Cold War Rhetoric: Strategy, Metaphor, and Ideology

By Robert L. Ivie; Philip Wander et al. | Go to book overview

5
Cold War Motives and the Rhetorical Metaphor: A Framework of Criticism

Robert L. Ivie

A critique of Cold War rhetoric can serve many useful purposes, but none is more important than improving our understanding of the motives perpetuating America's rivalry with the Soviet Union. Rhetorical motives for Soviet-American rivalry are as compelling and durable as any other source of sustained tension or potential conflict. They have evolved over four decades into powerful conventions of public discourse that diminish the political imagination, undermine the incentive to envision better alternatives, and thus reduce the scope of practical opinions available to leaders of both nations. In short, the received wisdom of the Cold War rhetor prescribes a narrow range of choices for managing international relations realistically. Yet, the stuff of which these durable motives are made is mere metaphor. The guiding perspective that motivates confrontation in the nuclear age consists of figures of speech elaborated and literalized over time into conventional visions of national peril. The critic who inspects these visions of national peril aims ultimately at enriching our political imagination. Thus, the purpose of the present discussion is to clarify a program of criticism that endeavors to enhance the rhetorical act it investigates.

An approach to rhetorical criticism that features metaphor as a key to understanding Cold War motives make certain assumptions about sources of rhetorical invention, procedures of critical injury, and the goals of criticism. Critical inquiries conforming to such assumption seek to uncover images that constrain the political imagination of Cold War leaders and their publics, images that otherwise would remain literalized beyond recognition as elaborated tropes and figures. An overview of these images and the critical perspective that leads to their deliteralization should help to clear a path of scholarship in the continuing quest for practical alternatives to rhetorical hostility.

Attending closely to Cold War metaphors reveals a variety of related vehicles that have structured America's perception of the Soviet threat.

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