Communication and Culture | Rhetorical Critiques of War
C616 | 1173 | Ivie
The general purpose of the course is to employ rhetoric as a heuristic
for critically engaging discourses of war and transforming the
legitimization of war into a cultural problematic, especially within
U.S. political culture. It sometimes addresses the discourse of a
single war or some combination of wars in a given historical period or
sustained period of international tension; other times it is concerned
with a recurrent thematic of war rhetoric such as freedom and
democracy and/or some current cause for international conflict.
The course will be focused this coming Fall semester specifically on
critiquing the strategic design and negative cultural and political
consequences of the prevailing discourse of war against terrorism as
it has developed in the United States since last September 11in
response to the dramatic attacks against the World Trade Center and
The argument of the course focuses on profiling terrorism. It aims to
develop a better understanding of the rhetorical design of the present
"war" on terrorism in order to identify its limitations for achieving
peace and fostering democracy. Like the rhetoric of the Cold War, a
declaration of total war against international terrorism represents
the threat to America as an attack on freedom and thus polarizes the
world between nation-states supporting the U.S. and those supporting
terrorism, curtails the very freedom it purports to defend, authorizes
covert operations beyond the reach of public accountability, and
prolongs the struggle indefinitely against an ill-defined and elusive
enemy without a clear measure of victory. In particular, the exercise
in profiling terrorists deflects attention away from the key issue of
profiling terrorism itself realistically. Accordingly, the critique
begins with a discussion of the Bush administration's rhetorical
profile of terrorism and then turns to identifying missing features in
that profile which reveal it to be a problematic and counterproductive
caricature of terrorism. By premising the defense of freedom on a
caricature of terrorism as the personification of evil, "patriotism"
is constructed, celebrated, and witnessed as an exercise in "othering"
and scapegoating in opposition to democratic practice and pluralism,
thus undermining the nation's ability to respond to the condition of
diversity within its own borders and throughout the global village
except by the futility of coercion and domination.
Primary texts for the course will feature various public discourses on
the war against terrorism, such as selected addresses by the president
and members of his administration, samples of supporting editorials
and opinion pieces, critical commentary and parody of administration
policy, and expressions of patriotism in popular media and forums,
including sports spectacles, public memorials, and film.
Other texts selected for critical reading will include books on
terrorism such as Jeffrey D. Simon, The Terrorist Trap: America's
Experience with Terrorism, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 2001); Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1998); and Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind
of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 2000).
A third set of readings will introduce students specifically to a
rhetorical perspective for critiquing war discourse, including for
example the instructor's work on metaphorical analysis, images of
savagery, and productive criticism.
The major project for students enrolled in the course will be a set of
short written critiques on the assigned readings culminating in a
final, article-length scholarly paper on a theme, genre, medium, or
other focus of interest determined by each student according to his or
her purposes and in consultation with the course instructor.