The Language of Politics and Political Discourse<br />Words as weapons <br />in the battle for hearts and minds<br />Jim Wylie<br />
An analysis of the language of political speechusing -<br />an excerpt from <br />an address to the nation <br />by <br />former<br />United States President<br /> George W. Bush<br />delivered at Ft. Bragg, NC, home of the U.S. airborne and special operations forces on 28 June 2005. <br />Sourced from:<br />http://uspolitics.about.com/od/<br />speeches/a/speech_28jun05.htm<br />
The aim of this analysis:<br />To identify and examine the functions and purposes of the linguistic mechanisms employed in this speech excerpt in the light of topics discussed in Unit Seven of the Study Guide for Language Discourse and Power (Massey University 2009).<br />
The Speech – an overview<br />In this nationally televised speech the acting U.S. President George W. Bush, whose own approval rating was then at an all-time low, was seeking to shore up flagging support for the war in Iraq.<br />The short excerpt chosen for analysis came near the end of the President’s speech during which he had already outlined most of his intended military and political objectives in the Middle East and was attempting to justify those measures.<br />This excerpt was chosen because it succinctly sums up some of his main arguments in defence of continuing the war and contains many prime examples of the mechanisms typically employed in political speeches.<br />
What the President said (part 1)<br />“Our strategy to defend ourselves and spread freedom is working.”<br /><ul><li>The ‘our’ at the beginning of this sentence was used to signify consensus. ‘We’ (the united American people) were defending ‘ourselves’ (against the amorphous ‘other’ loosely named ‘terrorism’) and spreading ‘freedom’. Just who was supposed to be gaining this freedom or what that they were being freed from was not stated.
Since the original reason given for the invasion (WMDs) had been found to be baseless Mr. Bush was now trying to justify the continuing U.S. military presence in Iraq as necessary for self-defence and freedom. He did not explain how remaining in Iraq would achieve these goals.
By claiming that the strategy was working he was attempting to legitimise it and compel assent.</li></li></ul><li>What the President said (part 2)<br />“The rise of freedom in this vital region will eliminate the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder and make our nation safer.”<br /><ul><li>Once again the vague notion of ‘freedom’ was used to legitimise American military intervention.
What was ‘vital’ about the region is open to interpretation but the word conveys a sense of urgency and coercive force.
By the use of the term ‘radicalism’ he was infering that those who would resist the American presence in Iraq were irrational fringe elements on the extreme political left. By saying that they had ‘ideologies of murder’ he was suggesting that they had no other motive than to kill without reason. In doing so he employed dissimulation to dehumanise the ‘other’ and conjured up powerful images designed to create fear and hatred. By adding that U.S. actions in Iraq will ‘make our nation safer’ he employed coercion by suggesting that withdrawal from Iraq would equate to loss of protection against this threat.</li></li></ul><li>What the President said (part 3)<br />“We are fighting against men with blind hatred and armed with lethal weapons who are capable of any atrocity.”<br />Through the terms ‘blind hatred’ and ‘capable of any atrocity’ he was again employing dissimulation to further de-humanise the enemy by portraying him as unreasoning and totally lacking in any of the restraints that moral, civilised (American) people would adhere to. <br />By describing Iraqi resistance fighters in these terms he was attempting to legitimise the continuing American military actions in Iraq as ‘counter-terrorism’ measures. <br />His use of the term ‘lethal weapons’ (What other kind would they have?) was included to add impact to this frightening image of mindless, bloodthirsty murderers.<br />
What the President said (part 4)<br />“They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras.”<br />One again the tool of dissimulation is being employed as a means to legitimise the continuation of the American military presence.<br />The message is that ‘they’ are not like ‘us’. ‘They’ (unlike us) do not respect (our) laws of warfare or even (our) ‘laws’ of morality. ‘They’ have no respect for human life because ‘they’ (allegedly) deliberately kill innocent people just to try and manipulate the media in ways that will help their cause. ‘They’, in other words, are inhuman. If we accept Mr. Bush’s claims then that would seem to legitimise the imposition of control by the supposedly morally superior American nation.<br />
What the President said (part 5)<br />“They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001. They will fail.”<br />Once again the ‘we’ group was portrayed as being threatened by the ‘them’ group. The fact that the ‘them’ group that the American troops were fighting in Iraq were almost certainly not in any way connected with the ‘them’ group who carried out the September 11 attacks was conveniently ignored. By conflating the Iraqi resistance and the 9/11 bombers into the one ‘them’ group the President was invoking a very powerful emotional symbol of national outrage and using it to delegitimise the Iraqis’ cause in order to legitimise his own. <br />By saying ‘they’ will fail he meant that the ‘we’ group (the American nation) would triumph and he was thereby appealing to patriotic sympathy, another powerful coercive force.<br />
What the President said (part 6)<br />“The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat, and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins.”<br /><ul><li>Once again the ‘they’ group were described as ‘terrorists’ rather than a resistance movement fighting against a foreign invader. ‘They’ (we were told) underestimated the proud and powerful American nation – a nation that would never submit to ‘car bombers’ and ‘assassins’(i.e. all who resisted the American invasion).
Once again Mr. Bush was appealing to patriotic sentiment. The idea that the proud American nation would even think of submitting to such despicable people was of course outrageous. Once again the enemy was being delegitimised and dehumanised and the obvious implication was that ‘we’ must stay on in Iraq to prevent such an unthinkable situation from becoming a reality.</li></li></ul><li>Conclusion<br />In this excerpt Mr. Bush has consistently used the term ‘we’ to refer to vaguely defined groups of people in ways that seem to provide support to his arguments. This is in keeping with Van Dijk’s observations about the use of ‘we’ as a signifier of consensus and solidarity. The term ‘they’ is also used to describe a vaguely defined and shifting enemy group that may or may not include certain groups as the need arises.<br />This excerpt also provides evidence in support of Fairclough and Wodak’s assertion that political discourses are embedded in particular cultures and ideologies – in this case North American. Mr. Bush’s appeals to patriotic sentiments would probably have been openly ridiculed in many countries including our own but patriotic fervour still runs high in the U.S.A. and his words would still have had a powerful influence on many people there.<br />Three of Chilton & Shaffner’s four strategies, coercion, dissimulation and legitimisation/delegitimisation were also found to recur frequently and perhaps the only reason that the fourth strategy (resistance, opposition and protest) did not was because at that time Mr. Bush held the most powerful political office on earth and had no higher authority to resist or protest to.<br />
References<br />Study Guide. (2009). Study Guide for Language, Discourse and Power. Massey University, School of Language Studies.<br />van Dijk, T. A. (1998). Opinions and ideologies in the press. In A. Bell & P. Garrett (Eds.) Approaches to Media Discourse, (pp. 21-63). Oxford: Blackwell.<br />Fairclough, N. and Wodak, R. (1997). Critical discourse analysis. In T. A. van Dijk (Ed.) Discourse as social interaction. London: Sage.<br />Chilton P., & Shaffner, C. (1997). Discourse and Politics. In T. A. van Dijk (Ed.) Discourse as social interaction. London: Sage.<br />