The Rhetoric of Modern War

In 1946, George Orwell, wrote, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties.” In this course we will, like Orwell, look at how language affects our perception of war, at how words have been used to justify and criticize, to clarify and confuse the issues behind American wars in this century. To do so, we’ll examine a variety of genres including speeches and essays, fiction, newspaper and magazine articles, film, and songs. By the end of the course, you should have a better understanding of the rhetorical nature of all texts–including history–and of how citizens have been (or can be) persuaded that war is necessary — that is, an understanding of how arguments about war do their work.