Apologia, Antapologia, and the 1960 Soviet U-2 Incident

By Stein, Kevin A. | Communication Studies, January-March 2008 | Go to article overview

Apologia, Antapologia, and the 1960 Soviet U-2 Incident


Stein, Kevin A., Communication Studies


When individuals and organizations are forced to explain their behavior, they will typically account for the undesirable action by lessening responsibility for the act or by lessening the significance of the harm caused by the act. Ryan (1982) argued that self-defense discourse involves the speech set of kategoria and apologia (attack and defense) and any critical focus on the apologia requires the examination of the attack preceding it. I would argue that this speech set ignores a third component that I label antapologia (response to apologia).

The term antapologia is a variation of the term "antapology," which has been used in English poetry to reflect a response to an apology. However, because the term apology is often used to reflect mortification strategies rather than the broader range of apologia strategies, the new term better reflects a response to a variety of image repair strategies. Antapologia is an important feature of the apologetic situation because the rhetor may choose to construct the initial image repair based on what one perceives to be the likely response by the offended person(s). Just as the specific arguments outlined in the attack are likely to provoke specific strategies in the apology, the arguments in the apology are likely to provoke certain types of discursive responses.

What distinguishes antapologia from simply a follow-up instance of kategoria is the fact that the former is designed to be a response to the apologetic discourse and the latter is designed to be a response to the initial harmful act perpetrated by the accused. When the discourse addresses the account of the act, it constitutes an instance of antapologia. Discourse that offers a response to apologia has been virtually ignored by researchers in favor of a more pragmatic approach that focuses on the effectiveness of the image repair based on the surface elements of the response. Surface elements include public opinion polls, newspaper commentary, and personal interviews. These tools are valuable for evaluating the utility of certain image repair strategies but do not go deep enough in examining the features that comprise instances of antapologia because they are used only as external evidence to support the critic's analysis of the apologia. The discursive responses to the apologia are not independently analyzed using critical methods.

The U-2 incident in 1960 involving a downed American reconnaissance plane in Soviet territory provides an effective case study for the advancement of a theory of apologia that includes discursive responses to image repair strategies. The incident involved attempts by the United States government to account for actions in violation of international law, discursive exchanges between the highest levels of authority, and the necessity for effective cross-cultural communication.

The U-2 Incident in the Soviet Union

On May 1, 1960, a U-2 spy plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, was shot down while on an intelligence-gathering mission over Soviet airspace (Frankel, 1960). Powers was unable to activate a destruction device within the surveillance camera before evacuating the aircraft. The Soviets captured the pilot and collected undamaged portions of the plane ("Excerpts," 1960). The incident was particularly debilitating to U.S./Soviet relations in the wake of a summit that was scheduled to take place in Paris on May 16th between the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Britain. At the onset of the summit, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev requested to be the first speaker and proceeded to demand an official apology from President Eisenhower for the U-2 overflight. Eisenhower responded that he would end the surveillance flights but refused to apologize or to take responsibility for the incident. At that point, the summit ended as Khrushchev refused to continue the dialogue (Beschloss, 1986).

The incident merits scholarly attention for several reasons.

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