Cold War Rhetoric: Strategy, Metaphor, and Ideology / Edition 1

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Cold War Rhetoric is the first book in over twenty years to bring a sustained rhetorical critique to bear on central texts of the Cold War. The rhetorical texts that are the subject of this book include speeches by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, the Murrow- McCarthy confrontation on CBS, the speeches and writings of peace advocates, and the recurring theme of unAmericanism as it has been expressed in various media throughout the Cold War years. Each of the authors brings to his texts a particular approach to rhetorical criticism—strategic, metaphorical, or ideological. Each provides an introductory chapter on methodology that explains the assumptions and strengths of their particular approach.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780870134425
  • Publisher: Michigan State University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1997
  • Edition description: REVISED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 230
  • Lexile: 1540L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin J. Medhurst is Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Communication at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is the author or editor of ten books, is a frequent contributor to journals in rhetoric and communication studies and has published 60 articles/chapters. Medhurst is the founding editor of the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs and of the scholarly book series of the same title, both published by Michigan State University Press. He currently serves as the general editor of the ten volume series, A Rhetorical History of the United States, and as general editor of the Presidential Rhetoric book series, the Library of Presidential Rhetoric monograph series, and the Landmark Speeches monograph series. 
     Medhurst is the recipient of several honors and awards, including the 2005 National Communications Association Distinguished Scholar Award; the Paul Boase Prize for Scholarship; 1995 National Communication Association Marie Hochmuth Nichols Award for Outstanding Book or Monograph (for Eisenhower's War of Words); the National Communication Association Golden Anniversary Monograph Award for Outstanding Scholarship (with Michael A. DeSousa); and the Religious Communication Association Publication Award.

Robert L. Ivie is Professor and Chair of the Department of Speech Communication at Indiana University.

Philip Wander is Professor of Communication Studies at San Jose State University.

Robert L. Scott is Professor of Speech Communication at the University of Minnesota.

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Read an Excerpt

Cold War Rhetoric

Strategy, Metaphor, and Ideology

By Martin J. Medhurst, Robert L. Ivie, Philip Wander, Robert L. Scott

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 1997 Martin J. Medhurst, Robert L. Ivie, Philip Wander, and Robert L. Scott
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87013-442-5


Cold War and Rhetoric: Conceptually and Critically

Robert L. Scott

On February 1, 1980, President Jimmy Carter addressed the National Conference on Physical Fitness and Sports for All. After a brief introduction in which he quipped about his well-known penchant for jogging being no threat to marathon runners Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter, the president said:

This is a time of determination, a time of sober assessment, a time of challenge. I changed my prepared remarks at the last minute to say a few things that I think are important to the American people and particularly to you. I'd like to begin by paying a special tribute to a group that deserves the praise and support of all Americans, the United States Olympic Committee. Recently, I declared on behalf of the American people that unless the Soviet forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan, that the 1980 Olympic games should be moved from Moscow, canceled, or postponed. Both Houses of Congress, I think speaking accurately for the American people, have concurred strongly in that judgment. And last weekend, the United States Olympic Committee voted, I believe unanimously, to support the strong national sentiment on this issue. It was not an easy decision for me, nor for the Congress, nor for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Their decision was difficult, and it was a courageous action which deserves our praise and our support.

Of course we know now that the Olympics were neither moved from Moscow nor canceled or postponed, and that few other nations joined the United States in boycotting the summer games. Further, the boycott raised some controversy in this country. Soviet troops remained in Afghanistan. What did Jimmy Carter hope to achieve? That question is difficult to answer in detail, but it is not risky to say that he hoped to achieve more than he did.

In almost any human situation, response is important. Carter indicates as much in his speech in citing the action of Congress as "speaking accurately for the American people" and the action of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The national executive worked hard to assure those responses. That the president of the United States will respond in some fashion to any important action of the Soviet Union in today's world can be taken for granted and, to some degree, the nature of that response can also be taken for granted, for the United States and the USSR have been locked for decades in a Cold War.

The Cold War is not entirely a war of words; in the instance at hand, the presence or nonpresence of athletes representing the United States in Moscow in the summer of 1980 was an important moment in that war, just as was the embargo of grain shipments from this country to the Communist world.

Standing up to the USSR has been a mainstay in the conduct of U.S. foreign affairs since the end of World War II. Just what that phrase means, however, is constantly being interpreted by various parties within this country and abroad. Actions are justified by that phrase, and alleged lack of action, condemned.

We constantly interpret what others do. Carter could scarcely help doing so: "Some have said, many have said, that we should not allow politics to interfere with Olympic competition. I agree completely." Here the word "politics" is key in assigning meaning to the situation. "Some" or "many" had responded to Carter-for indeed the possibility of the Carter administration's involving the Olympics in its reactions to the Soviet's entering Afghanistan had hit the news in early January and had been avidly discussed since—and Carter responded: "But the issue now before our country and the world is not politics by any reasonable definition of that word." But what is a reasonable definition?

It is not politics when one nation sends 100,000 of its heavily armed troops across a border and subjugates its peace loving, deeply religious neighbor. It is not politics when one nation invades this nation's capital, installs a puppet regime, and participates in the assassination or death of the leaders which it does not like, including the families of those leaders. It's not politics when an army of invaders sweeps the countryside, as is presently taking place, killing those who dare to stand in its way. It's aggression, pure and simple. And I'm determined that the United States will make it clear to the Soviet Union, just as other countries are doing, that no country can trample life and liberty of another and expect to conduct business or sports as usual.

Do Carter's statements constitute a definition? In the context in which he is operating, they surely do. It is a definition that he expects will win assent, for the context calls for winning. The repetition and word choice mark someone who is trying to be hard-hitting, not willing to conduct "business ... as usual." The latter phrase echoes through Cold War controversies. Confronted with situations demanding response, leaders frequently declare that they refuse to conduct "business as usual," while others are criticized for allegedly doing so.

Interestingly enough, as the Carter administration was coming to its decision to make U.S. participation in the summer games contingent on what the USSR did in Afghanistan, a decision that unfolded in a variety of statements and reports during January 1980, the United States was preparing to host the winter games. What did the situation and principles that Carter alludes to dictate to the executive in regard to these? "I also want to make it clear," he continued in his speech February 1, "that I welcome athletes from all over the world who are now coming to Lake Placid, including those from the Soviet Union, to participate in the winter Olympic games."


If we ever look back on the Cold War as something past, then the series of actions that eventuated in the U.S. boycott of the 1980 summer Olympics will be a minor skirmish at most. It is very difficult to say at this juncture how all our actions regarding the guerrilla war in Afghanistan may be regarded. Can the support that the United States has given the guerrillas and the diplomatic, and perhaps undiplomatic, efforts of a highly diverse sort at a myriad of times be well described as a victory? We are inclined to see some "victories" in the Cold War, for example, the USSR's "backing down" under the pressure of the Kennedy administration's "quarantine" (the threatened interception of Soviet ships) during what we call "the Cuban Missile Crisis." On the other hand, we took a good many Cold War losses quite aside from the military actions during the hot conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

If the alleged placing of missiles in Cuba and the subsequent dismantling of the sites is a part of a Cold War, and if a hot war was carried on by the United States against armies supplied by the Soviet Union while the Cold War proceeded, the question of discerning something that is a "Cold War" becomes difficult.

Some dictionaries contain the entry "cold war." For example, The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "1. a state of political tension and military rivalry between nations, stopping short of actual full-scale war. 2. Capital C, capital W The state of such rivalry existing between the Soviet and American blocs of nations following World War II."

During World War II, the Soviet Union was often pictured very romantically as an ally in the popular press, but quickly after the end of the war disenchantment with its actions and intentions set in. Tensions increased until "The Cold War" became the common description for the relationship between the United States and the USSR, or the United States and its allies and the USSR and its satellites. America sees itself as having "allies" while the Soviet Union has "satellites." Further, we often express ourselves as opposing the Soviets in such a way as to make the nations of Western Europe feel as if, in our eyes, their interests and influence are of little consequence. The terms expressing the dominance of the Soviet Union tend to suggest, and often quite blatantly, a counter, dominant power: the United States.

Whatever the causes, the tensions, the actions and reactions both verbal and nonverbal, the constant maneuvering, shifts, and assessments make up what we sense to be a state of being—a state we choose to call the Cold War.

Of course, once in our reflective consciousness, the term seems strange, even inappropriate. Can a war be cold? If so, it is an oxymoron expressing some degree of ambivalence. Even the most vigorous of cold warriors, those completely convinced of the diabolical nature and intentions of their nation's adversaries, are ambivalent; that is, their words and actions have thus far stopped short, and stopping short is essential to the meaning of cold war. Ambivalence is built into the concept.

If the Cold War gets hotter, and it often has, how hot does it have to get before it is no longer a cold war? Questions of this sort ridicule the concept. There are always relations among nations that at any moment can be seen as some sort of a situation. Most obviously, whatever the "situation" is at any moment is made up of a myriad of instances—forces resulting in a sort of state, a stasis, but the forces shift and so do those states. Wars among nations, too, involve shifting states, and, looking back, we can see preliminary states that lead to the wars. What is gained by talking about a Cold War as if it is a stable condition?

The answer to the question is, in part, that we have to talk some way. Concepts generally are not perfect reflections of the reality around us. Even words that appear at first glance to be object words refer to a shifting reality. For example, one can refer to something very concrete, such as the Black Forest. You can go there and point at it. Or can you? You can point at this tree and that, but the whole thing, which is more than the trees—in fact, more than the physical objects within the boundaries of the forest (and we shall bypass the problem of saying with precision where the boundaries are)—is rather difficult to take in at a moment, and in the next moment it has changed. "The Black Forest" includes all the songs and poems in which these words have been repeated, that is, there has grown up around that place something that is more than the place.

We could continue this exercise with some small object that can seemingly be taken in at a glance, but that too, symbolized by a word, is a shifting reality.

But shifting as the phenomena about us may be, there are better and worse ways to talk about them. One might grant that assertion and, in doing so, one must confront the evaluative implications of the better and worse ways. In regard to the Cold War, one might object that it lacks precision; but, on the other hand, it engages attention. One might object that it encourages us to think of the Soviet Union as adversaries to be beaten; on the other hand, it may encourage us to keep our confrontations cold. I am not trying to suggest that all arguments are equally balanced so that they make no difference; I would say rather that they make great differences and we should be evaluating them.

Whatever we say about it, the concept of Cold War is well established. For better and worse, it is a way of grappling with the complex and perplexing situation that is both a fascinating puzzle and a terrifying prospect.


The expression "the Cold War" may be well established, but one might say that it is rhetoric rather than reality. Ironically, one of the greatest burdens that rhetoric must bear is itself rhetorical—the attraction of alliteration and antithesis that brings the phrase "rhetoric or reality" so readily into many discussions.

What do we mean by "reality?" Things as they really are, of course. Notice how easily the word "really" creeps into the statement. Since "really" repeats "reality," the redundancy is to gain emphasis. If we omit that word, then the burden falls on "things." What is a thing? Or better, perhaps, what is not a thing? So whatever is, in whatever condition that it is, is reality. But such statements get us nowhere in particular, unless we admit rhetoric into the picture. If we do, then we see these statements as quite rhetorical. The redundancy of "really" adds force to a statement; the statement does not simply exist, but is stated by someone for a purpose. Moreover, it is probably stated to someone; it is addressed. The character and relationship of speaker and audience is markedly important in considering these statements.

But can we not make a more satisfactory description of "reality" than these statements? One that is perhaps less informal, more careful? Putting aside the distinctly rhetorical characteristics of these questions, let us answer simply "yes." As the Random House Dictionary suggests, reality is "[the belief in] the existence of things independent of words about them." If one inserts the words I have bracketed, rhetoric may again appear, since traditionally rhetoric has meant appeals designed to inculcate belief. One need not insert the bracketed words, of course, but a statement not believed in is empty. If one says that it makes no difference whether anyone believes the statement or not, the statement is true—then truth is empty. It is difficult to believe that anyone who says belief makes no difference understands what he or she is saying, since the trouble of saying so, not to mention the vigor that enlivens the saying, seems enough to warrant that belief does make a difference.

Accepting the belief that reality exists independently of words about it (independently of thought about it, too), one will probably not leave reality long without words. Talk about reality is often a powerful sorting instrument—"in reality," "that's rhetoric, not reality," "reality shows us" and similar statements serve to mark the good, to curb the bad, to encourage accepting, or to scourge nonaccepting. In short, reality is a most useful rhetorical concept.

If we take reality to be the stuff of the world that affects our lives moment to moment (as in "reality is a hard teacher"), then rhetoric is bound up with what reality is for us. The writer of the Rubáiyát gave us this verse:

Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things Entire, Would we not smash it to bits—and then

Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's desire!

(Fitzgerald translation)

We might like to grasp things in their entirety, but we probably won't. We shall rather deal with bits and pieces of reality. In doing so, we are inevitably emphasizing and, whether explicitly or not, personalizing—that we choose to talk. about something indicates a degree of value in doing so, and the value is often quite intense, especially when we appeal to the reality of our operations in doing what we do.

Jimmy Carter was singling out and personalizing when he called on the Soviets, the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Congress, and the American people: this is important (not business as usual); I am acting in our interest, support me. But was his description realistic? Questions like that are ambiguous in this sense: people who ask others to be realistic may be asking that they report accurately, but they are even more apt to be instructing others to be pragmatic. Of course those two aspects of the common question may well harmonize.

In this case, one could certainly argue that Carter was not accurate. Part of the difficulty would be in agreeing on meaning for the key descriptive term. Is "aggression" an accurate description of what the Soviets did? Did they install a "puppet" or were they invited by a legitimate government to aid in quelling insurrection? Those questions would appear to make accuracy focal. Can we obtain the necessary cooperation in getting the site of the Olympics changed or the games postponed? If not, will a boycott of the games do much to bend the will of the Soviets? Those questions would appear to make the pragmatic focal. (And we know the answers now.)

Acting effectively given accurate descriptions of events might be another way of defining reality. But in this statement, just as in the questions of accuracy and pragmatics, values are evident. One cannot act effectively unless one has some criteria, explicit or implicit, for judging effectiveness. If one will act in concert with others, the criteria must be in some measure agreed upon. In short, the question must be answered: by whose standards? Which is similar to saying, from whose point of view? These sorts of questions can often be answered conventionally, which means that they have been more or less settled in past practice. However well settled, past practice needs to become relevant to current concerns. In short, rhetoric was probably a part of the past that led to a consensus widely enough recognized to be thought of as convention, and rhetoric will be a part of guiding present conduct conventionally. Rhetoric will intensify especially if, as they often do, the conventions seem incommensurate with present concerns.


Excerpted from Cold War Rhetoric by Martin J. Medhurst, Robert L. Ivie, Philip Wander, Robert L. Scott. Copyright © 1997 Martin J. Medhurst, Robert L. Ivie, Philip Wander, and Robert L. Scott. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
Chapter 1 - Cold War and Rhetoric: Conceptually and Critically,
Chapter 2 - Rhetoric and Cold War: A Strategic Approach,
Chapter 3 - Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" Speech: A Case Study in the ...,
Chapter 4 - Rhetorical Portraiture: John F. Kennedy's March 2, 1962, Speech on ...,
Chapter 5 - Cold War Motives and the Rhetorical Metaphor: A Framework of Criticism,
Chapter 6 - Diffusing Cold War Demagoguery: Murrow versus McCarthy on "See It Now",
Chapter 7 - Metaphor and the Rhetorical Invention of Cold War "Idealists",
Chapter 8 - Critical and Classical Theory: An Introduction to Ideology Criticism,
Chapter 9 - The Rhetoric of American Foreign Policy,
Chapter 10 - Political Rhetoric and the Un-American Tradition,
Chapter 11 - The Prospects of Cold War Criticism,
Selected Bibliography,

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