Cold War Rhetoric: Strategy, Metaphor, and Ideology

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

11
The Prospects of Cold War Criticism

Robert L. Ivie

Even after the demise of the Soviet Union and the declared end of the Cold War, the legacy of more than four decades of rhetorical hostility demands a continuing critical response. The Cold War is embedded in America's political culture.1 The way we remember this era impacts upon our current sense of purpose and well being.2 If it is represented as a final victory for the United States amounting to the end of a long ideological struggle between the forces of freedom and tyranny -- as illustrated, for example, in Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis -- then the nation's continuing quest for a "democratic peace" would seem to be authorized by history.3 This, in fact, is the prevailing logic for establishing a new world order led by a triumphant United States: securing peace permanently by promoting democracy globally. Interpreted differently, however, the traumatic experience of the Cold War has only reinforced the nation's chronic sense of vulnerability and its unrealistic quest for absolute security, thereby diminishing America's ability to adapt appropriately to the diversity and complexity of present times.4 Our stake in Cold War history, therefore, remains high, and rhetorical criticism provides one very important means of engaging that history constructively.

Each of the perspectives discussed in this volume investigates a different facet of the rhetorical choices comprising the Cold War, revealing the relevance of past discretions (and indiscretions) to present perceptions while scrutinizing the design of a conventional wisdom that sustained East-West tensions for so long at the threshold of nuclear confrontation. United by a common goal of achieving a less dangerous and confrontational future, these three approaches to rhetorical criticism comprise a relatively comprehensive framework of observation and response. Each features a rhetorical dimension of Cold War culture that implicates the others.

The strategic approach to criticism seeks to understand how discourse is designed intentionally to achieve particular goals with specific audiences within the constraints of given situations. Understanding these relationships enables the critic to judge whether the rhetorical options have been fully exploited at designated points in time. Cold War, from this perspective, is

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