Communications Analysis on JFK's 1961 Inaugural Term Paper

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John F. Kennedy's January 20, 1961 Inaugural address president's inaugural speech, particularly its conclusion, is meant to set the tone for the speaker's entire presidency. Long after he was tragically assassinated, phrases from John F. Kennedy's inaugural address were used to eulogize the young president, such as his reference to the thousand days by which his presidency would be judged: "All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin" (20). Throughout John F. Kennedy's January 20, 1961 inaugural address, the new, young, and handsome president sounds a cry to the nation for hope, optimism, and a commitment to make the world a better place. He suggests that his administration will bring forth a new tomorrow and asks the new generation of Americans to help him realize his goals.

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Although Kennedy became president during one of the most tension-ridden phases of the Cold War, Kennedy did not wish to strike purely militaristic and inflammatory notes, although he did wish to convey an image of strength to Soviet leaders, particularly because of his perceived inexperience and youth. Yet as the speech comes to its conclusion, Kennedy does not rally the crowd with words of violence and fear alone. Rather, he strives to rise above the fray, and says: "Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce" (17). This is a less confrontational, nobler way of referring to the fact that science has rendered the Soviet Union and the United States at an atomic impasse of mutually assured destruction, as well as a reference to the fears that the U.S.S.R. will jump ahead in the space race and conquer the heavens. His reference to commerce suggests that his vision is capitalistic, though, and thus he does not abdicate traditional American values in his quest to formulate a new tomorrow based upon the principles of peace and freedom.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Communications Analysis on JFK's 1961 Inaugural Address Assignment

Kennedy's choice to end his speech with idealistic rather than militaristic rhetoric also deflects from the more militant rhetoric of the earlier part of his speech, when he says: "To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required -- not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" (8). Kennedy shows he is a strong, Cold Warrior, and is aware that the leaders of the Kremlin are listening to his words, even though they are not physical presences in the largely loyal and respectful audience, but he does not end with such specific, confrontational phrases to Vietnam and other areas of the globe where territorial encroachments by the Soviet Union are an issue, like Eastern Europe. He even frames such anti-communist rhetoric in an idealistic way, though, and suggests that the United States fights for the moral right of individuals to better their lots, not simply because it is in America's interest that the developing nations of the world do not adopt communist governments.

Kennedy's tone is largely magisterial, benevolent, and strikingly idealistic in the images it presents of the new world, although he does end with an only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger" (24). The appropriateness of some of the expressions used by Kennedy seems more akin to a commencement address, rather than a specifically American audience desiring a patriotic rallying cry that condemned the Soviet Union. Kennedy frequently repeats phrases, such as 'nor' and 'not,' and makes use of parallelism and other oratorical strategies to give his speech a flowing quality that transcends a merely patriotic call to arms. His patriotism is set against the wisdom and the values of the ages and transcends immediate geopolitical needs and interests.

Kennedy's clear, slightly harsh and nasal Boston accent slices through the air and gives the speech an almost trumpet-like, blaring rhythm and clarity. He even speaks of a trumpet: "Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, 'rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation' -- a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself" (22). This suggests that although the United States may have go to war or engage in saber-rattling in the future, it does not do so willingly, it only does so if it believes freedom is being challenged, and ultimately peace and freedom is its goal,

Kennedy's natural pace of speech seems to be swift, but during key moments he is able to contain his speed to some degree, to punctuate particularly significant remarks: such as the famous phrase: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country" (25). This memorable phrase has often been repeated to rally young people to give selflessly of themselves to their country, although to Kennedy's American audience during the Cold War, it would have suggested fighting communism as well as engaging in volunteerism, especially given the earlier phrase: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty" (4).

Kennedy's speech is peppered with an unusual amount of rhetorical questions: "Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?" (23). He involves his listeners in his speech, and does not merely tell his listeners what he sands for as a man. He also involves people, through the use of such questions, who might be listening on their radios or watching the speech on television (although this medium was less important during the early 1960s when Kennedy gave his speech in rallying support). Asking questions makes listeners a part of the speech-giving process, regardless of where they are listening.

There are many literary references, to the Bible, and a great use of poetic and intensely metaphorical language, which confirms Kennedy's intelligence, and also his poetic ability to relate his administration to the future in a way that transcends narrow political interests and partisanship. "And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved" (19). The unifying image is of both sides coming into one, unified more peaceful and free world, although with a great deal of effort.

In terms of Kennedy's body language, although he is forced, in an age before Teleprompters, to look at his lengthy text, he stands forthright. He frequently points to the audience, which further draws attention to the frequent and pointed use of rhetorical questions. Kennedy also directs his address to the crowd by panning his attention across the viewing throngs of people, although he generally directs his stance to the front of the audience and maintains an upright, proud posture to convey authority. He does not smile much, nor does he scowl. He is quietly passionate, but does not make flagrant displays of emotion. Even though he must consult his text, he always looks up to make eye contact with his immediate audience and with the camera.

One striking thing to remember, regarding Kennedy's attire, is that the speech was given in January, on a bitterly cold day, as is reflected in the clothing of the individuals behind Kennedy. Yet Kennedy, to avoid being encumbered by a heavy jacket, wears only a light, professional suit. The suit is somber colored, fitting the seriousness of the occasion, although it is not a dark color that would give the speech a more stern and funeral-like tone. The suit allows Kennedy to use his arms more freely than he would, if he were wearing an overcoat. The decision to go coatless no doubt reflects the youthful and vigorous impression Kennedy desired to give to viewers, in stark contrast to the departing President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a fairly old man.

In terms of the environment of the speech, Kennedy was somewhat limited… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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