The King's Speech: How to Justify a War

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Rhetorical Analysis Essay


<ul><li><p>Greider !1</p><p>Alice Greider CAS 137H Robin Kramer 6 Oct. 2013 </p><p>The Kings Speech: How to Justify a War </p><p> Royal Prerogative requires that a declaration of war come from the reigning monarch. So </p><p>on September 3rd, 1939, King George VI of England addressed the people of the British </p><p>Commonwealth. It was a radio broadcast, and although official pictures had him seated in </p><p>Buckingham Palace, he gave it standing up in a small room only accompanied by his speech </p><p>therapist. The Kings Speech, as its known, is famous not only for its historic message but </p><p>also for the content of the speech itself. The speech uses careful diction; effective logos, ethos, </p><p>and pathos; and descriptive imagery, and is coupled with the powerful context of the situation. </p><p>King George VIs speech constructs an argument justifying going to war and assuaging the fears </p><p>of a nation by analyzing how Britain is on the side of the righteous. </p><p> Even before analyzing the content, the mode through which he addressed his audience </p><p>proved to be very effective rhetorically. The invention of radio was a recent one; his father, King </p><p>George V, had started a tradition seven years previous of addressing the nation at Christmastime. </p><p>Otherwise, royal addresses were new. In fact, this was the first wartime broadcast. Radio allowed </p><p>the speaker to seemingly speak to his audience personally, as stated in lines 1-4, I send to every </p><p>household of my peoples...this if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to </p><p>you myself. This endears people to their King, making him seem on the level of the people, </p><p>speaking with the same depth of feeling, yet also a man in whom they can place their trust (3). </p><p>George VI was never meant to be king, it was always assumed that his older brother Edward </p><p>would be. Edward abdicated the throne to marry the twice-divorced American socialite Wallis </p></li><li><p>Greider !2</p><p>Simpson however, leaving the shocked and unconfident George to rule. He struggled with a </p><p>crippling stammer growing up, but overcame it by the early years of his reign, and proved to be </p><p>more well versed in matters of state and governance than his brother would ever have been. As </p><p>he and many other contemporary leaders found, the radio became a means to connect with their </p><p>people personally. FDR delivered his fireside chats to the people during the Great Depression </p><p>and WWII. Similarly, George VI found that through the radio, he could reach people on a more </p><p>personal level despite class limitations, geography, literacy, and ideological viewpoint. Through </p><p>his wartime broadcasts, George VI became a symbol of national resistance and courage, and this </p><p>speech set a precedent for rallying and encouraging his large audience. </p><p> The language and chosen diction within the speech is simple, designed to be understood </p><p>by the vast number of people who would hear the address. Despite the simple diction, the words </p><p>carry a connotation that makes clear the authors opinion of his subject. The use of phrases such </p><p>as fateful, forced into a conflict, prevail, fatal, selfish pursuit of power, might makes </p><p>right, and bondage of fear convey a negative connotation, characterizing the enemy who is </p><p>never defined outright in the speech as evil, brutish, and uncivilized (1,8,9,11,18). The enemy </p><p>civilization is even purposefully separated from Britains with the description of being fatal to </p><p>any civililsed order in the world, clearly meaning that the Germans are not civilized by making </p><p>that distinction (10). The separation of civilized orders from Germany and the loaded words </p><p>make it clear that the speech is priming the audience to feel a certain way about its enemy. </p><p> From the negatively connotative words in the first half of the speech there is a paradigm </p><p>shift, and positively connotative words are utilized instead to juxtapose and characterize Britain </p><p>and her people. The words order, peace, calm, firm, united, and resolutely faithful </p></li><li><p>Greider !3</p><p>are used: all strong and proud words associated with rightful and justified power, unlike the </p><p>enemys brutal and conniving seizure of power (21,24,25,28). They imply that Britain's purpose </p><p>in fighting the war is a high one and Germanys, a selfish rejection of the sovereignty and </p><p>independence of other states (13). These words function to explain that the doctrine of might is </p><p>right compels Britain, a high law-abiding nation, to go to war (15). </p><p> This mere primitive doctrine that might is right epitomizes why Britain must go to war, </p><p>fulfilling the entire purpose of the speech (15). Just like the war that now engulfs Europe, </p><p>Germany has thus become primitive, and Britain is anything but. The combination of the </p><p>aforementioned diction and the person uttering it, the King of the whole British Commonwealth </p><p>of Nations, reinforces the idea that Britain is civilized. She doesnt seek out war; war is primitive. </p><p>She doesnt want to fight. However, in the face of an aggressor who so blatantly disregards its </p><p>treaties and its solemn pledges, she will rise to protect the justice, order and peace of the world </p><p>(12-13). By characterizing and juxtaposing the mere primitive doctrine and the civilized order </p><p>in the world, King George generates a picture of Britain as a fatherly magistrate who </p><p>disapprovingly looks down on the squabbling children and intervenes only to stop their fighting </p><p>(14,10). Britain is not actually sinking down to their primitive level just being the keeper of </p><p>the justice. This is the logos that King George offers his people as a justification for going to war </p><p>again for the second time in as many decades. </p><p> To assuage the fear stemming from the prospect of war, the King makes it clear that he </p><p>understands the fears of [his] people at home and [his] peoples across the seas (23-24). </p><p>Establishing that we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves </p><p>and those who are now our enemies, he thus explains that Britain has tried other measures to </p></li><li><p>Greider !4</p><p>avoid conflict; they are not just blindly going straight to war (6-7). He concedes that war can no </p><p>longer be defined to the battlefield (26). Indeed, World War I had taught the world that warfare </p><p>now required entire nations to support and fight wars, not just armies, involving each and every </p><p>citizen. He calls out to all members of society. The days ahead will be dark, and he asks his </p><p>peoples to stand calm, firm, and united in this time of trial, reiterating that Britain is in the </p><p>right here and its people must act confident of that and do the right and see the right (24-25, </p><p>27). He asks that his people be ready for whatever service or sacrifice it [the war] may </p><p>demand, solidifying the idea that Britain is fighting as a nation rather than as a political entity </p><p>(28-29). During the paradigm shift from comparing the heinous enemy to resolute Britain, he </p><p>shapes the argument so that his audience believes they must fight this enemy or risk losing all </p><p>that we ourselves hold dear, asserting that it is unthinkable that we should refuse to meet the </p><p>challenge (20-22). Acting as their King who understands their fears and concerns over going to </p><p>war, he issues these challenges and requests knowing that ethos will compel people to trust him. </p><p> And trust him they did. Even in the face of a near invasion during the Battle of Britain, </p><p>the British people kept their heads up and did their best for the war effort. Even as their children </p><p>were being shipped off to the countryside for safety, they did as King George asked them to. </p><p>Even as London and other cities were bombed nightly, they acted as King George asked them to. </p><p>And even as more and more of Britain's allies fell, they acted as King George VI asked them to. </p><p>They did this in order to release the people of the world from the bondage of fear (18). The </p><p>King refused to relocate the royal family somewhere safer, solidifying the image of the wartime </p><p>King united with his peoples. This speech reflects that image. It establishes that Britain is </p><p>fighting this war not because it agrees with war as a principle but because it is forced to in order </p></li><li><p>Greider !5</p><p>to protect the peaceful world. It instills and recognizes the fears people may have and reassures </p><p>them of the strength of the British Empire and its ruler. Even though King George has no real </p><p>legislative power as a constitutional monarch, he uses this chance to address the people to </p><p>explain why Britain is going to war and alleviate their fears during this grave hour of their </p><p>history. </p></li></ul>