Terror and Liberty - The Construction of a National Image and the Manufacturing of an Enemy in the United States

Examination Thesis, 2005

102 Pages, Grade: 1,00


Table of Contents


1 .: Instruments
1.1 .: Discourse Analysis
1.2 .: Narrative
1.3 .: Nation
1.4 .: National Identity
1.5 .: Identity
1.6 .: Discursive Strategies
1.7 .: The Functions of Enemy Images in Self-Identification
1.8 .: The U.S. and National Identity
1.9 .: American Enemy Images in the 20th century

2 .: Political Culture
2.1 .: Definition of Political Culture
2.2 .: Political Culture in the United States
2.2.1 .: Liberal Tradition
2.2.2 .: Republicanism
2.2.3 .: Religious Tradition .: Civil Religion .: Tradition of Sacrifice
2.2.4 .: The American Can-Do Spirit
2.3 .: The National Habitus

3 .: Analysis of President George Bush's post - 9/11 rhetoric
3.1 .: Analysed Material
3.2 .: The ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People’
3.2.1 .: Structure & Content of the Speech
3.2.2 .: Narrative
3.2.3 .: The Paradigms .: Paradigm 1: Nation Under Attack .: Paradigm 2: World View .: Paradigm 3: Freedom Rationale Nature of Freedom .: Paradigm 4: A Great Cause .: Paradigm 5: War .: Paradigm 6: Sacrifice and Unity .: Paradigm 7: The Evil Nature of the Enemy

4 .: Conclusion & Perspectives

5 .: Bibliography



At the present moment, the United States of America are at war. This is a war on terror, the second of its kind after the one proclaimed by President Reagan during the 1980s. The first war on terror was part of the Cold War and was targeted at so-called terrorist activities, which at that time were assumed to be endorsed by the Soviets. The current war on terror was triggered by the events of September 11th 2001, or ‘9/11’, as it has since been named, when civilian aircraft were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre (hence: WTC) in New York and the Pentagon. Another machine, which had apparently been headed for the White House, was crash-landed in the open countryside. The WTC towers collapsed and the total death toll of that day amounted to 2752 official victims at the latest count. The incident has since become known as a deeply traumatic event for the nation. It inspired weeks of mourning and the victims are honoured with an annual memorial day and a moment of silence.

In the aftermath of this incident, there was an enormous display of patriotism and national unity, which granted the government a remarkable freedom of action. Considerable limitations to civil rights were made in the name of Homeland Security, a term created especially for the occasion, giving discretionary powers to intelligence services and law enforcement institutions that represent serious encroachments on the privacy of U.S. citizens. Elsewhere, two countries have, to date, been invaded by the United States and their political systems have been changed in an effort of nation- building by the U.S. government.

This paper contains an analysis of the rhetoric that was employed by President George W. Bush to describe the events and their consequences. This interest arises from the assumption that the presidential rhetoric had a powerful influence on the chain of events that followed after the attack on the WTC and that many if not most of the initial reactions were based on meanings that were constructed by the government. It will be the task of this essay to show that the most crucial influences that the President had on the discourse were his constructions of the American people and the terrorist enemies and his definition of the 9/11 attacks as an act of war.

The rhetoric that was used to convey these concepts is, in its terminology and imagery, specific to America. It largely works, as this essay intends to show, within a specifically American framework of cultural references. The reactions that it got, such as the ‘rally around the flag’, showed that it struck a nerve with large parts of its national audience. Therefore, the President's statements are interpreted here as a powerful contribution to a national political discourse that perpetually constructs and reconstructs national identity as a narrative. This narrative allocates meanings to the events that it describes and qualities to those who have a part in them.

The speeches and comments made by the President during the time immediately after the attacks are the natural data of interest for such an analysis, starting with the announcement he gave after the WTC was attacked. Right from this beginning, the President develops the terminology and rationale that dominates his rhetoric on the subject from then on. This development culminates for the first time in the ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People’, given on September 20th (hence: 9/20 address). In this speech, based on the narrative that he has developed thus far, the President sets an ultimatum to the Taliban government, to hand over the leaders of the al Qaeda network who were assumed to be the driving force behind the attacks.

There can, obviously, be no doubt that the terrorists who flew the planes into the WTC and the Pentagon meant harm and could safely be called enemies. The theory that this paper tries to support, though, is that this attack was given meaning in the minds of the American people through a deliberately constructed narrative. This narrative consists of the framework for interpretation that was constructed around the incident by the President, representatives of the government and large parts of the media who took up those patterns. The fact that it was received so well by the national audience is taken here to indicate that it was formed under similar influences as the attitudes of the populace. The main issues that this narrative deals with are the identities of both the American nation and their enemy. The elements of the President's narrative are all connected to these two points, either contributing to the formation of the identities or deriving meaning from them.

The restriction of the analysis to comments made by the President is a means of narrowing down the pool of data as well as an attempt to show that Bush's reasoning works as an almost self-contained system. It is the purpose of this essay to show that the employed rhetoric is based on selective readings of history and current events and is tailored to match a pre-existing interpretation of American identity.

Before the analysis can commence, though, the first chapter is dedicated to the necessary specification of the relevant terms, such as the already mentioned discourse, national identity or narrative. Within that same chapter, the common functions and features of enmity are explained and exemplified with a brief look at the history of the United States in that respect.

Speeches of the President are contributions to the American political discourse, which is embedded in the political culture of America. As a further basis for the analysis, therefore, this cultural background needs to be examined to provide conclusive arguments. The historical context, however, includes an enormous amount of data. In order to facilitate and channel an analysis of the cultural background, the second chapter provides a description of the model of U.S. political culture that is proposed by Jakob Schissler (1988). This concept is used to systematically restrict the analysis to a manageable set of cultural motifs. In order to analyse the characterization of the opponent in the same depth as the (re-)construction of the national self-image, it is necessary to take a concise look at the development of American enemy images during the last century.

The third chapter draws on the hitherto established framework to analyse the use of cultural resources in President Bush's rhetoric. For this purpose, I will concentrate on the 9/20 address, which contains almost the complete range of issues that the President has by then touched upon. Yet it is necessary to include a partial examination of the preceding statements into this analysis. Many of the concepts that are used to sustain the rationale within that speech, and which are called paradigms in this essay, are constructs that were introduced by the President in earlier comments. These paradigms are repetitively employed throughout the different speeches and are crucial in the overall construction of meaning.

To structure my analysis, I will distinguish a set of paradigms that are of central importance in the 9/20address. They will be analysed with respect to their formation as well as to their functions within the presidential narrative. Those concepts must be interpreted as parts of the deliberate construction of a narrative by the President. They represent conscious choices of interpretation, neglecting and at times effectively preventing other possible approaches to the matters at hand and thus forming a coherent frame of reference that later arguments can be based upon. While the President’s freedom to construct historical elements is considerably smaller, he seems to intentionally select those elements that support his narrative.

It must be emphasized that it is inevitable to be rather selective in the representation of America and American identity. Also, the historical background resources put to use here are extremely limited in comparison to the vast amount of available data relevant to the subject. These restrictions are necessary to allow a concise treatment of the topic. They are also due to the objects of analysis, which employ a likewise limited horizon. One must also keep in mind that America and the American identity are concepts that have been, and still are, the focus of many diverse discourses, depending on a variety of circumstances. Some of these discourses create very tight narratives, images of America that are quite simple, and, above all, have very few inconsistencies. Others, incorporating larger and more diverse amounts of historical elements, produce narratives that shape more complex and also more troublesome images of America. The texts that are analysed here clearly contribute to a discourse of the former kind. What makes this contribution more interesting than others is the enormous power of interpretation that is wielded by the President of the United States.

1 .: Instruments

For the purpose of analysis, national identity is assumed in this paper to be a process rather than a given entity. It is seen as the product of a political discourse as well as a major factor in the reproduction of that discourse. President Bush's speeches are thus interpreted here as texts contributing to this political discourse that continuously helps to construct and reconstruct American national identity.

The political discourse is not understood to be the only source for a national identity, since there are a number of different discourses that contribute to the forming of a national identity. As a matter of fact, since those discourses take place under different circumstances, such as different settings, audiences and above all different topics, it is understood that there is no such thing as ‘the’ national identity, but rather an indefinite number of national identities, formed by an indefinite number of discourses.

Although I do not have an empirical study to quote, I think it is safe to assume that the statements of the President, which are part of the political discourse, are among those texts that are most widely received among the American national public, either first-hand or through news commentary. They can thus be considered to be among the most influential of all available discourses that form American national identities. It is also necessary to distinguish between the input that a text (such as a speech) can give and the interpretation of the recipient. The individual interpretation of a text, which effectively contributes to the construction of an identity, will vary between recipients, according to several individual factors such as their social status, environment and age.

The purpose of the following chapter is to relate the theories that form the grounds for my analytical approach. I will give an overview of the terminology that is used here and refer to the concepts that contribute to the theoretical basis.

1.1 .: Discourse Analysis

An important base element in this essay is the concept of discourse, which was introduced from linguistics into sociology by French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault (1970). Foucault himself did not give a thoroughly structured theory of discourse and rather wanted his work to be understood as an open resource from which everybody could pick out those bits of theory that they needed for their own work. Kammler (1990) points out that Foucault’s understanding of the nature of discourse, for example, is rather open and can thus have a different meaning within different contexts (90: 43). It is therefore necessary to specify the understanding of discourse and analysis of discourse that is employed within this paper.

There is no single definition of the term discourse. In linguistics, a common denominator definition of discourse is that it represents the connected and continued communication of thought by means of spoken or written language. A more specific definition by Deborah Schiffrin (1987) proposes that it is a combination of sentences that conveys more information than the isolated sentences could give (87: 3). In a similar vein, Donald Polkinghorne (1988) defines the function of discourse as follows:

“[...] it is at the level of discourse that language relates the units of understanding into meaningful wholes. […] Although [language, T.P.] does not simply project a reality of its own, [it, T.P.] does function to organize human life into meaningful wholes.” (Polkinghorne 1988: 31)

In concurrence with this, discourse is widely interpreted in social sciences as a practice that organizes meaning. In the tradition of Michel Foucault, a discourse is considered to be an institutionalized way of thinking. What can be legitimately thought about a specific topic within a discourse is defined by social boundaries. In adhering to these boundaries, the discourse reproduces them. Various discourses exist side by side and are distinguished by such factors as their participants, the register in use among them, and the range of concepts that the participants have agreed upon as being legitimate. A historical event for instance, such as the attacks of September 11th 2001, can be referred to in a number of discourses, such as the political discourse, the religious discourse or the historical discourse. These are not strictly dissociated from one another, since contributors may participate in more than one discourse and concepts of thought may be valid within a whole range of discourses. It is obvious from Polkinghorne’s definition that discourses are understood to affect our views on all things; in other words, it is not possible to escape discourse and the shaping effect that it has on our perception of reality. A frequently used example for this is the fact that a guerrilla movement can legitimately be referred to as “freedom fighters” or “terrorists”, depending on the setting that the description is given in and the audience it is given to. In other words, the chosen discourse delivers the vocabulary, expressions and also the style needed to communicate. A discourse then is understood here as a social practice that is, at the same time, both constituted by and constitutive for society. In detail, this means that there is a reciprocal relationship between a discursive event, such as a speech, and the social structures, institutions and situations that it is embedded in.

Moritz Weiß (2004) points out that the political discourse is concerned with the meanings of terms and with the establishment of argumentative connections. It is important to be aware that there is no such thing as a fixed basis of meaning, an “Archimedian Point”, as Weiß (2004:16) calls it, on which to rely when describing an incident. Evaluation is instead based on criteria that will vary between interpreters according to circumstances. This lack of accepted basic truths in political discourse opens up the opportunity for participants to try and establish their own point of view as standard within the discourse. Therefore, the political discourse also becomes an area where knowledge is created and power is seized and maintained by leading social groups.

Foucault himself is mainly interested in the way that discourses work as exclusive mechanisms, in the forms of proscriptions, rituals, theories and methods, to limit the number of things that can legitimately be uttered. Exemplary for this are the different ways in which expressions of national pride are received in America and Germany. While the display of national pride is not only accepted but actively endorsed in daily American life, a comparable demonstration in Germany is not likely to be met with the same amount of enthusiasm. This is because the different discourses within the two nations are constituted by different borders, which govern the legitimacy of what can be said in everyday life. These different environments are based upon the historical background knowledge that is present in both cultures. The German discourses are peculiar in their relation to national pride in that they have to deal with the moral legacy of the 3rd Reich and are prone to associate national pride or nationalism with national socialist ideology.

The use of Foucault’s understanding of discourse in this essay, though, is not so much to point out the limitations of the political discourse as it is to highlight the ways in which those same factors legitimize and establish the use of certain concepts and ideas within a discourse. An example for this is the establishment of the concept of a covenant of grace within the discursive construction and reconstruction of the American national identity which will be addressed in the chapter on civil religion. This concept and its presence within the political discourse is specific to the U.S. and can thus lead to bemusement on the part of a foreign audience.

This essay employs a discourse-historical approach, which is adopted from Ruth Wodak (2002). In her own work, Wodak attempts to integrate all available information on the historical background in which the discursive acts are embedded. This approach therefore does not aim at understanding a text as an isolated phenomenon, but is concerned with the formation of a discourse within the framework of history and the diverse texts that make up that specific discourse. For this analysis, President Bush’s speeches are thus regarded as discourse units, and their main points of interest are the ways in which they fit into the discourse by referring to its legitimized cultural elements. Equally if not more important is the way in that the speeches at the same time reconstruct that discourse and shape it by stressing some concepts and neglecting others. This analysis, therefore, will be concerned with the functions of the President’s rhetoric in the construction of a coherent narrative of the events, that puts them into an argumentative structure which is integrated into the greater American narrative he endorses.

1.2 .: Narrative

I have mentioned in the introduction that the President's speeches are considered to contribute to a discourse that helps constructing American identity as a narrative. As in the cases of the other terms, there are a number of definitions to choose from. The term narrative is generally defined as “a description of events in a story” (Longman Dictionary). The definition that I want to employ in this essay comes from Polkinghorne:

“We retrieve stories about our own and the community’s past, and these provide models of how actions and consequences are linked. Using these retrieved models, we plan our strategies and actions and interpret the intentions of other actors. Narrative is the discourse structure in which human action receives its form and through which it is meaningful.” (Polkinghorne 1988 : 7-8)

Included in this definition is the understanding of discourse as it has been discussed above. For the purpose of this essay, therefore, a narrative is a part of a discourse, with the distinction that the narrative is the meaningful construction that is made up through the discourse, it is it’s product in progress.and the purpose of the existence of the discourse.

1.3 .: Nation

Before I can elaborate on the topic of national identity, it is necessary to give a clear idea of the concept of nation. Connected to those terms is the phenomenon of nationalism. Again, these terms describe their referents as separate phenomena when they are in fact much too closely connected with each other and constitutive of each other to be clearly divided for any other purpose than analytical description. A nation can be generally defined as:

1: a country, considered especially in relation to its people and its social or economic structure / 2: a large group of people of the same race and language” (Longman Dictionary)

While these definitions might suffice for the task at hand, they need some further explanation. An important element in the understanding of nations is the theory of their origin. Throughout the last half-century, there have been two major approaches to the subject. The primordialist perspective, as it is represented by Anthony Smith (2000) and Hugh Seton-Watson (1994), understands the nation as being an organic entity that is based on traits of human nature and draws on history, myth and culture. According to this approach, the perpetual process of human self-realization throughout history inevitably led to the formation of nations.

Other theorists of nationalism are influenced by postmodernism and use the fact that nations are a comparatively new phenomenon in human history to emphasize that nations are socially constructed. The conclusion is that nations are based on political developments rather than on predetermination (Hobsbawm 1994). Following this approach, the definition that is central to the understanding of nations as it is used in this paper is Benedict Anderson ’s interpretation of the nation as an imagined community (1983). He reasons that:

“[The nation, T. P.] is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”(83: 5)

Anderson argues that primary factors in the development of nation states as imagined communities were the development of vernacular print languages and the mass spreading of books and newspapers, because they furthered the establishment of a common language and a common cultural corpus. In Germany, for instance, the dialect that Luther used in his translation of the bible set the standards for what was to be considered as High German.

Furthermore, Anderson defines a nation as being imagined as limited and sovereign. It is limited, because each nation, irrespective of its size, is not imagined as encompassing the whole globe, but as having boundaries that divide it from other nations. Sovereignty he claims as part of the imagination because the concept of nation replaced, in the historical phase of Enlightenment, the concept of a god-given, hierarchically organized system. As a counter-concept, a nation has to claim freedom as a sovereign state. Anderson also, importantly, points out that a nation is always imagined as a community since it always encompasses “a deep, horizontal comradeship” (ibid.) among its members, irrespective of any actual inequalities within that nation.

Ross Poole (1999) acknowledges that Anderson’s approach has become “unavoidable” (99: 10) in the discussion of the subject, yet he also points out some major problems and limitations. Anderson reasons that nations have to be imagined when they become too big for all their members to know each other personally. This implies that what he calls “face-to-face contact” among sufficiently small communities might do without imagination. Poole argues that this view denies the hermeneutic axiom that all social relations are based on shared (mis)understandings of the participants. He concludes that the presence of imagination is not a feature that serves to distinguish the ’imagined community’ from other social relations. Instead he offers an alternative reading of Anderson’s definition that allows a constructive distinction, based on the notion that the ‘imagined community’ becomes important when the members of a community have an ‘image of their communion’ in mind. Poole takes this as a point of distinction, since “some relationships require a shared understanding of the social whole – the community – which makes the relationship possible” (99: 11). He reasons that these relations are distinct from others in that the image of the community is a constitutive factor for them. An example he offers is the relationship of people that share a religion, which “may well depend upon a shared conception of the church to which they belong” (ibid.).

It is also important to note that the size of the network of social relations does not matter. Anderson (83: 5) himself gives the example of Javanese villagers who consider themselves connected with people that are personally unknown to them. They do so by means of a network of ‘kinship and clientship’, without employing the notion of a society they all might belong to. This exemplifies that large networks can exist and be recognized as such, without fulfilling the functions of a nation.

As a working definition for this essay, therefore, a nation is interpreted as a socially constructed network of relationships, which equips its members with a certain, distinguishable cultural background and a feeling of belonging. Through these aspects, nations bind their members together, giving them national identities.

1.4 .: National Identity

The adjective national can generally be defined as:

1: related to a whole nation as opposed to any of its parts / 2: relating to one particular nation as opposed to other nations.” (Longman Dictionary)

In connection with the definition of nation given above, which stresses the reference to the people of a nation, we can assume that the term national identity basically describes two phenomena. On the one hand, it refers to the distinguishing features of the members of a nation, such as a shared language. On the other hand it refers to the sense of belonging to the nation, which is shared by its individual members. This sense of belonging is therefore inclusive; it is at the same time exclusive in that it is connected with a sense of not belonging to any of the other nations, and the awareness of other nations outside one's own nation.

For distinguishing features of a nation’s members, a very wide range of criteria are used in everyday life, with varying application. Even miniscule differences in pronunciation may suffice to categorize someone as a member of another nation. On the other hand, two people may differ heavily in such important features as belief systems, geographical locations and even spoken language, but still regard themselves as members of the same nation through another kind of connection, such as a geographical coincidence of birth. Generally speaking, nationals are considered to share certain features and norms of behaviour, certain duties toward other members, and certain responsibilities for the actions of the members of the same nation.

Poole explains these features of national identity through a model that is influenced by a Parsonian understanding of the functions of roles in society. He argues that each individual has a number of identities, which are defined by an individual’s relation to other individuals or groups, who in turn expect certain behavioural traits of the identity-holder, while at the same time legitimizing this kind of behaviour for him. The group is then also subject to expectations by the identity-holder. These expected ways of behaviour are oftentimes incorporated by the identity-holder and then appear to him and others to be natural (99: 66). Identities are distinguished here from Talcott Parson's roles in that “[…] the concept of identity comes into play when a self- understanding is pervasive, important and relatively inescapable.” (ibid.).

In practice, those expected ways of behaviour are the cultural properties that mark an individual as a national, and the group as his nation, such as their language, background knowledge, polity etc. Poole argues that this fusion of cultural aspects defined by the nation is woven into our conception of ourselves in such a way “that it becomes difficult to address the question of who we are except in terms which presuppose that we already have a national identity” (99: 69). National identity is therefore inescapable, which has led to the primordial conception of the nation.

Another important aspect of national identity lies within the resources that are made available to the members of a nation. Poole points out that the national identity provides us with a home, a history and a heritage with which to identify. In exchange for these values, the nation can legitimately demand sacrifices off its members, as it will, in times of crisis. Poole notes that the dimension of a sacrifice is linked to the importance of the values that it is committed for. Through such acts, the nation gives us an opportunity to have a share in an existence that exceeds our own lifespan (99: 70). Nations extend across generations and include the dead as full members. This is most clearly illustrated in the use of such formulations as ‘our soldiers’ when referring to wars of the past. More vaguely, nations include future generations.

The partaking in the existence of the nation endorses a moral agenda. Poole distinguishes here between two aspects. On the one hand, the exclusive availability of resources to members of the nation and the resulting bond between them are a source of a nationalism which derives from them a moral agenda of a controversial nature. It implies that a national has a responsibility towards his compatriots that he does not have towards foreigners. This can serve as a nationalist rationale to prioritize demands from within their own nation over more urgent wants from outside the nation.

Although Poole does not make the connection in his text, I would argue that these preferences are a result of the construction of the national identity through a relationship of requirements and legitimacies, as described above. The involvement in these relations brings with it an obligation towards the relationship partners who provide the identifying environment. I would expect that failure to abide by this obligation may risk the integrity of ones group identity. An example that strengthens this assumption would be the widespread denouncement of those American citizens, who criticized the Administration in the immediate post-9/11 period, as ‘Un-American’.

Poole points out that the nation is not the only group that works with these kinds of privileges. He argues that:

“[...] to enter into certain kinds of human relationship simply is to acknowledge that the concerns of those who are also involved in those relationships will, in certain respects, take priority over the concerns of others” (99: 70).

The other major trait of the moral agenda that Poole refers to is that a nationality not only implies certain responsibilities towards compatriots, but also a special association with their actions. This is most apparent in the pride a national can take in the achievements of his compatriots, as can frequently be witnessed in the field of sports. Poole takes this pride as evidence for the belief in a shared identity. The achievement that one holder of the identity makes belongs to every other holder of that identity, the success of one national is a reason for national pride in all the others. The same principle is at work when one national feels embarrassed for the failings of another without being personally involved.

In his definition of the nation, Anderson does not elaborate on the relationship between a nation and its neighbours. According to his writing, a nation is enclosed by borders primarily because it is in itself not thinkable as “coterminous with mankind“ (83: 5). Yet by ascribing an imagined limitedness to the nation, which implies that there are those within and those outside a nation’s borders, Anderson touches on the aspect of identification that is based on the bi-polar conception of inclusiveness and exclusiveness. The formation of an identity, be it individual or national, is always connected with the construction of an ‘Other’, a counterpart that defines the outside. If a nation is understood to be an in-group, as it is in this paper, this calls for an out- group, which in this case is another nation. While Anderson, in his definition of nation, does not venture into the functions of the relation between a nation and those that are not part of it, the limitedness and the deep horizontal fraternity he isolates as distinctive aspects of nations can be approached by looking at the inclusive and exclusive functions of identification.

1.5 .: Identity

Stuart Hall (1996), in a work on cultural identities, argues that the practice of identification operates through the marking of differences and requires a “constitutive outside” to make itself valid (96: 3). It is the capacity of identity to exclude the ‘outside’ that enables it to define an ‘inside’. The actual formation of identity is discursive. In the same line of argument, Richard Rorty characterizes modern identity as the ever-incomplete construction of a web of contingent relationships, which stretches backwards in history and forwards into the future. He argues that this structure of identity, which forces the identity-holder to perpetually construct his identity, is due to the individualistic experience of modernity, where everything ideally depends on one’s own decisions. It has replaced an earlier form of identity that was a clear-shaped, unified and independent substantial entity, in unison with the stable, reliable social world of pre-modern times (in: Keupp 99: 56). Picking up on this notion, Heiner Keupp (1999) points out that this web consists of meaningful stories that help individuals to construct their self-image and world view in a coherent way (ibid.). In a similar vein, Hall points out that:

“[Identities, T. P.] arise from the narrativization of the self, but the necessarily fictional nature of this process in no way undermines its material or political effectivity.” (96: 4)

The fictional element in this narrativization – the construction of a coherent story of the self - is the selection of elements that fit together in a coherent system and the suppression of such elements as would endanger the coherence. According to Hall, the narrativization of a national identity is governed by a framework of national culture, in that it is the national culture that conserves these elements and discards those in order to form a cohesive picture of the nation. In Hall’s words, national cultures are discourses that construct:

“[…] meanings, which in turn influence and organize both our actions and our perceptions of ourselves. National cultures construct identities by creating meanings of ‘the nation’, with which we can identify; these are contained in stories that are told about the nation, in memories which link its present to its past and the perceptions of it that are constructed.“ (in: Wodak 02: 147)

Hall thus describes nations as political constructs and as systems of cultural representations, that serve to interpret a specific imagined community. In relating to these resources, a nation’s citizens participate in forming the idea of the nation as an exclusive group with its own their national culture.

1.6 .: Discursive Strategies

Wodak, referring to Hall’s description of identity construction, distinguishes between four macro-strategies in the discursive constitution of social practice, which are constructive, perpetuating, transformational and destructive strategies (02: 152). Of these, constructive and perpetuating strategies will be the most important for the analysis of the President’s speeches.

Constructive strategies are, by Wodak’s definition, linguistic acts that serve to establish a particular national identity. They constitute an in-group through particular acts of reference, such as the use of the concept ‘we’ in all its permutations in connection with a national label, as in ‘our nation’, ‘we Americans’ etc. These strategic moves appeal to solidarity and union. Wodak notes that expressions such as ‘to take on something together’, ‘to cooperate and stick together’ frequently occur in these contexts. All components of constructive strategies invite identification and solidarity with the in-group, or, in Wodak’s diction, we-group. This we-group automatically implies the separation and / or distancing from other groups.

Wodak provides some examples for local strategies that relate to this macro- function: Constructive strategies may emphasize intra-national similarity by referring to concepts that the speaker supposes to be common to all members of his audience. These common denominators are stressed to divert attention from differences within the nation. At the same time, their mention most likely implies the lack of those features in other nations. Also, in a constructive approach to national identity, there is most likely to be a presupposition of national singularity, which works in unison with an emphasis on the differences between nations.

Strategies of perpetuation and justification work to maintain, support and reproduce a national identity, especially when under threat. An essential strategy for both constructive and perpetuating means is positive self-representation. In this context, metonymy, synecdoche and personification are important figures of speech, as they work to construct a connection between people. They can be used to anthropomorphize a nation, as in ‘America is the champion of freedom’ or ‘American mentality’, where ‘America’ is substituted for ‘the people’.

Justification and legitimation are at work where a problematic status quo, either of the past, the present or still in planning, has to be defended and kept legitimate, in order to keep up any established narrative designs of national history that may be threatened. Transformational strategies try to transform an established national identity or parts thereof into another, according to an image that the speaker already has, while destructive strategies, finally, work to demolish elements of an existing national identity.

1.7 .: The Functions of Enemy Images in Self-Identification

The Image of the Other is an important part of the 'narrativization' (Hall '96) of the Self. I have referred above to Stuart Hall’s argument that identification works through the discursive exclusion of an ‘Outside’ in order to define an ‘Inside’. Since we distinguish ourselves from others by means of differing qualities, I assume that a major function of the Other for the actual construction of the Self is to highlight certain elements of our own identity. The question which qualities are highlighted by a specific Other, and how they are highlighted, seems to depend upon the relationship between Self and Other. In the relationship between friends, for instance, social qualities such as an amiable nature, good humour or trustworthiness are on open display. Without these assets, one would not be likely to enter into such a relationship.

If identification is indeed, as Hall suggests, a creative process of selective narration, this implies that one will construct a favourable self-image by highlighting positive features of the Self whenever this is possible. This works to the effect that even when the relationship is one of enmity, it still highlights the positive assets of the Self by comparison with the bad assets of the enemy. An obvious function would be a self defence to uphold the integrity of the self-image against outside threats. In this context, it would be interesting to look into the means by which an enemy image may be conjured or completed in order to make it more applicable to the desired self-image. An enemy who is partly known and may even have reasonable motives for his aggression must be vilified in order to keep a positive self-image. The favourableness of our self- image and the deplorability of the enemy must necessarily be geared to our own moral frame of reference, which equips us with a capacity to distinguish between good and bad qualities as they are defined in our social environment. An American enemy image can therefore be expected to be constructed from a set of antonyms to American values. The nature of the presidential speech that is analysed in this essay makes it necessary to get an overview of the detailed functions of enemy images.

In this context, Spillman/Spillmann (1997) point out that ‘the enemy’, as an image that is based on an entirely negative perception of an unknown entity, has played a role in living nature from the very beginning, shaping behaviour in terms of fighting for food, territory or reproductive partners (97: 50). They argue that this thought pattern is of such basic nature that it has kept influencing human thought to this day, even where the struggle for survival is no longer imminent. The reactions to enemies are basically characterized by fear, aversion, aggression and hate. Spillman/Spillmann give a list of characteristics of enemy images:

- Negative anticipation, whereby all actions of the enemy are seen as aggression towards oneself or one’s own group. Even acts that seem to be reasonable by objective standards are suspected to be derived from sinister motives.
- Putting blame on the enemy, meaning that the enemy is blamed for any stress or negative influence that exists for the group, be it with or without obvious connection.
- Identification with evil, where the enemy’s value system is considered to be the complete opposite of one’s own system of values.
- Zero-sum thinking, which means that anything good for the enemy must be bad for oneself and vice versa.
- Stereotyping and deindividualization, which identifies anyone who is related to the enemy as an enemy.
- Refusal to show empathy, which basically denies the enemy or anyone related to the enemy the status of a human being. Through the strong feeling of opposition towards the enemy, any human consideration with regard to the enemy or the application of the same ethical standards to the treatment of the enemy that would apply to the behaviour towards one’s own group are labelled as out of place, if not dangerous or even self-destructive.

1.8 .: The U.S. and National Identity

I have explained above that the specification of a singular American national identity is perhaps an impossible task, due to the fact that by the very nature of discursive identity construction, no single national identity can be shared by all nationals. Nevertheless, the concept of national identity is still relevant for the description of political workings in the United States.

A major unifying factor here is a general belief in the unique status of the United States. The national political discourse frequently describes American uniqueness as grounded in certain civil-religious beliefs and core values such as liberty, equality and self-government. These are part of the ever-recurring pattern of American individual freedoms, which form a central part of the rhetoric of U.S. idealism, and will be dealt with in the chapter on political culture. Another contributing factor to the notion of uniqueness is the status of the U.S. within the world community. The opposition to the Soviet Union, for example, was important for the construction of the national identities of U.S. Americans during the Cold War. The mission of stopping the spread of communism defined Americans' sense of purpose and shaped interactions with other nations, in that the U.S. took over the role of a protector, being the only other superpower. With the Soviet Union gone, the U.S. find themselves again in a unique position, as the world’s only surviving superpower and its economic leader.

At this point, David M. Kennedy (1997) tries to answer the question what might happen to a nation’s sense of identity when all its enemies are gone. This question is based on the problem of how to define the functions of an enemy for a group. For his own purposes, Kennedy works from the basis of two notions brought forth by Sigmund Freud and George Kennan. According to Freud, a cultural group will use hostility against intruders as an outlet for a natural inclination towards aggression. Therefore, the existence of outsiders that can serve as a target for enmity works as a catalyst for the unity of a given group. Seventeen years later, Kennan, commenting on Soviet communism, added that this enmity can also be constructed by the leaders of a group in order to explain the necessity of their leadership (97: 340).

In applying these theories to U.S. history, Kennedy argues that the American experience up to the 20th century does not conform to Freud’s analysis of the psychological sources and functions of enmity. His main point here is taken from Alexis de Tocqueville (1835), who explained the comparatively small size of the American military establishment of his time through the observation that:

”Fortune […] has placed [the U.S.] in the midst of a wilderness, where they have, so to speak, no neighbours [...]” (in: Kennedy 97: 346).

Kennedy follows up with the argument that because of this lack of direct neighbours, Americans could make do with “weakly defined notions of foreign enmity” (97: 346), since there was nobody who could plausibly be constructed as an outside threat to society. He explains that, while there were foreign adversaries throughout American history, such as competing groups of settlers from France and Spain, none of them seem to have posed a significant threat or lasted long enough to have had an impact on American society that would have been powerful enough to necessitate the shaping of a group identity as described by Freud.

Kennedy argues that instead, U.S. history is full of instances where racial and ethnical differences, class and regional distinctions, political partisanship, religious rivalries and so forth, have separated national subgroups. Most prominent amongst these are the relations of settlers and native Americans, the Civil War, or the nativist enmities against late-nineteenth-century immigrants. For the function of these relations, Kennedy refers to Freud, who noted, with regard to the Jews, that they had “rendered most useful services to the civilizations of the countries that have been their hosts” (97: 339) in that they functioned as a minority which the majorities could sharpen their identities on. He states that the occurrence of enmity in the U.S. was not, as assumed by Freud, “a systemic, constant element of American society, proceeding from some chronic yearning for national identity” (97: 348). Instead, he describes episodic upsurges of enmity which depended on events that were not always directly connected to the enemy concerned. The underlying assumption here is that in times of national crisis in the U.S., a viable way to ward off the threat that this crisis poses to the national identity is to use a suitable minority as a scapegoat. This way, a coherent positive national image can be sustained. During these phases of enmity, therefore, American culture seems to have conformed to the Freudian typology.

1.9 .: American Enemy Images in the 20th century

The overall point that emerges from Kennedy’s argument so far is the notion that the U.S. entered the 20th century with little experience in the field of international enmity and consequently had a very “thin inventory of images with which to define enmity itself” (97: 349). Kennedy assumes that, during the aforementioned episodes of enmity, American culture merely charged already existing images with new meanings and then defined itself in relation to the now menacing “other, whose redefined image reflected internal cultural needs as much as it did the intrinsic character of the purported ‘enemy’”(ibid.).

When the U.S. entered World War I, therefore, the political elite found themselves confronted with the problem of how to convince the populace, who had scarce knowledge of the place where the war was to be fought and the people it was to be fought against. Kennedy explains that these specific historical circumstances produced a need for an enemy image, yet there was no pre-existing negative conception of Germany that could be used as a basis. Therefore, an enemy image had to be manufactured out of the available material, which was the American national identity. The characteristics of the resulting image that was offered by the political elite and spread by the media can be called distinctively American in that they represented the opposite of core American values. According to Mark Ellis (1997), Anti-German sentiments of that time came to include descriptions of the German culture such as this:

“[This culture, T. P.] prides itself in its inhumanity [that, T. P.] murders children, rapes women, and mutilates the bodies of innocent men” (97: 201).


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Terror and Liberty - The Construction of a National Image and the Manufacturing of an Enemy in the United States
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
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Terror, Liberty, Construction, National, Image, Manufacturing, Enemy, United, States
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Thomas Plöger (Author), 2005, Terror and Liberty - The Construction of a National Image and the Manufacturing of an Enemy in the United States, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/122338


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