Pro-war rhetoric is a type of propaganda designed to convince its audience that war is necessary. Propaganda is public communication aimed at a mass designed to control attitudes and behavior in times of crisis.
The two main analytical approaches to pro-war rhetoric were founded by Ronald Reid, a Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Robert Ivie, a Professor of Rhetoric and Public Communication and Culture at Indiana University (Bloomington).
Reid's framework originated from inductively studying propaganda. Ivie uses a deductive approach based on the work of Kenneth Burke, claiming that "a people strongly committed to the ideal of peace, but simultaneously faced with the reality of war, must believe that the fault for any such disruption of their ideal lies with others" (Ivie 279).
Rhetorical framework of Ronald Reid
According to Reid, pro-war rhetoric uses three appeals: territorial, ethnocentric, and optimistic.
- Territorial appeals
Territorial appeals threaten the audience's "sense of territoriality" (Reid 260). The audience is more likely to support entering the war on the defensive rather than offensive side because of an actual or threatened invasion.
- Ethnocentric appeals
Ethnocentric appeals create a dichotomy between the audience and the enemy. Ethnocentrism should be evoked to a "high level of emotional intensity" in attempt to complete two goals: hate the "inferior alien" and depict threats to cultural values (Reid 267).
The most common method of evoking ethnocentric appeals come in the form of Barbarism vs. Gallantry (Reid 269). It depicts the enemy's cultural values with evil characteristics, and the audience's as angelic.
- Optimistic appeal
The optimistic appeal assures the audience that victory is inevitable should they enter into war.(Reid 282).
Rhetorical framework of Robert Ivie
According to Ivie, pro-war rhetoric identifies three topoi; force vs. freedom, irrational vs. rational, and aggression vs. defense.
- Force vs. freedom
This tactic portrays to the audience that they are entering war to provide freedom, and the opponent to force their values upon others (Ivie 284). This is accomplished by implying that the opponent is violent, while the audience's nation is willing to negotiate (Ivie 284).
- Irrational vs. rational
This topos holds that the enemy is portrayed as irrational, responding "more to animalistic drives than principles of law" (Ivie 288). The enemy has an unenlightened intellect, not based on reason. Rhetors use this argument to prove that when an enemy such as this threatens the well-being of the world, even for a nation committed to neutrality and peace, war is the only choice (Ivie 289).
- Aggression vs. defense
This idea portrays the enemy as the voluntary aggressor and the nation of the audience as the passive victims of aggression, only entering into war to ensure security (Ivie 290). "While the savage has acted against order, the victim has been forced to respond in its defense" (Ivie 290). Ivie describes the actions as either "voluntary" and "initial" or "involuntary" and "defensive" (Ivie 290). The purpose of this topos is to lay the blame on the enemy and justify reasons for the victimized nation to engage in action.
Examples of pro-war rhetoric
- Bush's War Rhetoric Reveals the Anxiety that Iran Commands. This 2007 article from the Washington Post outlines how George W. Bush's rhetoric on Iran (and elsewhere) was often coupled with fear of World War III and/or nuclear annihilation.
- Wilson's War Message Wilson's April 2nd, 1917 Speech advising Congress to declare war on Germany
- Day of Infamy Franklin D. Roosevelt's Address to Congress after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 8th, 1941
- German Declaration of War on the United States Adolf Hitler's December 11th, 1941 Reichstag Speech
- Gulf of Tonkin Incident Lyndon B. Johnson's August 5th, 1964 Message to Congress
- Brock, Bernard L., ed. Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century. Albany: State University of New York P, 1999.
- Ivie, Robert L. "Images of Savagery in American Justifications for War," Communication Monographs 47 (1980): 279-294.
- Ivie, Robert L. "The Rhetoric of Bush's "War" on Evil." KB Journal 1 (2004). 2 Feb. 2007 <http://kbjournal.org/node/53>.
- Reid, Ronald F. "New England Rhetoric And the French War, 1754-1760: A Case Study In the Rhetoric of War," Communication Monographs 43 (1976): 259-286.