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The Instrumentalization of Fear in the Rhetorics of George W. Bush. A Linguistic Analysis

Hausarbeit 2015 21 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Linguistik


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Emotions as a Political Instrument: Terror Management Theory and its Relevance
2.1 Fear and Mortality Salience According to Terror Management Theory
2.2 Out-group Stigmatization as a Result of Mortality Salience
2.3 TMT and post-9/11 attitude change in America
2.4 Rhetoric Instrumentalization of Prejudice, Fear and Patriotism

3. George Bush’s post 9/11 Policies, Speech Context and Content

4. Speech Analysis
4.1 Frequency, Context and Text Position of Emotional Content in Bush’s Speeches
4.1.1 Emotion-related words
4.1.2 Keywords
4.1.3 Words Related to Ethic and Moral Values and Judgment
4.1.4 Mortality Salience - and Death-related Words and Phrases
4.2 Rational Arguments: Linguistic and Logic Analysis and Criticism

5. Other Speech Analyses of Bush’s 2001 and 2002 Speeches

6. Connection to Terror Management Theory and Conclusion

7. References

1. Introduction

George Bush’s presidency, and particularly his foreign policy, was strongly influenced by the attacks on the World Trade Center on September the 11th, 2001. Not only did the attacks strengthen American patriotism and create a strong awareness of and antipathy against the threat of religiously motivated terrorism, but they also changed the president’s foreign policy and influenced his public image in an unpredictable way. In the days and weeks that followed 9/11, he explained the events to the public in more detail, but also advertised and advocated his political response. Under his initiative, a military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan was launched. This campaign was part of the “war on terror” (Bush 2001: 2. Hereafter referred to as B1), a vague term which Bush coined and which would dominate American foreign policy for over ten years from then on. Bush frequently used this strong term in his speeches to justify any kind of military action taken against a global threat. He simplified the political matter of terrorism in his speeches by dividing the world clearly into good and evil, by ignoring Al Qaeda’s motivation for the attack and any possibility for a diplomatic solution, and by describing the matter in a very emotional manner, often devoid of logical reasoning. Instead of clearly and fully explaining his political actions, Bush resorted to the use of simple and emotive appeals to Americans’ sense of justice and patriotism, thereby presenting himself as a compassionate and righteous president.

Through purposeful rhetorical instrumentalization of the emotions that were evoked by the events, Bush tried and managed to convince Americans of his cause with a simplistic, biased depiction of the American struggle against the terrorist threat. By analyzing parts of his speeches, this paper shall prove that George Bush justified his war policies for Afghanistan and Iraq in avoidance of purely rational arguments by appealing to the audience’s negative emotions about out-groups, the American sense of patriotism and (American) moral values, and fear. In order to clarify the effectiveness of his rhetoric style, it shall draw on a psychological construct called Terror Management Theory, which will be explained and connected to the events of 9/11. It shall then briefly depict George Bush’s political situation, his standpoint and policies concerning terrorism, and the situation directly after 9/11, before conducting a detailed analysis of four of his speeches. This analysis shall contain the frequency, context and desired effects of his use of emotion- related words and phrases, the death-and moral-related terms he uses, and criticism on his rational arguments. It shall also explain how Bush’s rhetoric style directly connects with claims of Terror Management Theory. Last but not least, this analysis shall be compared with different analyses of Bush’s war rhetoric in order to further support and possibly expand the thesis.

2. Emotions as a Political Instrument: Terror Management Theory and its Relevance

The following paragraph shall provide an overview of the theoretical foundation for the analysis of Bush’s speeches, and explain how both political attitudes and emotions are related to events like the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In doing so, it shall enable a psychological insight into the emotional and rhetoric mechanisms Bush consciously or unconsciously incorporated into his speeches.

2.1 Fear and Mortality Salience According to Terror Management Theory

Terror Management Theory, or TMT, is a broad theory on the effects of mortality salience that was developed in 1986. (Burke et al. 2010: 155) Mortality salience is defined as “the cognitive accessibility and process through which an individual considers the inevitability of their own death.” ( 2015) Since then, the theory has been verified, enriched and expanded by hundreds of studies, most of which share common characteristics. (Burke et al. 2010: 156) The essential proposition of TMT is that, when an individual is forced to deal with the eventuality of its decease, its attitude toward out- groups – “a group that is distinct from one’s own and so usually an object of hostility or dislike” (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary 2015) – changes in a negative way: Its prejudices and desire to act against an out-group become stronger while its willingness to associate with that group declines. (Ochsmann 2002: 8) On the other hand, mortality salience increases the individual’s sense of patriotism and belonging to its own in-group or culture. (Ochsmann 2002: 8) Its effects are at the same time more distinct and more fundamental than those of ordinary fear. Mortality salience is distinguished from the general emotion of fear insofar as that it is directed toward only one existential, abstract thought and not necessarily to an acute threat – unlike fear (of a specific object, person or thought), the thought of mortality accompanies us throughout our daily lives, but is suppressed by distal and proximal defense mechanisms. (Ochsmann 2002: 4ff) The distal defense mechanisms, which are the subject of most TMT-related research, include the individual’s self-value and worldview. Their function also provides an explanation for TMT’s implications concerning out-group tolerance.

2.2 Out-group Stigmatization as a Result of Mortality Salience

According to TMT, the individual is mainly protected from the omnipresent fear of death (mortality salience) by two defense mechanisms, namely its self-value and worldview. (Burke et al. 2010: 155) While the former provides a meaning for a person’s life and ensures that their existence (and thus their death) is not entirely futile, a person’s cultural worldview fosters their imagination of symbolic and actual immortality: A person’s culture lives beyond their death, ergo it is immortal, and they are a meaningful part of that immortal culture. In that sense, a part of the individual lives beyond its physical cessation. (Ochsmann 2002: 8) This can be reached by the individual’s achievements as well as by the existence of children. Literal immortality is often promised by religion in the form of an afterlife. (Ochsmann 2002: 8) Consequently, when an individual experiences mortality salience, they are more eager to defend their own worldview – and see people with conflicting worldviews, namely out-group members, as a threat to the very existence of their culture and thus immortality, which is why their tolerance for out-group members decreases. (Ochsmann 2002: 8) Mortality salience has been shown to influence people’s desire to defend their own worldview, as well as their intolerance for out-groups, in numerous studies. (Ochsmann 2002: 8)

2.3 TMT and post-9/11 attitude change in America

Mortality salience can influence an individual person’s attitude towards out-groups, but as the example of 9/11 shows it can also influence a whole culture. The images of planes crashing into buildings and the reports of thousands of casualties on a single day held America in shock: Americans were not only reminded of their own mortality and the eventuality and arbitrariness of their decease, but also of the vulnerability of their cultural icons. (Ochsmann 2002: 9f) In that way, the terrorists also directly attacked the American culture and revealed its frailty. The American population’s reaction and changes in attitudes toward out-groups as well as its increasing sense of patriotism can be explained according to the claims of TMT: During the weeks after 9/11, the USA experienced a wave of patriotism and increasing confidence in the American military and way of live, as well as a bigger amount of prosocial behavior like donations to charitable organizations. (Ochsmann 2002: 10) There was a strong sense of belonging within the American society, which also resulted in an increased willingness to integrate members of some US- American out-groups and minorities. (Ochsmann 2002: 10) On the other hand, various out- groups publicly (and in most cases wrongly) associated with terrorism experienced enhanced intolerance and, in some cases, even physical violence. All this could be seen in the surveys that were conducted with thousands of participants shortly after 9/11. But not only does TMT provide an explanation for political and psychosocial trends after the attacks, it can also help understand political rhetoric in that it detects the psychological mechanisms that make an instrumentalization of mortality salience and death-related emotions possible.

2.4 Rhetoric Instrumentalization of Prejudice, Fear and Patriotism

The emotions and changes in attitude triggered by mortality salience can easily be reinforced by emotional and charismatic speech, especially if the trigger event is as significant as 9/11. George Bush uses this strategy in many of his post-9/11 speeches in two ways. Firstly, he frequently points to the remaining strength and prosperity of the American nation, thereby strengthening Americans’ worldview and confidence in the perseverance of their culture, thereby making use of and at the same time fulfilling people’s desire to be reassured in their self-value as American citizens. Secondly, he increasingly supported intolerance and strong anger against the Taliban as a highly specific out-group, and terrorism as a more unspecific threat to the American people, directly condemning Muslim extremist worldviews as twisted and cruel. He thereby showed both attitudinal tendencies predicted by TMT. Bush is able to justify a radical anti-terrorism policy that goes as far as declaring war on a hardly known group of people without considering a diplomatic solution. A more precise elaboration of how Bush used rhetoric devices, key words related to terrorism, patriotism and similarly relevant topics, and other means of conscious psychological manipulation, will be provided in the following analysis of four of his most important speeches related to the topic of 9/11.

3. George Bush’s post 9/11 Policies, Speech Context and Content

According to Bush’s own claim, he saw himself as a “wartime president” after 9/11 (interview with Bush 2011), and this can be seen in the radical changes he made in foreign policies. He declared war on terror in a speech before Congress on September 20th (parts of this speech will be analyzed later), blaming the Muslim extremist group Al Qaeda and their leader, Osama Bin Laden, for the attack. In order to prevent future attacks from Al Qaeda members and ensure the safety of the United States from further acts of terrorism, he launched a military campaign called Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda’s network was strongest, and where most of its terrorist training camps were located. Although the campaign was very elaborate and showed numerous successes in its early phase, the war on terror remained unresolved during Bush’s two terms in office due to the obstacles the troops faced in Afghanistan and its neighbor countries. In accordance with his anti-terror policies, summarized under the term Bush Doctrine (Richards 2015), the president ordered the invasion of Iraq because he suspected Hussein’s regime to support terrorism and develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) – an accusation that was never proven.

The four speeches to be analyzed took place in slightly different political situations and contexts. The criteria under which they have been selected ensure that the thesis is consistently verifiable throughout Bush’s career as president (or rather its first half): All four are from Bush’s first term as President of the United States, each from a different year, and they are all related to the war on terror in some way.

The first was given on September 20th, 2001, before Congress. It contained more details on the culprits of 9/11, which U.S. intelligence service had identified, as well as a declaration of war on terror, accompanied by a demand to the Taliban to deliver all terrorists to U.S. authorities, and a corresponding threat of military action should this non-negotiable demand not be met.

The second speech, which the president gave on January 29th, 2002, was his first State of the Union Address (which is given by every president on an annual basis). By that time, the U.S. military had already invaded Afghanistan and was fighting the Taliban with the primary goal to shut down terrorist training camps. The campaign was marked by numerous successes and quick progress at that time. Bush presented the achievements made in the conflict so far in a declamatory manner and repeatedly asserted the justness of his cause, then pointing to the scope and magnitude of the international terrorist threat and the necessity for the continuation of the military campaign. Bush also accused other nations of supporting terrorism and creating weapons of mass destruction, including Iraq – he called these countries the “axis of evil” (Bush 2002: 2. Hereafter referred to as B2), coining another political key term.

The third speech was given in an entirely different environment, before U.S. troops in Sayliyah in Qatar, on June 5, 2003. The speech was much shorter than the first two of the analysis and mainly a motivational speech; Bush praised the troops’ success and spirit and elaborated on some of the ideals that they were fighting for.

The fourth speech was given on January 20th, 2004, and is the second State of the Union speech to be analyzed. A major part of this speech concerns the state of the American economy, and future schemes for it – this part will therefore not be considered in the analysis, and the word count will be adapted accordingly. In this speech, Bush notably argued against critics of the war in Iraq and the war on terror, praises the spirit and past successes of the American troops and outlined the course the war has taken so far, coming to the conclusion that it was not over.

These different situations and the varying content of the speeches result in slightly different rhetoric focuses in terms of emotions, as will be shown in the analysis.

4. Speech Analysis

The following paragraphs will be a detailed rhetoric analysis of the aforementioned four speeches, focusing on their use of emotion- and emotion-related words and phrases, rhetoric devices, the desired effects of these, and the use of death-related and moral-related terms. These are connected to emotions in a more indirect way, but they may also evoke strong emotions. Eventually, the more rational arguments Bush uses shall also be considered and reviewed on their emotional component.

4.1 Frequency, Context and Text Position of Emotional Content in Bush’s Speeches

4.1.1 Emotion-related words

Bush’s 2001 Address to the Nation, with a total of 2,981 words, contains 99 directly emotion-related words. These are words that describe emotions or have an emotional charge, i.e. trigger or are associated with a particular emotion. In this speech, they can be put into four categories of context that cover a major part of the emotion-related words. The first category consists of emotions related to America and its people; it is dominated by patriotic positivity, including words such as “courage” (B1: 1), “endurance” (B1: 1), “decency” (B1: 1), “loving” (B1: 1), “great” (B1: 4), “spirit”. (B1: 4) The emotion-related words of the second category refer to America’s allies; they are characteristics of friendship: “support” (B1: 1), “sympathy” (B1: 1), “friendship” (B1: 1), “friend” (B1: 1), “grateful” (B1: 3), and so on. The third category contains words related to the attack on the World Trade Center: “grief” (B1: 1), “anger” (B1: 1), “resolution” (B1: 1), “touched” (B1: 1), “tragedy” (B1: 1), “sympathy” (B1: 1), “silence” (B1: 1), “mourning” (B1: 1), and so on. The fourth and largest category with 34 words relates to the culprits of 9/11, and terrorists in general: “danger” (B1: 1), “enemies” (B1: 1), “radical” (B1: 1), “perverts” (verb) (B1: 2), “plot” (B1: 2), “destruction” (B1: 2), “brutalized” (B1: 2), “threatening” (B1: 2), “hate” (B1: 2), and so on. Bush’s choice of emotions related to the four groups suggests that he intended to dehumanize terrorists and thereby foster out-group prejudice against them; at the same time he repeatedly emphasizes the good traits of the American people and, to a smaller extent, of America’s allies.

This tendency continues in his 2002 State of the Union Address. Excluding a section where Bush outlines his policies concerning the U.S. economy, it is 3082 words long, and contains 136 emotion-related words. They can be divided into three categories of context, all of which resemble the categories of the previous speech: The first category, emotions toward the U.S. and its citizens, contains words with positive affect such as “resolve” (B2: 1), “confidence” (B2: 1), “courage” (B2: 1), “skill” (B2: 1), “spirit” (B2: 1), and so on. The second category, emotion words related to the 9/11 attacks, again contains words associated with grief: “shock” (B2: 1), “suffering” (B2: 1), “comforted” (B2: 1), “victims” (B2: 1), “sorrow” (B2: 1), “pain” (B2: 1), “grave” (B2: 1), “farewell” (B2: 1), and so on. The third category is expanded with Bush’s “axis of evil” (B2: 2) concept, now containing emotions toward terrorists as well as whole nations that, according to Bush, support or exert some form of terrorism. Some of the words in this category are “dangers” (B2: 1), “brutal” (B2: 1), “oppression” (B2: 1), “fears” (B2: 1), “enemies’” (B2: 1), “hatred” (B2: 1), “madness” (B2: 1), “destruction” (B2: 1), “dangerous” (B2: 1), “threatening”. (B2: 2) Again, this category is the largest of the three, containing 46 words in total. Some words fall out of the three categories and relate to a different group of people, such as the people of Afghanistan or America’s former rivals. Certain words occur throughout all four speeches and can thus be regarded as fixed part of Bush’s rhetoric vocabulary: inflexion forms of “threat” (B2: 3) are repeated six times, “enemies” (B2: 1) is repeated five times, “danger(s)” (B2: 1) is repeated eight times, and “hope” (B2: 2) and “resolve” (B2: 3) are repeated four times each in the speech. The emotion-related words are spread evenly throughout the speech, except for a dense cluster of 18 words from 2000-2100 words and a section with only four emotion words from 1500-2000 words. Inflexion forms and synonyms of “strong” (B1: 1) are excluded from this category since they can relate to both emotional stability and military or economic strength; they will be treated in the keywords section. Bush’s 2003 speech for American troops in Qatar contains 35 emotion-related words with a total amount of 1406 words. It differs significantly from the other speeches insofar as that it contains only one major category, namely emotion words related to the American troops. The category is dominated by appreciation and pride, containing words like “appreciate” (Bush 2003: 1. Hereafter referred to as B3), “warm (welcome)” (B3: 1), “fine” (B3: 1), “proud” (B3: 1), “fantastic” (B3: 1), and so on. The most frequent of these is “fine” (B3: 1), which is repeated six times (counting its inflexion forms). Some emotion words are also related to America’s allies, but only one concerns America’s enemies. This can be explained by the context of the speech: It was designed as a motivational speech and eulogy to the troops. The emotion-related words are evenly spread throughout the text except for a section from 700-1200 words, where none of them occurs.

In Bush’s 2004 State of the Union speech, there are 104 emotion words with a total word count of 2244 words (excluding sections irrelevant for the topic). Again, they are fairly evenly spread, but sometimes they occur in clusters of three or more, as for example in the excerpt “a place of tyranny and despair and anger”. (Bush 2004: 3. Hereafter referred to as B4) The words can be categorized into two major groups: Again, the emotions toward America and its people play a vital role; with 42 words in total it is the largest group. The category is again dominated by positive affect emotion-related words such as “hope” (B4: 1), “pride” (B4: 1), “great” (B4: 1), “compassion” (B4: 1), “confidence” (B4: 1), “resolve” (B4: 1), and so on. This time, however, as Bush also addressed his critics, emotion words related to them can be regarded a subcategory of this group, with words and phrases like “question” (B4: 3) and “did not support”. (B4: 3) A minor category to be mentioned relates to America’s allies and contains words such as “determined” (B4: 1), “friend” (B4: 2), “respected” (B4: 2), “allies” (B4: 1), “support” (B4: 1), and so on. They are generally spoken of in a respectful and thankful manner.

The second major group consists of emotions related to terrorists and totalitarian regimes associated with terrorism, such as the Saddam regime. Again, words such as “danger” (B4: 1), which is used seven times counting its inflection forms, “threat(s)” (B4: 1), which is used four times, “enemies” (B4: 2), “thugs” (B4: 2), “torture chambers” (B4: 3), “brutal” (B4: 2), and so on dominate the category. Bush dismisses all members of this category as evil – a judgment which he uses in a biblical way (he uses religious and biblical motives numerous times in all four speeches), thereby stereotyping and stigmatizing the out-group. In creating a vague enemy stereotype and directly connecting it with emotions such as fear (found in the words “danger” and “threat”) and contempt, also connected to moral judgment, he allows himself to avoid rationally arguing against their cause – and for his own.



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instrumentalization fear rhetorics george bush linguistic analysis




Titel: The Instrumentalization of Fear in the Rhetorics of George W. Bush. A Linguistic Analysis