Language and War: The Rhetoric of George W. Bush

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In response to attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, George Bush stated in September 2001, “freedom and fear are at war” (“Address to a Joint Session”). This phrase indicates a pattern of language persistent in his speeches over the following three years, one that exploited conventional United States ideology and crippled rational opposition. Through reductive use of abstract terminology, Bush encouraged public support for a war of indeterminate targets and duration and acceptance of its implications: death of U.S. citizens and foreigners, suspension of certain civil liberties, high military expenses, and damage to international relations.
This paper attempts to demonstrate how the White House motivated U.S. public consent while simultaneously restricting the potential for open and rational debate. I analyze several presidential speeches delivered between September 2001 and May 2004 and examine interviews with Osama bin Laden to illustrate parallels between Bush’s and bin Laden’s strategic applications of language. Ultimately, I argue that because Bush had to appeal to an ideologically diverse U.S. population, he invoked an interpretive stance; rather than inviting logical consideration of merit and disadvantage, the war was presented through abstract language and within a framework of moral and cultural association. This strategy circumvented social variances and promoted social cohesion as his audience became bound through unifying principles. By drawing from and reiterating pre-existing notions of community and collective identification, Bush associated traditional values of the U.S. democratic ideal with his own agenda.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalYoung Scholars In Writing
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Law
  • History
  • Rhetoric

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