Praising the fallen heroes: Storytelling in US war presidential rhetoric, from Johnson to Obama

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2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This paper analyses the use of storytelling by United States presidents in their war speeches, from the Vietnam War to the War on Terror. The study proposes a dual concept of storytelling in political communication: first, the global story that lies behind the presidential rhetoric aimed at justifying war; and second, the use of a specific technique consisting of inserting particular, personal stories into the speeches in order to communicate specific messages to the audience. The methodology used consists of an in-depth, interpretive, qualitative content analysis of a sample of presidential speeches. The findings confirm, firstly, that US presidents’ war storytelling aims to reinforce the political myth of America’s duty to preserve freedom, an argument that helps make the burden of the war understandable and bearable for the people, thereby reaffirming American collective identity. It is a reductionist narrative, as all wars are presented as having the same causes and goals. Secondly, the presidential use of personal stories is confirmed to have increased exponentially from the Vietnam War era. In most cases, these stories consist of a personification of some basic values attributed to the whole nation, by means of which these values are reinforced: heroism, patriotism, sense of duty, and, above all – again – the defence of freedom. The results also show that, in this aspect of their war rhetoric, the differences between George W. Bush and Barack Obama are at least blurred, despite their ideological and political differences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-328
Number of pages18
JournalLanguage and Literature
Volume27
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018

Keywords

  • Storytelling
  • US presidential discourse
  • narrative
  • political communication
  • rhetoric
  • war

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