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Critical comparison and examination of the language used by George W. Bush and Urban II to declare the ‘war on terror’ and the first crusade

Essay 2011 14 Seiten

Medien / Kommunikation - Medien und Politik, Pol. Kommunikation



1. Introduction

2. Propaganda Techniques and Speech Patterns
2.1. Addressing the Population
2.1.1. Faulty Cause and Effect
2.1.2. Bandwagon
2.1.3. Transfer
2.1.4. Appeal to Unity
2.1.5. Appeal to authority
2.1.6. Appeal to Emotion
2.2. Speaking about the enemy
2.2.1. Name Calling
2.3. General techniques
2.3.1. Symbolism
2.3.2. Either/or Fallacy
2.3.3. Glittering Generalities

3.0. Conclusion

4.0. Appendix
4.1. Bibliography

1.0. Introduction

I chose this introduction for my comparison and examination because it shows in a good way, how similar the speech patterns of leaders, who are separated by nearly a millennium, can still be. With this essay I want to find out, whether there are more similarities in the declarations of war of those two powerful leaders. If so, I want to compare the propaganda methods they employed, and elaborate what their intention to use them was. I will separate between the speech that is directed towards the audience, the words that describe the enemy, and the general techniques that are used to bring people to action.

I will look at the five major speeches that George Bush gave from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 until the declaration of war against Afghanistan. Concerning Urban, I will examine five different surviving versions of his speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095. The authenticity of these five versions, which all stem from different chroniclers, is disputed among historians. Yet, most agree that there are also congruities that appear in all the different versions. And even if the words handed down to us are not all Urban’s II, they still show the effect his speech had on the chroniclers and therefore figuratively on the people.

2.0. Propaganda Techniques and Speech Patterns

2.1. Addressing the Population

2.1.1. Faulty Cause and Effect

This technique is used to construct a connection between two terms, which need not necessarily be mutually dependent. It suggests that when B follows A, A must cause B (McDonald 2003). With this technique, it becomes easy, to blame people who have committed a crime, of another one. As the perpetrators have already proven to be morally corrupt, people are more willing to believe that they are guilty of other crimes as well.

Bush says about the 9/11 terrorists that "the depth of their hatred is equalled by the madness of the destruction they design" and thereby "reflect[s] the widely held belief that they must be mentally unbalanced or psychologically ill to engage in such behaviour" (Jackson 2005:62). With this statement, he not only outlaws the “mad” terrorists, but also frees his audience from pondering about their motives

Pope Urban II uses a similar rhetoric figure. He preaches to the Franks that their land is too small and that "hence it is that you murder one another" (Halsall 1997). Once having explained the (probably wrong) reasons for their self-destructive violence, he tells them how to deal with their aggressiveness instead: "It is a lesser evil to brandish your swords against Saracens; indeed, it is a good thing, since it is charity to lay down your lives for your brothers" (Throop 2005:115).

2.1.2. Bandwagon

This rhetorical figure is used to persuade the individual to follow the crowd by taking advantage of the human desire to be on the winning side instead of being isolated and lonely. People are encouraged to join a mass movement by being assured that a large group of people cannot be wrong (McDonald op cit).

The US-President assures his citizens of the legality of the ‘War on Terror’ by letting them know that "we ask every nation to join us (…) The United States is grateful that many nations and many international organizations have already responded -- with sympathy and with support" (The White House op cit).

Urban II uses the same means, although slightly altered, to enthral his audience. But instead of making his audience jump on the bandwagon, he reveals to them what would happen if they would not join:

"If anyone, after receiving this emblem, or after taking openly this vow, should shrink from his good intent through base change of heart, or any affection for his parents, he should be regarded an outlaw forever, unless he repented and again undertook whatever of his pledge he had omitted“(Halsall op cit)

2.1.3. Transfer

By employing this technique, the approval or the authority of a respected person or symbol is used to lend credibility and importance to something the speaker wants to achieve (McDonald op cit).

Bush ensures this by citing a legendary US-President, thereby conjuring up memories of the glory, but also the hardship of the Second World War: "Today, we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called ‘the warm courage of national unity’ (...) And this unity against terror is now extending across the world" (The White House op cit).

Urban II draws on inspiring historical figures: "Let the deeds of your ancestors move you and incite your minds to manly achievements (...) Oh, most valiant soldiers and descendants of invincible ancestors, be not degenerate, but recall the valour of your progenitors" (Halsall op cit).

2.1.4. Appeal to Unity

The aforementioned unity is a very important factor, especially in moments where people would rather flee into the safety of their own individual niche.

Bush prevents them from doing so by appealing to their patriotism: “Americans showed a deep commitment to each other, and an abiding love for our country (...) This is unity of every faith, and every background" (White House op cit).

But he also uses the ever uniting power of fear. By exaggerating and repeating the threat of Islamist terrorism many times, he finally reaches his goal: "to enforce a disciplined unity on a sometimes unruly and (dis)United States" (Jackson op cit:115). He brings people of different races and social backgrounds together “through their contrast with a shared enemy", through "convergence by divergence" (Smith 1994:7).

Bush uses further rhetorical figures. He unites for example the words ‘I’ and ‘we’ several times in a single sentence. By using the word ‘I’, he shows his personal commitment and his ability to lead, by using ‘we’, he proves that he is a citizen himself (Jackson op cit:129). Moss points out that the consistent use of we also "links the individual with the state and (...) may weaken in some sense the individual's hold on independent thought" (1985:46).

Pope Urban II on the contrary had real problems to overcome the disunity of medieval Europe. It is therefore no wonder that he referred to higher powers, and urged the knights of the continent to stop waging "private war against the faithful", but rather to become "knights of Christ." The overall goal was so important that all inner quarrels should be forgotten (Leopold 2000:58).

2.1.5. Appeal to authority

God is also frequently used by George W. Bush, an evangelical Christian, who once said that he felt that God has chosen him to become president (Harris 2003). He is convinced that "freedom and fear,

Picture 1: Bush received his intelligence updates during the Iraq War with bible verses printed on them (Thompson 2009)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that god is not neutral between them" (Silberstein 2002:14). For Bush, it seems, the 'War on Terror’ is an epic battle between the forces of darkness and light. While this language could irritate some moderate listeners, Jackson (op cit:143) is convinced that "through a combination of language, religious symbolism, ritual and claims to authority, Bush appealed directly to the beliefs of millions of evangelical Christians and invested the 'war on terrorism' with transcendent meaning and a divine sanction." And he calls on the higher authority with a verse from the bible: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me" (The White House op cit).

He is therefore in good company with Urban II, who motivated his “knights of Christ” (Maier 1994:111) with a quote of Jesus: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Maier ibid:113). And he believed that he would get divine assistance for his crusade as well. Three of the surviving versions of Urban’s II speech mention the leadership of Jesus: Baudry quotes Urban II as saying that "under Jesus Christ, our Leader, may you struggle for your Jerusalem", Fulches describes that Urban II named the crusaders "Christ's heralds", and Guibert wrote that "Christ will be your standard-bearer and inseparable forerunner" (Halsall op cit).

2.1.6. Appeal to Emotion

It is likely that Bush and Urban II both felt, that not all listeners would be motivated only by divine authority. So they appealed to their faith and their hearts. They achieved this by planting fear of the enemy into the hearts of the population. Bush explained to his unsuspecting audience that

"Afghanistan's people have been brutalized – many are starving and many have fled. Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough" (Silberstein op cit :23).

Laswell (1934:162) already knew from his analysis of Hitler’s propaganda, that this was exactly the way how an enemy had to be described in order to stir up feelings:

"For mobilization of national hatred the enemy must be represented as a menacing, murderous aggressor, a satanic violator of the moral and conventional standards, an obstacle to the cherished aims and ideals of the nation as a whole and of each constituent part."




Titel: Critical comparison and examination of the language used by George W. Bush and Urban II to declare the ‘war on terror’ and the first crusade