Essay: Rhetoric in Great Speeches Cultural

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[. . .] This surely got the attention of every man, woman, and child that was old enough to be conversant with the English language. That line was preceded by one of the most poignant and powerful sentences that any president uttered at any time in the twentieth century: "The sudden criminal attacks perpetrated by the Japanese in the Pacific provide the climax of a decade of international immorality" (UCSB.edu).

His fireside chat pointed out clearly that the United States wasn't alone in its fight against the treachery of Japan and Germany. He made it a universal theme when he told Americans listening on the radio, "Together with other free peoples, we are now fighting to maintain our right to live among our world neighbors in freedom and in common decency, without fear of assault" (UCSB.edu). Over and over again FDR insisted that the United States would conquer these criminals and make them pay. In order to make the dramatic point that all Americans must stand together -- implying that if Americans don't stand together it will bring on a disaster for freedom -- FDR issued a stinging assertion:

"…No honest person, today or a thousand years hence, will be able to suppress a sense of indignation and horror at the treachery committed by the military dictators of Japan, under the very shadow of the flag of peace borne by their special envoys in our midst" (UCSB.edu). In other words, we are all in this together, and we in it for the long run. This strategy embraces the concept of legitimization: the clear inference is that anyone who doesn't agree with FDR's rhetoric is dishonest. Hence, listeners had no choice, if they are honest, to accept the anger that the president was feeling and no doubt he believed that Americans would share his outrage.

A few minutes into his fireside chat, FDR rattled off the invasions into sovereign territories that Japan and Hitler had perpetrated, and after each fact he paused and said, "…without warning." For example, he noted that "In 1940, Hitler invaded Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg -- without warning" (UCSB.edu). And of course Japan attacked America -- "without warning."

This strategy showed the president's familiarity with the rhetorical approach known as unification. To wit, all those attacks were similar because they came without warning. Not that these kinds of outrageously aggressive actors would ever offer their intended targets and victims warning, but FDR didn't need to follow strategic military logic in this instance; he just needed to show his leadership through his verbal narrative, and he did so in brilliant fashion.

Going through a lengthy list of the aggression by Hitler and Japan, and ending each with the same phase, certainly had a powerful impact on listeners back home huddled around their radios looking for hope and leadership. Not only are these culprits unspeakably dangerous and vicious, but the suggestion was clearly planted that the same thing could happen on U.S. soil, and it would happen "…without warning." That was the purpose of his redundancy. Indeed the United States had not been attacked on its shores but FDR was making clear this could happen. Given the unexpected and devastating Pearl Harbor assault, the nation needed to be shown that their president was wary of the enemies. He was using the tactic of rhetorical apprehension to put the fear of God into the audience, and if they weren't already aware of the imminent danger in this new violent world, they would soon be aware thanks to FDR's use of apprehension (fear-appeal).

Listeners may have felt they were not only being informed, but actually being scolded by the teacher. That is because FDR made a strong case against spreading rumors about the war effort or the activities of the enemies. "Most urgently I urge my countrymen to reject all rumors. These ugly little hints of complete disaster fly thick and fast in wartime," he asserted, and he blamed them on "enemy sources" (UCSB.edu, p. 2).

What FDR said to the media and to citizens next came across as that fatherly advice that is more like a warning than a simple appraisal of the situation.

"To all newspapers and radio stations -- all those who reach the eyes and ears of the American people -- I say this: You have a most grave responsibility to the Nation now and for the duration of this war" (UCSB.edu, p. 2). If the media feels it is not getting enough information from the government as to the progress of the war, "…you have every right to say so," the president explained. "But -- in the absence of all the facts, as revealed by official sources -- you have no right in the ethics of patriotism to deal out unconfirmed reports in such a way as to make people believe they are gospel truth" (UCSB.edu, p. 2). After scolding and warning the newspapers and radio stations, FDR turned his rhetoric to citizens listening on the radio.

"Every citizen, in every walk of life, shares this same responsibility. The lives of our soldiers and sailors -- the whole future of this nation -- depend upon the manner in which each and every one of us fulfills his obligation to our country" (UCSB.edu, p. 2). About half way through his fireside chat, FDR took credit for the country's recent buildup of military materials. He told listeners that following the seizure of France by Hitler, 18 months earlier, and "…knowing that the attack might reach us in all too short a time," he had ordered an increase "…in our industrial strength and our capacity to meet the demands of modern warfare" (UCSB.edu, p. 2). Again this is a strategy that embraces legitimization because FDR has been readying the country for war and the audience has no choice but to accept his seriousness about these hostilities; he is basically demanding that his audience accept the danger and accept his moves in response to the danger.

He noted that the U.S. has been sending war materials to "Nations of the world still able to resist Axis aggression" and that policy was based on the "fundamental truth" that defending countries (like England, though FDR did not mention it by name) that are resisting Hitler or Japan was in a real sense preparing for "…the defense of our own country" (UCSB.edu, p. 2).

America must be prepared for a "long" and a "hard" war, because the "powerful bandits" are "crafty," he asserted. Here he uses "bandits" to reduce Hitler and Japan to cheap cowboys holding up stage coaches and trains in the old west. He is simplifying the argument again by painting a picture for his listeners of a group of criminals no better than bandits covering their faces with bandanas because they wish to be hidden from the good people.

This speech featured a very effective use of language because in one paragraph he is warning the media to avoid promoting rumors and in the next he is assuring the American people that plenty of tanks and planes are being built to protect the country from any attempt to attack us on the mainland. Then he reminds Americans what kind of criminals the country is facing; they are gangsters, bandits, treacherous fascists determined to rule the world. He is by way of legitimizing the power of the executive office of the United States, which has its most vital task to protect the citizens therein.

Toward the end of his fireside chat, FDR uses the time-tested strategy that many speech writers have used -- juxtaposition. He asserts that it is not a "sacrifice" for a person to be in the army or navy. "Rather, it is a privilege," he states (UCSB.edu, p. 3). It is not a "sacrifice" for the person earning a wage, or the farmer, or shopkeeper, or the doctor or trainman "…to pay more taxes, to buy more bonds, to forego extra profits, to work longer or harder at the task for which he is best fitted. Rather it is a privilege" (UCSB.edu, p. 3). As President John Kennedy would offer later in his famous line, "The question is not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," FDR was using the strategy of mythos.

Mythos in this instance was the president's way of saying that the social character of the nation was based on patriotism, pride, and loyalty to democratic principles. "It is a privilege," he was saying, to stand up to tyranny and that will be proof that Americans stand together and fight together when they are threatened, and indeed after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the other American installations, FDR could make the claim with utmost legitimacy that this moment in history was pivotal to the future survival of America.

Shortly after that theme, FDR seeks once again to define the enemy as nothing more than cheap street urchins and gangbangers… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Rhetoric in Great Speeches Cultural.  (2012, September 30).  Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/rhetoric-great-speeches-cultural/7017694

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"Rhetoric in Great Speeches Cultural."  Essaytown.com.  September 30, 2012.  Accessed June 16, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/rhetoric-great-speeches-cultural/7017694.