traci's lists of ten

Traci's 23rd List of Ten:
Ten Rhetoric of War Writing Projects

Posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk, and TEACH on 4/4/99.

Every time I see a news report or read an article or some other report on the events in Kosovo, I'm overcome with my inability to do anything meaningful or useful, especially in contrast to the overwhelming need. While I'm unsure what I think the US and NATO should be doing, I do know that the treatment of the Albanians is inhumane and unacceptable. I can't feed them all. I can't find them shelter or doctors or any of the other things they need. Getting weepy when I see the pictures and stories isn't helpful. So this is my attempt to do something. In many ways, it feels like nothing; but I thought that if you could do one of these exercises with your students, even if it were only in a discussion rather than paper, perhaps we could raise understanding and help make something good happen.

For my secondary school friends — Perhaps if you cannot work the projects into your own curriculum, you can share them with history or government teachers who might be able to use them.

  1. [Naming] Take a close look at the names that are being used for events, people, and things that are used. As a start, think about who uses the word "war" and who uses terms such as "military action." Consider the connotation and the denotation of the words that are used. Choose several related names that are being used. In your paper, analyze this diction — what is the purpose of such names? what audience are they pointed toward? what tone does the writer want to communicate to readers/listeners? what conclusions can you draw about the writer's rhetorical strategies? Starting Point: here are some fairly loaded terms from wars in the last few decades that you can use to help students understand the ways that words are used: ethnic cleansing, freedom fighters, peacekeepers, police action, death squad, and Serbian war machine.

  2. [Persuasive Technique] Choose a speech or statement of one of the groups involved in the war. You can choose a politician, a military speaker, an analyst, a relief agency, and so on. You need to find a specific statement by one of these groups rather than quotations from someone in a newspaper article or on television. Analyze the persuasive techniques that the author has used: how does the writer use logical, ethical, and emotional appeals? Has the writer incorporated any fallacies? How does the author address objections? How are counter-arguments used? Write a paper that explains your analysis of the speech or statement and draws some conclusions about the effectiveness of its persuasive techniques.

  3. [Evasion] Choose a speech or statement of one of the groups involved in the war. You can choose a politician, a military speaker, an analyst, a relief agency, and so on. You need to find a specific statement by one of these groups rather than quotations from someone in a newspaper article or on television. Look closely at the things that the speaker says in the speech or statement; then, step back and think of all the things that are NOT said. What issues has the writer avoided? What descriptions are missing? Which people are never mentioned? Who never speaks? What emotions are not dealt with? Write a paper that explains the absences in the text. Account for the writer's rhetorical purpose in avoiding these issues.

  4. [Objective vs. Subjective] For this assignment, you can focus on a news broadcast, a newspaper or magazine article, a news briefing, or another speech or statement. Go through the text that you've chosen, and separate objective details and material from subjective details and material. When does the writer use objective details, and when does the writer rely on subjective details? Write a paper that analyzes the ways that the writer uses these different kinds of details.

  5. [Metaphor] Look at the metaphor behind a specific discussion of the war. There are a variety of metaphors that are used frequently — the events might be presented as business decisions, a gambling, an adventure story, a fairy tale. Are there profits and losses? bets and risks? heroes and victims? innocent people suffering at the hands of a wicked villain? Explore a particular metaphor, and write a paper that explains how the metaphor works and the rhetorical purpose that the writer hopes to fulfill by relying on the metaphor. Take a look at George Lakoff's "Metaphor and War" for more details on these issues.

  6. [First-Hand Reports] Compare first-hand reports for two or more different wars. Look at the things that the writer or speaker says, the things that are described, the emotions that are expressed, and the explanations for events that are given. You might even test yourself and your friends: if you remove place names and other obvious identifying information, can you tell which war or other conflict the first-hand report refers to? Write a comparison/contrast paper that explores the relationships between the reports, and accounts for the reasons that the first-hand reports echo each other — or diverge.

  7. [Picture This] Examine the way that pictures, graphics, and film are used to communicate information about the war. What role do these items fill? What rhetorical purpose do they serve? How do they relate to words about them — is there a voice over? a sidebar with info? a caption? Is there any music or sound effect related to the pictures, graphics, or film? How do the parameters change with the author and audience for the piece — for example, how are the pictures that are used in a government briefing different from those used on the evening news, shown on a newspaper web site, or on a relief agency's web site? Create a classification system that accounts for the kinds of pictures, graphics, and films that are used, when they are used, and the ways that they are used.

  8. [Making War] You've probably heard the phrase "It's easier to make war than peace" before. It was first said by Georges Clemenceau, the French politician who oversaw the writing of the Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I — though he was speaking in French ("Il est plus facile de faire la guerre que la paix.") Look for support for Clemenceau's statement in public statements on the events in Kosovo. Do the word choice, the arguments, and the other rhetorical features of the statement work toward war or peace? Write a paper that explains your analysis. Based on the evidence that you have before you, focus your paper on whether it been easier to make war than peace.

  9. [Role of Television] ... ok, an aside: this is a repeat from the previous list, but as I was filling this list in—cutting the old question and typing in the new topic in the square brackets, I realized that this could be revised for a great question for this topic too....

    Edward R. Murrow said, "Television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us." In light of Murrow's quotation, what role would you say that television plays in a war? Does television distract? If so, from what, and how? Or does it delude? Who is being deluded? What methods does television use? If television amuses, whom does it amuse, and what techniques are used? If television is insulating us, what is it insulating us from, and how are we being insulated? Does television fill several roles? Or do you see the media as filling roles that Murrow has not allowed for? In your paper, explain the roles that television fill in time of war. Focus on specific television coverage, providing examples and explanations from the shows that support your analysis.

  10. [Victims] Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, wrote "They do not despair. The proof: they persist in surviving not only to survive, but to testify. The victims elect to become witnesses." Can you apply Wiesel's observation to the victims in the current war? In what ways do they testify? What rhetorical strategies do you see in the words of victims? When do they appear to logic, to ethics, and to emotion? Are there fallacies in their testimony? If they are witnesses, how reliable and persuasive are they? Write a paper that analyzes the testimony of these witnesses and draws some conclusions about the effectiveness of their persuasive techniques.
Originally Posted April 7, 1999 on the Daedalus Website.