Propaganda & Persuasion – Comments on an Interpretive Heuristic with Reference to George Bush’s Post-9/11 Speech

Matthew Lipscomb

Dr. Heather Palmer

Propaganda & Persuasion, 1/27/2011

Comments on an Interpretive Heuristic with

Reference to George Bush’s Post-9/11 Speech




1) What is the main claim/thesis/idea?
The main claim that is made is that there has been a radical shift in the way that the world works. This has been referenced (elsewhere) as a ‘pre-9/11 mindset.’ Essentially, President Bush is outlining the reasons and the necessity for a shift in thinking, or the adoption of a ‘post-9/11’ mentality on the part of all americans.

Where exactly is it stated (textual references)?
“All of this was brought upon us in a single day — and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.” “And night fell on a different world” invokes a specific imagery that the world is now a very different place then it was before. (Italics are mine in the reference.)

What type of claim is it? (fact, cause, evaluation, and/or policy)

I think that you can argue that this is initially a fact/cause claim with a correspondingly mutual element, insofar as I think that you can also argue that, subsequent to this, there is also the insinuated secondary dichotomy of an ‘evaluation/policy’ procedure, which is also correspondingly argued to be at work. In terms of an ‘ontology of power,’ there is a definite teleological flow that one can argue is thereby presented. You could argue that the speech is actually presenting an argument for a fact, cause, evaluation, and policy metanarrational archetype.

Historians will point out that this has a strong grounding in historical, socio-political, ideological dynamics – in terms of a being a reproducible effect, which may or may not (in the past) have actually functioned within the control of any one delineable ‘agent of asserted power.’

In WWI and WWII it is easy to show how ‘agents of asserted power’ tried to yield influence toward the accomplishment of certain goals; contextually within this frame of understanding: that of trying to get a given country either into a state of military conflict or, instead, trying to keep them out of it. For instance, take into consideration the political figure of Joseph Kennedy (who was decidedly pro-German/Nazi), and the correspondingly ‘liberal’ theological figure of the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick. Each were unabashed apologists for Nazi Germany and sought to keep America out of a war with them. The foil, which overtook and ultimately frustrated their efforts, was the bombing of Perl Harbor – which served as a “Fact.”  The “Cause” of this fact – hence became that America was an inalienable partner in an ontology of power in terms that it had been brought into a relationship with another power, which was in this case, the Japanese Military. The subsequent “Evaluation” of this change in terms of a ‘changed state’ of relationship between these two powers, was the there had been an change in terms of America’s presupposed invulnerability in the ideology-cost differential extant in the ontology of power between the two nation-states. No longer could an idea merely be discussed over cigars and poker.  Bombs had fallen. Ships had been sunk. Ideology was now understood to have definite economic and nation-wide consequences – both immediate and inescapably long term. Pacifism was no longer tenable either as table talk or in the halls of international diplomacy. Neville Chamberlains now infamous “peace in our time” quote was seen as patently ludicrous – if not delusional. The “policy’ was then that a state of war was declared. All of this can be seen from a rhetorical standpoint – but (I believe) caution must be exercised as to not cause an academically-induced myopia.  A purely rhetorical analysis may suitably expand upon what may be describable as a sort of ‘archeology of knowledge/understanding’  – or an unpacking of discursive (between the conventional forms of) truths – but it should (I assert) be necessarily incorporated also into a historical context; which prevents an understanding of the situation from becoming purely subjective and detached from the objective realities that faced the participants in this given historical situation.  This same ideological dynamic is essentially a repeat of the sinking of the Lusitania – in terms of how it drew America into WWI. The Lusitania, in this case, acted as the teleological agent for the before mentioned ontology of a subsequent national-wide war mentality. It represented a massive shift in the ontology of power between the nation states in the equation: relationships were inextricably and irreparably altered.

It might be argued that this dynamic of inducement may prove impossible to control/create by those who would seek such ends. There is also argument that there have been those who have purposefully tried to create just such situations by nature of their own machinations for just such purposes. There were multiple conspiracy theories that the Lusitania was a planned disaster. Such conspiracies also translate into like-wise scenarios with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is no small mystery, therefore, that such archetypical conspiratory inclinations are not in full effect in regards to 9/11. The evidential and accepted belief in the power of the dynamic of fact cause, evaluation, and policy is concomitant with a suspicion of its controlled inducement by the hands of conspiratorially presupposed-to-exist nefarious malfeasants -who would naturally be hell-bent on inducing war.


2) What is the kairos of the rhetorical situation? What is the exigence?

The kairos is that there has been a national tragedy, which had affected literally every American everywhere. The exigence is that President Bush is here attempting to demonstrate that there is no longer a disconnect between the two ontologies of power – but that, against our will, we have been brought into a relationship with a separate ontology of power (in this case Al Qaida) and there is a cause/effect relationship that is both evident and punitive towards our own ontology of power- or – the sum substance of our country, our interests, and our people. An argument is made that there can be no denial of an extant relationship between these two ontologies of power (Al Qaida & America) and that it the volitional agency of Al Qaida is expressly devoted to be intentionally punitive and expressly militant in terms of seeking maximum death, danger, and terror in the effects of their operations upon Americans and their interests. It is argued as implicitly undeniable so.


3) Who is the intended audience? How does the text “gesture” to them?
The intended audience is the American People, directly – but also the international audiences, abroad. The text makes an effort to be expansive and not just self-centered. Very distinct references are made that the attacks were not just against Americans – but also towards other nationalities, and that there had been symbolic acts of mutual interrelation by political foreign dignitaries carried out and distinctly trans-cultural/religious representatives who had spoken out and embraced the idea of the attack being an attack against them as well.

The text is also aimed at the Taliban. In it Bush gives very clear and decisive warnings to them it terms of what their expected reaction is to be in lieu of the certain demands he is placing upon them.

The speech could be considered both agitative and integrative – in that it is both stirring up the audience and also trying to sooth their concerns at the same time. It is more then just an ‘everything is going to be ok’ moment- rather, it is a ‘things will be ok – but great work must be done to bring this state of being to pass,’ effort on the part of the speaker. We are agitated to move towards a perceived goal of victory over the terrorists so that we can find a place of peace and security – or at least find a path that will to the best of our knowledge most logically lead in that direction.


4) What major appeals does the text use to assert its claim?
The appeal is that the attack is a paradigm shifter in terms of its overall historical context, as previously mentioned. It also serves to outline that exactly what the war will look like is not entirely knownable.

What type of evidence? (qualititative/quantitative)

The speech attempts to make a historical connection to achieve the effectiveness (quality) of its presentation, but also cites multiple examples of historically accepted truth-examples (“they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism”).  This is a crucial element, which serves to reinforce the understanding of 9/11 to be of a Lusitania/Pearl Harbor histo-archetype. 

Are there any rhetorical fallacies? What are they?

It is arguable that the idea of being ‘either with us or against us’ is a fallacy – in that there is no doubt a large contingency which is not able to make an educated choice in the matter, either out of cultural prejudices or a lack of any formal news. A degree of grace should be granted those who cannot adequately adjudicate such potentially complex and nuanced histo-political dynamics. While it makes sense to illustrate the harsh geopolitical delineations that have to be made, such a statement must be understood to be subjectively true – but objectively false – because of the conflations necessary to making in an absolute vs. a relative understanding.

It is also potentially arguable that the categorization of 9/11 as being the before mentioned historically war-inducing archetype might also be a presupposition. The truth is this: that history cannot be fully controlled by any one person or agency, but that it has its own unpredictable nature that is inalienably intrinsic to it. No one is capable of fully predicting what any one historical event is or is not capable of doing. History can be made – but it always follows its own course. This is one argument against a supposed ‘neocon’ understanding of 9/11, in terms of it actually just being a blip on the historical continuum and not at all a Lusitania or Peal Harbor-type game-changer. Further arguments coming from a neo-pacifist mindset argue that all military aggression is outmoded and unneeded in the now-modern world, and that essentially all such archetypes are archaic and have no suitable modern context.


5) What are the major stylistic devices used by the text? (consider tone, use of metaphor, organization, sentence structure, word choice) Are they effective?
There is a degree of verbal imagery that is used. One example is the use of the ‘night’ in “and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.” The word “night” and/or “tonight” are used 14 times. Another example is the declaration that the ideology that is confronting America will share a worthless end, “And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.”


6) What ideology informs the discourse of the text and its claim?
It would be considered by most to be a “neoconservative” response. This is typified as:


▪            “a tendency to see the world in binary good/evil terms

▪            low tolerance for diplomacy

▪            readiness to use military force

▪            emphasis on US unilateral action

▪            disdain for multilateral organizations

▪            focus on the Middle East

▪            an us versus them mentality”.




What shared values/common ground does it use to persuade?

The argument is presented that the arguments of the opposing power are against the values of Western Culture; these being chiefly, Freedom, Personal Empowerment, and the right to pursue spiritual diversity. It is possible that this may also be a rhetorical fallacy in that it begs the question – ‘well then, just what in the world would “Eastern Cultural Values” look like?’


7) Ultimately, is the text successful at delivering its intended claim to its intended audience? Why or why not?

I believe that it did. It spoke confidence to a shaken public. Within the kairos of the moment – there was a need for unshakeable decisively on the part of the perceived leadership. This was necessary, perhaps, not as much for military and geopolitical influence – but perhaps a step towards healing of the National Emotive Consciousness – which had arguably been wounded. In terms of a larger dynamic – the attacks were geared toward the accomplishment of a certain goal: inflict fear, terror and a feeling of regret upon the mental attitude of the American public. If at least it could be strongly relayed back to Osama Bin Laden – watching CNN from his cave – that this military goal had decisively failed, then at least that directive would have been accomplished by showing that the reason they attacked had proven to be a fruitless endeavor. Terrorism and the personal sacrifice of suicide bombers persist, in part, because of the perceived success of previous archetypically-similar events. Part of the response (both on a macro and a micro level) must be to show that this simply will not work. If it is possible to reinforce this belief –then further practice can potentially be stymied, and the idea of a ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’ will be seen to be ineffective – after a million, and then a billion paper cuts seemingly have no further deteriorative effects to a given nations imperatives and their related directives.

Does the text somehow subvert its intended claim by saying something other than the overt intention?
          I think that this is a good example of so-called ‘White Propaganda’ in terms of its directness. One can argue that this is a ‘Neoconservative’ response – and that it is, is not argued against here – insofar as it is also argued that it was the correct response at the correct time in terms of there being a kairotic Moment which decisively and inexcusably called for it. For contextualization purposes – let us posit that there had been a few different votes cast in Florida, and Al Gore had been elected. How would he have responded? It was well known that George Bush was at least to some degree archetypically and politically aligned with such neoconservative ideas as to how the world really works. Al Gore also has a history in terms of his own speeches that he has also made in terms of his own worldview. How would he have reacted? Would Al Gore have been able to inhabit this kairos space in an appropriate way? Was the ‘neocon’ response the right kind for the moment at hand – or would he have opted for a conciliatory stance towards the attackers? Would he have apologized to the world for how Al Qaida has misunderstood us – and how much we need to reanalyze out own positions accordingly? Would he have said – like the before mentioned liberal theologian Harry Emerson Fosdick did – that “we deserved it”?


About hollerscholar

I'm a theology & philosophy student, writer, web developer, and medical laboratory professional.
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