This thesis examines the nature and evolution of enemy images in twentieth-century presidential rhetoric. It does so through five case studies, analyzing the presidential rhetoric associated with World War I, World War II, the early Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the first Gulf War. It works from three basic assumptions. First, that enemy images are an important area of study as they play a central role in the transition from peace to war, as well as in shaping the manner in which a conflict is fought and the form of the peace that follows. Second, that it is language about political events, rather than such events in any other sense, that most people experience, and political rhetoric thus constitutes political reality. And, finally, that of all the rhetoricians involved in American politics, it is the president who is the most influential architect of political reality.
Although scholars, most notably Robert L. Ivie, have offered important insight into the nature of enemy images in American presidential rhetoric, the existing secondary literature is generally based upon the analysis of small samples of rhetoric. While such an approach can produce valuable results, it ignores the fluid nature of enemy images and thus excludes insight into their development and evolution. Building upon the existing secondary literature, this thesis undertakes a comprehensive analysis of the speeches, press conferences and public messages of each of the presidents examined. Combining a traditional historical methodology with one resembling an approach Sonja K. Foss has labeled “generic description,” this thesis examines commonalities not only in the form of enemy images in presidential rhetoric, but also in the manner in which such images developed in response to events. Exploring how certain rhetorical forms were rearticulated in response to similar events in different time periods, it identifies what John Butler has labeled “rhetorical continuities.”