War on Terror - How Discourse changed after 9/11

Term Paper, 2010

11 Pages, Grade: 1,7



When George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union Address on September 21, 2001, the media spoke of “the most important speech of his life and also one of the most important addresses of a president to a joint session of Congress for half a century”[1] as one can find in BBC News. The Time even describes his speech as “the finest, strongest, clearest, several-times-chill-giving speech of his life”[2]. Eighty-two million people watched Bush's speech, which is considered to be “the year’s largest television audience save the Super Bowl”[3] Before his outstanding speech, Bush was “routinely mocked for his linguistic shortcomings”[4] as Kevin Coe (et al.) writes in No Shades of Gray. Coe et al. also mention that the media praised Bush's “steel and eloquence“[5] and his “clear rhetorical power“[6] afterwards.

The discourse he (re)started, continued or resumed on “shaped public
discussion and debate surrounding terrorism worldwide”[7]. '9/11' has become a term everybody understands “in its conventional sense, as a realm of creative expression”[8] as Daniel J. Sherman and Terry Nardin point out in their book Terror, Culture, Politics: Rethinking 9/11. Also Shana Kushner and Amy Gershkoff say that '9/11' has become an “ideograph in the sense that the historical event represents an attack on the beliefs, values, attitudes and “way of life” within the United States”[9]. Not only in the English language '9/11' has become a “dictum”[10] but in many others, too.

In this term paper I want to take a closer look on the speech President Bush delivered on September 20, 2001 as State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. In my analysis I will go through the speech step by step in order to figure out the main points Bush is making. From there I want to continue with its effects and influence on the discourse about 'war on terror'. I am mainly referring to Norman Fairclough and his interpretations in Language and Globalization and also to Kevin Coe et al. and their study No Shades of Gray. With the help of these publications I want to emphasize the impact and the aftermath of Bush's discourse as well in media as in society.

Analysis of the speech

Bush's speech contains about 3000 words. It is striking that he uses the words 'terror'/'terrorists'/'terrorism' about twenty-four times. Other important keywords are 'freedom' and 'justice' and on the other side 'war', 'al Qaeda', 'Taliban' and also 'Afghanistan'. It is significant that Bush refers to 'America'/'US' c. thirty-eight times and addresses the people he with “my fellow Americans”.

Every quote I am referring to is taken from the transcript of President Bush's address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night, September 20, 2001[11] as published on CNN.com.

In his introduction Bush addresses the Speaker, the President Pro Tempore and the members of Congress first, which are considered to be the highest officials in the United States of America. He then addresses the American people by saying “fellow Americans”. Bush points out that it is an abnormal occasion and that the State of the Union he is going to speak on “has already been delivered by the American people”. He goes on and explains what happened on September 11 and already uses the word 'terrorists' in his first sentences.

To show inner connection and sympathy for the people, he names two citizens, Todd Beamer, a passenger and is wife Lisa Beamer. The audience reacts with an applause. He then describes the situation and what is happening in the USA and also around the world and uses anaphora constructions, e.g. “We have seen” and “We will not forget”. The use of the plural takes everybody in and creates some kind of unity. Also when Bush addresses the American people again by saying “my fellow citizens” this unity is established. Clearly, Bush has the world perspective in mind when he makes mention of “the entire world” and underlines the widespread influence of the attacks. He is especially referring to Great Britain as true friend and welcomes the British prime minister, which is somewhat important for the politic relations.

Already in the introduction one can find the dichotomy, which Bush creates throughout his whole speech, as he contrasts “enemies” with “justice” and “freedom”, which is one of the main values in the American society. Bush makes clear that although “Americans have known wars” and surprise attacks, which he points out three times, but nothing like the attacks of September 11. With his statement that there is a “different world” now, the enormity of the attacks is exposed one more time.

Besides the introduction, Bush's speech is built upon four leading questions. Though they are rhetorical questions, which Bush answers himself, they address the American people directly and take everybody in so that everybody feels addressed. His first question is “Who attacked our country?”and from there Bush goes into the subject concerning al Qaeda and the Taliban. He mentions Osama Bin Laden and gives the al Qaeda organization a face. He highlights al Qaeda as the terrorist group and compares it with the mafia. Bush also links terrorists to “Islamic extremism” and, moreover to “evil and destruction”. As a prime example he mentions Afghanistan and explains the situation is this country. An important rhetorical step is that Bush distinguishes between the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan by saying “The United States respects the people of Afghanistan (…) but we condemn the Taliban regime”. He then makes five absolute demands on the Taliban, which should show power, influence and independence of the USA. Again the audience responds with an applause.

At this point Bush sets an antipol by emphasizing that the Islamic faith is respected and he even concedes that “its teachings are good and peaceful” and mentions that it is practiced in many countries “America counts as friends”. Having said that, Bush makes clear that “terrorists are traitors to their own faith” and defines the “enemy” as the “radical network of terrorists”. Considerably, he says that the enemy is neither the “many Muslim friends” nor “the many Arab friends”. Again one can find dichotomy here, where Bush contrasts “enemy” with “friend”. After another applause at this point, Bush mentions the term “war on terror” for the first time.

The next question Bush is asking in representation of the American people is “Why do they hate us?”. Bush gives the following reason: “They hate our freedoms.”. And again he points to dichotomy by distinguishing between “them” and “us”. By saying “We have seen their kind before” Bush realizes that this situation is not new to the USA and in a historical perspective he adds “terrorists to a grisly Murderer's Row of history”[12].

The third question “Americans are asking” is “How will we fight and win this war?”. Bush points out that everything will be done to defeat terrorism. He refers to former military action, for example in Iraq and Kosovo and explains at the same time how this war will be different. While he prepares the American people for it, he also saves them from false expectations. What follows is the central declaration and the peak of Bush's speech: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”. Bush leaves no room for alternatives here and also reaches the peak of the his concept of dichotomy.

Another important point he is making here is the self-awareness that America is “not immune from attack”, from which Bush's decision results to build the Office of Homeland Security. In the following he presents its function and introduces Tom Ridge, who will lead it.


[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1555912.stm, checked March 23, 2010

[2] http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,175757,00.html, checked March 24, 2010

[3] Coe. Kevin, et a.: No Shades of Gray, p. 240

[4] Coe. Kevin, et a.: No Shades of Gray, p. 234

[5] Coe. Kevin, et a.: No Shades of Gray, p. 234

[6] Coe. Kevin, et a.: No Shades of Gray, p. 234

[7] Hodges, A., Nilep, C.: Discourse, war and terrorism, p. 1

[8] Sherman, Daniel J., Nardin, Terry: Terror, Culture, Politics: Rethinking 9/11, p. 1

[9] Kushner, Shana. and Gershkoff, Amy. "The 9/11-Iraq Connection: How the Bush Administration's Rhetoric in the Iraq Conflict Shifted Public Opinion", http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p82590_index.html, checked March 23, 2010

[10] Source: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-48753340.html, checked March 23, 2010

[11] Source: http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/, checked on March 24, 2010

[12] http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,175757,00.html, checked on March 24, 2010

Excerpt out of 11 pages


War on Terror - How Discourse changed after 9/11
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald  (Anglistik)
Discourse Analysis
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
476 KB
terror, discourse
Quote paper
Antje Holtmann (Author), 2010, War on Terror - How Discourse changed after 9/11, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/211626


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: War on Terror - How Discourse changed after 9/11

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free