Voices of Leadership in Time of War
Political Leadership and War
Perhaps no demand for political leadership is as great as war and peace. War can be a profound experience:
- Lives are on the line. Wars kill. They make widows and orphans. They make parents bury their children instead of the other way around. In 20th century culture these were unnatural events.
- War erodes a society's wealth. Although war may boost industrial production, it does so for goods that are blown up. As a result, economic production does not go toward enhancing a standard of living. When production is directed towards goods that are blown up it cannot produce goods to expand the economy or goods to make lives better.
- War restricts freedoms. Wars demand greater regimentation of society than is normal in a democracy. Criticism becomes unpatriotic rather than a sign of lively democracy. Normal rules of behavior are distorted in everything from how soldiers are treated to how prisoners are treated. Even in a low commitment war like the war on al Qaeda, those of us living in the Washington area can see how our freedom to travel and our freedom to access our government is restricted.
- Total war changes societies profoundly. One historian has observed that whatever the objectives for which we enter wars, the society emerges from the war much different than anyone envisioned. Wars distort normal social development for better or for worse. The society on the day the war starts will never be again.
War is a major element of the 20th Century
The century has been marked by four levels of military engagement:
- Total War. In conditions of total war, the societies themselves
are engaged in the struggle. Life in the societies is distorted toward
the war effort and the war becomes the dominant fact molding the character
of life in the culture. In the 20th Century, World Wars I and II and the
Cold War were total wars.
- National Confrontations. National confrontations are marked
by nations warring with nations and governments, but the armies battle rather than the
total commitment of the society. Other forces control the character of
our society more than the war, although the war certainly has an impact.
In the 20th Century, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq were the national confrontations
that marked American life.
- Military Diplomacy. Often in the century there have been military
ventures that the society hardly noticed except for blips in presidential
popularity. They are often small scale operations against weak countries
that do not tax American military strength. Examples from the final quarter
of the century are Panama, Haiti, Grenada, Bosnia, and Afghanistan
- Organizational Targets. Late in the century the military has been asked to contribute to quasi-wars growing out of commitments to destroy non-state organizations the political leadership or the society has judged worthy of destruction. These wars generally require little societal commitment, are often fought with deception and clandestine activities, often drag on for years with minimal evidence of success, and command little attention from the society. Support for them varies considerably. Rhetorically they tend to have hit and miss visibility. Examples of targeted organizations include the drug cartels of the Western hemisphere and the Islamist terrorist group al Qaeda.
Leadership in war
With so much on the line, war requires
many leadership skills. Primary among these is rhetoric's power to transform
material events and facts into motivation.
There are two absolutely crucial rhetorical
requirements when the United States (or any nation) goes to war:
We will look at justification later; now look at motivation.
Regardless of the conflict, those who
would wage war must get their language ready for war. The costs of war are the
ultimate tests of motivation and commitment.
Layers of motivation
are required to fight a war
- A personal motivation. At base, all citizens
involved in the war must have a personal rhetoric that motivates their actions
required during wartime. Families must explain their sacrifice of sons, daughters,
mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. Today there are typically two such
rhetorics: "He gave his life for a greater cause." and "He
died doing what he loved to do." And families who make economic sacrifice
to support the war effort must justify that sacrifice as well. So, every family
needs a rhetoric to use to motivate their support for the war.
- A National Motivation. The rhetoric of "a
greater cause" requires a national motivation. Presidents must nationalize
motivation through the rituals of war. He explains how the war is required
by the needs of the community. The president often has his words echoed in
media and by others.
Stages in Rhetorical
Campaigns for War
If we study the rhetoric with which we
go to war it has a particular pattern. All of the following must develop, and
they tend to develop in the order indicated.
The War opens with a "Declaration of War."
American Presidents are required by the Constitution, the War Powers Act,
and by the success of the venture to request Congressional approval for
war. Generally, Presidents have found that getting such support is one rhetorical
strategy required for effective war. And generally, they appeal for that
support in a speech -- either to Congress or the American public through
the mass media -- which establishes the justification for the war and provides
the "official" rhetorical motivation that will spread throught
A propaganda campaign maintains the commitment.
In this century, propaganda campaigns are a feature of warfare. Although
the term "propaganda" is often used as a pejorative for the rhetoric
of the enemy, the rhetorical strategies which characterize such campaigns
are used by all combatants. Militaries oppose democratic and open communications
in time of war because of the threat open communication offers to secrecy;
the failure to maintain secrecy threatens their troops and their power.
Propaganda campaigns diffuse the justification for the war through the people
of the community and provide ways of maintaining the strength of the commitment.
A day-to-day rhetoric of war coordinates the community's
war effort. A complex web of activities such as victory gardens, war
production, economic controls, and so forth develop a vocabulary and a motivational
framework that turns the normal life of the community toward productive
contribution to the war.
an Ongoing Motivation for War
There are certain things that an effective
motivation for war must accomplish.
- To divide the enemies from allies.
A vocabulary typically develops that allows allegiances to take form that
permits opposition. This vocabulary is often pejorative and dehumanizing.
- Promoting values of heroism and sacrifice.
We celebrate the bravery of soldiers. Our media has role models of our heroes.
We celebrate the sacrifices at funerals.
American leaders have typical ways in
which they motivate war.
- Characteristic ideographs serve as the central
wellspring of commitment.
- Central theme is <rights>. The concept
of <rights> is a particular symbol -- an ideograph -- which Americans
use to rhetorically enforce limitations on governments and on other people.
The American use of <rights> is grounded in the strategy of the
American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution's Bill of Rights.
This ideograph, because it is a symbolic reservoir of what the American
community values enough to sacrifice or die for, becomes a central symbol
in the rhetoric of Presidents who seek to justify war.
- In the 20th century, <democracy> and
<law> has been the main support for <rights>. Typically,
there are other terms -- we might call them "God terms" because
of their power -- which interact with <rights> to form the justification.
In the 20th century, these terms have been <democracy> and <law>.
Thus, we come to think of those we fight as anti-democratic and violators
of international law. These three ideographs form a triumvirate of ideals.
- In the 21st century, <freedom> and <evil>
have become the primary ideographs. These are juxtaposed.
Thus, we fight for the sake of "lovers of freedom" and those
we oppose us do so because they are "evil." <Democracy>
remains as an auxiliary ideograph, subordinate to the others. Thus,
<freedom> comes with <democracy> and the <evil> oppose
democracy. The <evil> are also known because they have a cheap
view of <human life>.
- Presidents build a narrative of crisis for this
sacred American ideal. Real events of the world must be transformed into
the relationships of the ideographs. Thus, we must contextualize the deaths
at Pearl Harbor into violations of basic human decency. We must describe an
Iraqi army moving into Kuwait as a violation of a people's rights and of international
law. In building this narrative the rhetoric constructs
- The character of the enemy. The rhetoric
of war features blame as strong and focused on an enemy. Savagery is often
a theme. Our rationality contrasted with the irrationality of the enemy
is another. Typically, the rhetoric of war contains strong narratives of
the kindness and skill of our troops and the evilness of the enemy.
- A constructed sequence of events (plot) that
leads to war. War for Americans must be the final resort. Typically,
Presidents tell narratives of the events leading up to war that feature
American efforts to avoid war. Americans must be dragged into war by war
- Thus, war is constructed as a must to defend the
ideals announced in the ideographs.
Presidents weave these themes and strategies
into a rhetoric which justifies the commitment of the nation to war.
United States in 1940
The memory of World War I is strong. Eighty percent of adult population had direct memory of World War I. We had gone to war, invested American blood and treasure to help Europe. They are in it again. We tried to help them construct a system to avoid war and they rejected our ideas. Don't do it again.
Strength of isolationists and even pro-Axis organizations in conversation. Isolationism was still controlling public opinion.
American First Committee. A well organized effort with speakers including Charles Lindburgh, the first human to fly the Atlantic solo, an American hero, and members of the US Senate such as Burton K. Wheeler.
The American Bund. A German-American organization of Nazis led by Fritz Kuhn drew 20,000 people to Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Il Progresso. The largest ethnic newspaper in the United States, printed in Italian, championed Mussolini.
- The Depression continued. The problem on everyone's mind was still the Great Depression. The unemployment rate remained at 15 percent, down from 25 percent in 1933, but still one of every six in the labor market. Funding a military was difficult when 40 percent of the federal budget went to social services. Everywhere the depression was all around you. The war was just an unwitnessed story in a far off land for the American public.
With World War II as our object of study, arguably the most necessary of 20th
century wars, we want to look at:
- Franklin Roosevelt seeking to maneuver public opinion into opposition to
fascism before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (his Arsenal of Democracy
- Roosevelt's marshaling of Pearl Harbor into the commitment to go to war
- The propaganda messages constructed to motivate the citizen army