The two-sided world-view in Roosevelt´s "First War Address Before Congress"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

23 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)



1. Introduction

2. "They" contra "We"

3. Picture of the enemy
3.1. Accusing the enemy of breaking the law
3.2. The enemy as a demon
3.3. The enemy and his nation

4. Euphemism

5. Conclusion

Figure Number 1

Figure Number 2

Works Cited


illustration not visible in this excerpt

1. Introduction

After the Japanese attack on the United States Navy base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan. When Germany and Italy then declared war against the United States, World War II truly became worldwide.

In his speech First War Address Before Congress, made on January 6, 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt mentions several things: past historical events that led to the present situation, the necessity of war-production, the attempt to justify war, the creation of a negative picture of the enemy and a positive picture of his own people and claims that only total victory over the enemy can end the war, to mention just a few.

War rhetoric as such is part of the actual war, so its creation and development goes back quite a time in history as the human race has always made war upon each other. The first war message of the United States was the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Besides the common features of war rhetoric the Declaration of Independence and later United States´ war messages (up to today's messages by George W. Bush) also include specific American features.

In this term paper I am going to show that by using the techniques of war rhetoric Franklin Delano Roosevelt creates an imaginary two-sided world. To emphasize the importance of this two-sided world-view and for an overview that will serve for the whole term paper I collected and arranged examples from the speech in two charts. After setting up the two sides I will go into further detail and examine this both sides in more detail: the creation of a negative picture of the enemy on the one side and the diminishing of one´s own soldiers` actions by using euphemisms on the other side. The overall aim of war rhetoric is to justify the war and to unite the nation in order to defeat the enemy. This is the point where all the little details again meet and the parts of the speech unite into one basic concept.

The individual elements of this speech cannot be separated totally from each other, as the elements mentioned often overlap. Sometimes, I feel, it is not possible to discuss something in full detail in one part of this study, as the same elements appear later again in another context, where the discussion can assume new and different aspects.

After longer quotations from the speech itself, I will only give the number of the page where it comes from. Quite a few single words or short expressions from the speech are collected in the aforementioned figures number one and two, therefore I will not give their page number again in the text. The quotations taken from other sources than German or English will be translated in the footnotes.

Besides the actual speech First War Address Before Congress I also used other historical documents that deal with war: the Declaration of Independence, other speeches by FDR, a speech by Wilson and one by Lincoln to round up my paper. In addition to these primary sources I will quote from some - in my opinion - important secondary works to bolster up and support my assertions.

2. "They" contra "We"

In their war messages the American Presidents like to divide the world into two parts: according to this division, the good people belong to one part and the bad people to the other part. "Das Bild, das die Präsidenten von den USA entwerfen, ist so auf das des Feindes abgestimmt, daß als Gesamtbild eine mehr oder weniger deutliche Schwarzweißzeichnung entsteht" (Goetsch 19??: 85). In this divided world everybody belongs to either this or that part, there is no room for outsiders, everybody has to choose a side. Apparently everything is either black or white, this or that, there are no "in-betweens".

FDR, his nation and everybody who belongs to the "goodies" are called "we", Hitler, and his followers, the "baddies" are called "they" by Roosevelt in this speeches. The description of the two sides has to be as different as possible. If "they" are aggressors, then "we" are the victims, if "they" are described as having an unholy contempt for the human race, then "we" are heroic and historic defenders.

In figure 1 and figure 2 I systematized the expressions Roosevelt uses to describe the two opponents and their actions[1] in his First War Address Before Congress. The words and expressions are taken down in the order of their appearance in the speech. In fig. 1 the names "they" and "we" are called and the adjectives which go with them can be seen. To stress the difference between the two opponents FDR calls "they" for example oppressors, traitors and invaders who are cunning, cruel and ruthless, but "we" are the victims in this fight, we have superhuman will to withstand the attacks of the enemy and we are champions of tolerance and decency and freedom and faith. These two descriptions are as contrasting as possible, so the difference between them is obvious.

In fig. 2 the acts of "they" and "we" are collected. Here again Roosevelt endeavors to make the two sides appear very distinct. "They" are terrorizing our people, they try to disrupt our morale, they stun, terrify and conspire to mention just a few. "We" on the other hand are determined to face the enemy, we make our decisions with courage and determination, we guard, help to guard, help to protect and force the invaders back into retreat.

By putting "them", the enemy, into the least favorable light and "us" into the most favorable light, Roosevelt achieves that the audience gets a picture of the world that is divided into two parts. The description of the two parts seems to leave no doubt in the listener which group to belong to; the aim of the speaker is to persuade the listener to join the "good side".

3. Picture of the Enemy

One of the first measures FDR took after Pearl Harbor, was censoring the press and the radio (see also Jakovlev, 1967: 456). As most of the average Americans have, luckily, never experienced war within their own country and hardly ever had to do anything with Germans or Japanese, so the US Government took full advantage of its position to create a picture of their enemy that presented the Axis powers in a horrific way, in caricatures, in movies, in the press and of course in the political speeches. "Ezt az ellenséget Amerika népének legnagyobb része sohasem látta - meg kellett hát mutatni olyan eszközökkel, amelyek gyülöletet és félelmet kelthettek abban is, akinek addig semmi oka nem volt, hogy gyülölje a `fritzeket`"[2] (Petneki 1999:58).

Figure Nr. 1 shows, how the enemy is called and described by the President in this particular speech. According to FDR Hitler and his Nazis are cunning, cruel and ruthless, they are guided by brutal cynicism and show an unholy contempt for the human race. The Japanese and Fascist leaders are portrayed as dictators, aggressors, oppressors and traitors, they are depicted as the ancient evil, ancient ill. The enemy is presented like somebody who frightens the rest of the world, and therefore it must be stopped. While naming and describing the enemy, FDR endeavors not to repeat himself over an over again, but to express himself in a variety of ways, to use different expressions to describe one and the same thing. This makes his speech more diverse and prevents it from becoming monotonous.

The President continues to express himself in a varied manner when he speaks about what the enemy is doing and in what way he is doing it. In Figure Nr. 2 the expressions FDR used to describe the enemy's acts in this speech are listed. The enemy and their followers conspire, terrify, and destroy, they enforce, conquer and invade, they breed mistrust and suspicion, plant misconception, and use the technique of falsehood, to mention just a few.

By using such verbs and expressions, the acts of the enemy seem horrible, terrible and even inhuman in the ears of the listener and demand counteraction or counterattacks in order to prevent the enemy from continuig of such deeds. So picture of the enemy that has been created in this speech is very negative. In the following I am going to go into more detail about some of these aforementioned expressions FDR uses to describe the enemy, and explain what he achieves with their use.

3.1. Accusing the enemy of breaking the law

"Eine obligatorische Komponente des Feindbildes ist der Vorwurf des Rechtsbruchs" (Goetsch 19??: 83). As one of the purposes of war rhetoric is the justification of the war and the persuasion of the listener of the necessity of war, depicting the enemy as a criminal who breaks the law seems to authorize the speaker to counteract - just like a criminal deed needs counteraction. Therefore FDR chooses his words carefully to present his nation an enemy that is a criminal who will stop at nothing to carry out his criminal activities.



[2] The majority of the American people has never seen this enemy - therefore the enemy must be shown in a way that evokes hate and fear even among those people, who did not have any reason to hate the `fritzes` ye

Excerpt out of 23 pages


The two-sided world-view in Roosevelt´s "First War Address Before Congress"
Martin Luther University  (Institute for Anglistics/American Studies)
Rhetorical Analysis of Historical and Present-day Political Speeches
1,3 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
479 KB
Roosevelt´s, First, Address, Before, Congress, Rhetorical, Analysis, Historical, Present-day, Political, Speeches
Quote paper
Renate Bagossy (Author), 2003, The two-sided world-view in Roosevelt´s "First War Address Before Congress", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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