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Sample Rhetorical Analysis Essay
The following is an example of an original work, followed by a sample rhetorical analysis of that work. This sample is drawn from the UBC Writing Centre website.
The following is the text of a letter that U.S. President George Bush sent to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on January 9th, shortly before the start of the 1991 Gulf War.
We stand today at the brink of war between Iraq and the world. This is a war that began with your invasion of Kuwait; this is a war that can be ended only by Iraq’s full and unconditional compliance with UN Security Council resolution 678.
I am writing to you now, directly, because what is at stake demands that no opportunity be lost to avoid what would be a certain calamity for the people of Iraq. I am writing, as well, because it is said by some that you do not understand just how isolated Iraq is and what Iraq faces as a result.
I am not in a position to judge whether this impression is correct; what I can do though, is try in this letter to reinforce what Secretary of State James A. Baker told your foreign minister and eliminate any uncertainty or ambiguity that might exist in your mind about where we stand and what we are prepared to do.
The international community is united in its call for Iraq to leave all of Kuwait without condition and without further delay. This is not simply the policy of the United States; it is the position of the world community as expressed in no less than twelve Security Council resolutions.
We prefer a peaceful outcome. However, anything less than full compliance with UN Security Council resolution 678 and its predecessors is unacceptable. There can be no reward for aggression.
Nor will there be any negotiation. Principles cannot be compromised. However, by its full compliance, Iraq will gain the opportunity to rejoin the international community. More immediately, the Iraqi military establishment will escape destruction. But unless you withdraw from Kuwait completely and without condition, you will lose more than Kuwait. What is at issue here is not the future of Kuwait--it will be free, its government restored--but rather the future of Iraq. This choice is yours to make.
The United States will not be separated from its coalition partners. Twelve Security Council Resolutions, twenty-eight countries providing military units to enforce them, more than one hundred governments complying with sanctions--all highlight the fact that it is not Iraq against the United States, but Iraq against the world. That most Arab and Muslim countries are arrayed against you as well should reinforce what I am saying. Iraq cannot and will not be able to hold on to Kuwait or exact a price for leaving. You may be tempted to find solace in the diversity of opinion that is American democracy. You should resist any such temptation. Diversity ought not to be confused with division. Nor should you underestimate, as others have before you, America’s will.
Iraq is already feeling the effects of the sanctions mandated by the United Nations. Should war come, it will be a far greater tragedy for you and your country. Let me state, too, that the United States will not tolerate the use of chemical or biological weapons or the destruction of Kuwait’s oil fields and installations. Further, you will be held directly responsible for terrorist actions against any member of the coalition. The American people would demand the strongest possible response. You and your country will pay a terrible price if you order unconscionable acts of this sort.
I write this letter not to threaten, but to inform. I do so with no sense of satisfaction, for the people of the United States have no quarrel with the people of Iraq. Mr. President, UN Security Council resolution 678 establishes the period before January 15 of this year as a "pause of good will" so that this crisis may end without further violence. Whether this pause is used as intended, or merely becomes a prelude to further violence, is in your hands, and yours alone.
I hope you weigh your choice carefully and choose wisely, for much will depend upon it.\
The following is a sample analysis of the letter written from George Bush to Saddam Hussein. Compare this response to your reading of the text. Notice, in particular, the writers' level of detail here, the use of evidence from the text, and the depth of the analysis.
Political Spin: An Analysis of George Bush’s Letter to Saddam Hussein
President George Bush’s letter to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is, at least on the surface, a persuasive piece intended to convince the Iraqi leader to withdraw his forces from occupied Kuwait before war breaks out. Upon closer reading, however, the critical reader will see that Bush’s "argument" is, in fact, not much of a rational argument (let alone a convincing one), which is odd in that Bush himself repeatedly points out that much is at stake. The superficiality of the American President’s argument leads one to seek out other more likely purposes.
The chief rhetorical aim here seems not to be to persuade a ruthless dictator to act rationally, but rather to explain to another audience--perhaps the world and posterity--why we had to go to war. In this sense, George Bush is putting a political spin on a possibly bloody conflict in which many coalition soldiers may perish. Keep in mind that on the eve of the war, the pervading fear was that Saddam had at his fingertips, a vast stockpile of chemical or biological weapons, and possibly some nuclear devices. Bush works towards his dual purposes (an expository, reputation-clearing explanation masked behind a weak attempt at persuasion) through his calculated use of diction, repetition, sentence length, and persuasive appeals, all of which underscore the threatening tone that looms throughout the letter.
Why is Bush’s primary concern here not one of persuasion (despite the immediate context)? We must first ask ourselves whether or not Bush is actually even putting forth an argument. Are there two sides to this issue in the terms that Bush puts the situation (remember that an argument is a rational discussion that requires two sides)? Does the American President allow for two such sides, or is he simply dictating an either / or fallacy? Either Saddam removes his forces from Kuwait, or Saddam and his forces will be obliterated. If Bush is really doing everything in his power to avoid a military confrontation, why is there no further opportunity for negotiations? Sanctions? He is simply telling Saddam what he must do; he is dictating the unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces. If you were Saddam, would you feel like you’re a part of a rational discussion, or would you be feeling like you’re being backed into a corner? Do you give in, or do you become even more defiant (the only way left for you to save any political face)?
Bush’s use of language and style is particularly important to
of his dual purposes. Given that excessive rhetoric is typical of political speeches and letters (Do you remember Saddam’s own favorites -- "The Mother Of All Battles" and "Americans will be swimming in pools of their own blood?"), it is notable that Bush refrains from using figurative language that plays on word meanings. In paragraph #2, he explains to Saddam that he is writing "because it is said by some that you do not understand just how isolated Iraq is" and because he wants "to eliminate any uncertainty or ambiguity" (paragraph #3) that may be confusing the Iraqi President. Bush wants his demands to be clear: he uses no uncertain terms. His sentences and paragraphs are short, for the most part, to get his message across tersely, and clearly, so that no meaning could be lost through interpretation or translation.
Bush’s deliberate use of inclusive and exclusive words helps to set up Saddam in opposition to the world. His repeated use of "world," "international community," "UN Security Council," "coalition partners," and "we" in polar opposition to words like "you," and "your" distinctly isolates Saddam Hussein from what appears to be world opinion. Bush makes every effort to portray himself and the United States as just simply contributing members of an international group. According to Bush, "this is not simply the policy of the United States; it is the position of the world community" (paragraph #4). As members of this coalition, America is simply one of many nations seeking a peaceful resolution.
Built subtly into his language are Bush’s persuasive appeals. He is clearly taking the moral highground when he rather ironically asserts that "(t)here can be no reward for aggression"(paragraph #5). He assures Saddam that "(w)hat is at issue here is not the future of Kuwait--it will be free" implying that the reason for his (and the world’s) fast actions is one of democracy; he is championing the powerless, and at the same time, he says he has doesn’t want to punish the Iraqi people either. However, putting aside the fact that Kuwait wasn’t a very democratic country even before the invasion, we have to ask ourselves why Bush goes to such great lengths to come across as a defender of freedom. It doesn’t seem to be for Saddam’s benefit. Could this carefully constructed sense of ethos have anything to do with the "oil fields and installations" of paragraph #8? Certainly if thousands of Americans ended up dying in the Persian Gulf, Bush would want history to see his motivations as more lofty than the preservation of the West’s crude oil supply.
Bush’s ethical mask attempts to distance himself and America from the central conflict begin to unravel themselves at the end of the letter. His cause and effect development of pointing out the results and possible results of Saddam’s actions and inactions lead to an ironic turn in tone. The American President contradicts his entire "us-the world" versus "you" argument in paragraph #8 when he finally reveals the ultimate threat behind the coalition forces--"(t)he American people would demand the strongest possible response"--ultimately, it is "us" (George Bush and the United States) versus "you." Therefore, you’d better do what you’re told, or we’ll annihilate you!
Ironically, Bush ends his letter by offering that, "I write this letter not to threaten, but to inform" (paragraph #9); he does, in a way, accomplish both. He clearly threatens the Iraqi leader with the numerous logical appeals to the immense forces arrayed against him (an appeal that has little "rational" basis to back it up given the either/or mentality behind it); also, he informs the world that if we end up in a prolonged, bloody exchange, it wasn’t because of the United States, and it certainly wasn’t because of the peace-loving American President. If bloodshed occurs, it is solely the responsibility of Saddam Hussein.
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