons for a war (against what) and on the other hand they highlight America’s values and traditions (self-perception) and justify through it (positive) reasons for a war (wherefore). Phrases like “freedom”, “justice” and “peace” or “fear” and “cruelty” symbolize metonymically either the USA and its values or Saddam Hussein and his cruelty:

George H. Bush refers to America with phrases like: “peace and justice” (line 10), “peace” (line 13), “peaceful” (line 15), “government … will be restored to its rightful place, and Kuwait will once again be free” (line 22-23), “when peace is restored” (line 24), “Iraq will live as peaceful” (line 25), “security and stability of the gulf” (line 25-26), “bring the crises to a peaceful end” (line 38-39), “every overture of peace” (line 41), “prayed for peace” (line 41-42), “peacekeeping role” (line 62), “liberation of Kuwait” (line 64), “peace-loving nations” (line 66), “think of peace, not war” (line 68), “freedom” (line 76) etc.

In connection with Saddam Hussein George H. Bush uses phrases like: “dictator of Iraq” (line 3), “was crushed, its people brutalized” (line 4), “cruel war” (line 5), “nuclear bomb potential” (line 18), “chemical weapons” (line 18), “vast military arsenal” (line 20), “Saddam … raped, pillaged, and plundered a tiny nation no threat to his own. He subjected the people of Kuwait to unspeakable atrocities, and among those maimed and murdered, innocent children.” (line 30-31), “chemical weapons arsenal” (line 33), “dangerous weapon of mass destruction – a nuclear weapon” (line 34), “moved massive forces into Kuwait” (line 35), “damage was being done” (line 36), “stalling and threatening and defying the United Nations” (line 39), “prepared for war” (42), brutally assault its neighbor” (line 70), “terrible crimes and tortures committed by Saddam” (line 74-75), “brutality and lawlessness” (line 78) etc.

Clinton shows the values of America by saying: “fighting for security, peace and freedom” (line 2), “provide humanitarian supplies to the people of Iraq… food and medicine” (line 38-39), “new government, one that will respect its citizens and live in peace with its neighbors” (line 41-42), “bringing Iraq a government worthy of its people” (line 44-46), “defend our freedom, promote stability and democracy, and bring hope” (line 49), “insure a just and peaceful world” (line 55), “enter the season of peace” (line 56), “live in peace, with tolerance, respect, and civility” (line 57) etc.

According to Saddam Hussein Clinton utilizes words like: “nuclear weapons, poison gas, biological weapons” (line 8), “used such terrible weapons against soldiers, against his neighbors, against civilians” (line 9-10), “weapons” (line 13), “hindering and preventing inspections, withholding and destroying documents” (line 22), “rebuilt his arsenal and threaten his neighbors” (line 25), “disperse his forces and protect his arsenal” (line 27), “weapons of mass destruction, and threaten the region” (line 28-29), “threatening action” (line 32), “weapons of mass destruction, menacing his neighbors” (line 33), “rebuilding his weaponry” (line 37), “tanks and missiles” (line 40) etc.

And George W. Bush highlights as well the special values of America: “Peaceful efforts” (line 12), “peaceful” (line 13), “safety” (line 26), “national security” (line 29), “peace” (line 36), “peacefully” (line 56), “prosperous and free” (line 65), “liberation” (line 68), “peaceful entry” (line 70), “security” (line 94, 96), “liberty and peace” (line 120) etc.

Whereas referring to Saddam Hussein George W. Bush employs phrases to point out his cruelty like: “weapon inspectors have been threatened by Iraqi officials, electronically bagged, and systematically deceived” (line 11-12), “lethal weapon” (line 15), “weapons of mass destruction” (line 16), “reckless aggression” (line 18), “deep hatred” (line 18), “aided, trained and harbored terrorists” (line 19), “al Qaeda” (line 20), “The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons” (line 21), “terrorists” (line 22), “kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people” (line 22-23), “threat” (line 24), “tragedy” (line 25), “day of horror” (line 26), “danger” (line 26), “threat” (line 31, 33, 51), “aggressive dictators” (line 35), “attack the innocent” (line 35), “danger” (line 42, 50), “dictator” (line 55), “apparatus of terror” (line 64), “wars of aggression” (line 65-66), “poison factories, nor more executions… torture chambers and rape rooms” (line 66-67), “tyrant” (line 67), “weapons of mass destruction” (line 71) etc.

2.3 Comparison Hussein’s with Hitler

Another linguistic feature utilized by George W. Bush to produce fears and justify a war is a comparison Saddam Hussein’s with Adolf Hitler. By explaining the reasons the U.N. was founded (“confront aggressive dictators”, line 35) he implies that Saddam Hussein is an “aggressive dictator” as well. Another equalization of Hussein and Hitler, and of Iraqis and Germans is made in this sentence: “And it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders’” (line 79). Hitler is a well-known “foe-image” with well-known connotations and thus George W. Bush defines a new “foe-image” with old characteristics. Through this generalisation and stereotyping[11] he aims to convince his audience towards a war. Being against it implies being in favor of a dictator like Adolf Hitler. (George H. Bush also made parallels between Hitler and Hussein during his term. Therefore the comparison of George W. Bush evokes the old negative picture of Hussein.[12]) George W. Bush also refers to the airplane attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on 11. September 2001 by saying “It [the regime] has deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda” (line 18-20) and “he [Hussein] and terrorists groups might try to conduct terrorist operations against the American people and our friends” (line 86-87). Clinton says that Hussein “has used such terrible weapons… [and] he’ll use them again” (line 9-11) and George W. Bush also agues that Saddam Hussein “has already used weapons of mass destructions” and implies with it the evidence that he would use them again. Thus they justify a defensive warfare as well.

2.4 Tenses and time references

The presidents also employ time references in their speeches to enforce the impression of a long-time dangerous “threat”. In connection with the central use of “now”, “tonight” and “today” the presidents utilize the present perfect to lead over to the present as a moment of crisis. They illustrate through tenses that there always was a “threat”, but which is still present.

George H. Bush expresses for instance: “Just to hours ago, allied forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak.” (line 1-2), “These conflict started August 2 [1990]… tonight, the battle has been joined.” (line 3-5), “Now, the 28 countries… have no choice but to drive Saddam from Kuwait by force.” (line 15-16), “Tonight 28 nations… standing shoulder and shoulder against Saddam Hussein.” (line 49-50)

Clinton points out the present danger by saying: “For seven and a half years, United Nations weapon inspectors did a truly remarkable job… But over the past year Saddam has repeatedly blocked their efforts.” (line 12-15), “For three weeks, the U.N. inspectors tested Saddam’s commitment. He failed the test…” (line 21-22), “Now, where do we go from here?” (line 31), “To those forces now engaged in the battle against Saddam Hussein.” (line 49-50)

And George W. Bush states: “events in Iraq has now reached the final days of decision” (line 1-2), “the world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy” (line 6), “All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end.” (line 56-57), “Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed” (line 45), “Many Iraqis can hear me tonight.” (line 61), “And tonight, as we have done before, America and our allies accept that responsibility.” (line 126-127)

2.5 Description of efforts to avoid a war

Another possibility to justify and legitimate a war in front of the United Nations and American people is to emphasize that Hussein was warned several times in the past. They argue that war is the only possibility, which is left because all peaceful efforts have failed again and again. As a peaceful nation they explain that they had done everything to avoid a war, exhausted all efforts (sanctions, warnings, meetings, waited, hoped, prayed) to reach a peaceful resolution. The presidents also create the impression that only Saddam is responsible and in charge for a war. It is up to him if there is war or peace. (George W. Bush pronounces it in line 80: “Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation”).

George H. Bush emphasizes that they have done everything to reach a peaceful end by saying: “The military action … follows months of constant and virtually endless diplomatic activity” (line 6-7), “Arab leaders sought was became known as an Arab solution… Others traveled to Baghdad in a variety of efforts to restore peace and justice… only to be totally rebuffed.” (line 9-11), “This past weekend, in a last-ditch effort, the secretary general … went to Middle East … his second such mission. And he came back from Baghdad with no progress” (line 12-14), “exhausted all reasonable efforts to reach a peaceful resolution” (line 15-16), “Sanctions… showed no signs of accomplishing their objective. Sanctions were tried for well over five months…” (line 27-29), “The United States, together with the United Nations, exhausted every means at our disposal to bring this crises to a peaceful end.” (line 38-39), “Saddam was warned over and over again to comply with the will of the United Nations…Saddam arrogantly rejected all warnings.” (line 46-47), “These countries had hoped the use of force could be avoided. Regrettably, we now believe that only force will make him leave.” (line 50-51)

Clinton explains it in the following way: “But over the past year Saddam repeatedly has blocked their efforts” (line 14-15), “He failed the test, hindering and preventing inspections, withholding and destroying documents. As their Chairman concluded, the inspectors can no longer do their vital job.” (line 21-23)

And George W. Bush argues: “For more than a decade, the United States and other nations have pursued patient and honorable efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime without war.” (line 2-3), “Since then, the world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy. We have passed more than a dozen resolutions in the United Nations Security Council. We have sent hundreds of weapons inspectors to oversee the disarmament of Iraq. Our good faith has not been returned.” (line 6-8), “Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again -- because we are not dealing with peaceful men.” (line 12-13)

2.6 The worlds interest in Hussein’s banishment

In connection with justifying a war all presidents point out repeatedly that not only the USA are interested in Hussein’s banishment, but also the whole world. George H. Bush initiates five following sentences with the Anaphor: “While the world waited…” (line 30,33,34,36,41), and expresses that “no nation can stand against a world united” (line 70), Clinton says: “United Nations weapon inspectors did a truly remarkable job” (line 12-13), “U.N. inspectors tested Saddam Hussein’s commitment” (line 21) and George W. Bush states that the “world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy” (line 6), “demands of the world” (line 52) and “The terrorists threat to America and the world will be diminished at the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed” (line 89-90).

2.7 Religious motives

The presidents also use religious motives to highlight the well-meant and higher intensions of the attack. George H. Bush says: “While the world prayed for peace…” (line 41-42), “Tonight, as our forces fight, they and their families are in our prayers. May God bless each and every one of them…” (line 88-90). Clinton also acts in his speech as a religious person: “Our thoughts and prayers are with them" (line 3-5). George W. Bush ends his speech as well with the words “may God continue to bless America” (line 128), instead of “God bless you”. It implies that if God already blesses a nation they can’t act in a wrong and flagitious way. The president’s feel confident to fight with the support of God against the “devil” Saddam.


[1] Cf. Atkinson (1984), p.1-8

[2] Cf. Beard (2000), p. 36/ Dixon (1971), p.64/ Cockcroft, R./ Cockcroft, S. (1992), p.4-7

[3] Jones/ Wareing (1999), p. 41

[4] “Discourse is a comprehensive term used by modern linguists to denote continuous form of spoken and written communication. Discourse analysis signifies the study of naturally occurring spoken language, text analysis the study of the structures of written language.” (Cockcroft, R./ Cockcroft, S. (1992), p.3)

[5] Cockcroft, R./ Cockcroft, S. (1992), p.3

[6] Brooks/ Warren (1970), p.238

[7] Dixon (1971), p.64

[8] Cf. Beard (2000), p.35/ Dixon (1971), p.64

[9] According to Campbell and Jamieson presidential war rhetoric manifests throughout the U.S. history five pivotal and recurrent characteristics: “(1) Every element in it proclaims that the momentous decision to resort to force is deliberate, the product of thoughtful consideration. (2) Forceful intervention is justified through a chronicle or narrative from which argumentative claims are drawn. (3) The audience is exhorted to unanimity of purpose and total commitment. (4) The rhetoric not only justifies the use of force but also seeks to legitimate presidential assumption of the extraordinary powers of the commander in chief; and, as a function of these other characteristics. (5) Strategic misrepresentations play an unusually significant role in its appeals.” (Campbell/ Jamieson (1990), p.105/ Volmert (1993), p.203)

[10] Cf. Mervin (1996), p.183

[11] Cf. Talbot/ Atkinson, K./ Atkinson, D. (2003), p.319

[12] Cf. Mervin (1996), p.183


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Presidential Rhetoric Kriegsrhetorik Amerikanischer Präsidenten Beispiel Irakkonflikts




Titel: Presidential War Rhetoric. Kriegsrhetorik Amerikanischer Präsidenten am Beispiel des Irakkonflikts