Week 5 Readings: The Justification of War

This week’s readings mainly focus on rhetorical tools used by government authorities, personnel and other sources to get the American public behind the war effort by glorifying the troops and associating with the army rather than the political agenda that is driving this prolonged war on terror.

Stahl examines the origin, purpose and reason for the emergence and prevalence of the “Support the troops”. He tracks the slogan back to post-Vietnam America when the unnecessary war was highly unpopular among the public and received a lot of criticism. According to Stahl, the movement is strategically used to do two things – deflect and disassociate. Deflect attention towards the war being more about the military effort rather than focusing on political goals. Disassociate the public from the troops by glorifying the troops and defining any type of war criticism as “unpatriotic” and disrespectful to the troops.

Vicaro talks about the use deconstructive rhetoric used to undermine laws and rues about wars and outside involvement in internal affairs. He examines Bush and Obama’s war time policies for detention and military involvement that would previously break laws nationally and internationally but they have used deconstructive rhetoric to justify them. The terming of Afghanistan as a “failed state” and the coining of the term “unlawful enemy combatant status” that has been used in the Global War on Terrorism led by the United States.

Butterworth and Moskal talk about the armed forces bowl and the integration of militarism and sports. They examine the use of sports to make the concept of militarism and war “fun” for the audience. They take a close look at the armed forces bowl which aims at “supporting the troops” in a prolonged overseas war and in the process trivializing the war itself by shifting focus to the troops. They also mention the deep presence of militarism in everyday American life such that one cannot avoid being exposed to the rhetoric used to justify this war.

The summaries for each of the articles is meant to be an overview of some of the main topics disused in them. However, through my reading of these articles I found myself mainly agreeing with the critiques of the “support the troops” movement and the deflection from important political issues towards pseudo-patriotism. As some of the authors mentioned, there is a historical trend of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny that one needs to study in order to understand the global perspective the country holds. This perspective, in my opinion, is one of the greatest reasons why America is pioneering this long and tedious war on terrorism. The Monroe doctrine is a perfect example of a historical document that displays these values. The doctrine, originally meant to maintain neutrality is used in the future to justify the war actions during different eras. Roosevelt used it in his justification of America being the global police in the Roosevelt Corollary. Bush used it to enter a never-ending war on terrorism and most recently Rex Tillerson (the US Secretary of State) praised it for “being a success”. These values of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny is why I think the war on terrorism will never end because American is involved in a war which is not quantifiable, a war of fear, and America does not seem to be backing down.

The idea of this blog post is not to undermine the efforts put in by the members US defense services, but it is an effort to point out to the hollowness of the “support the troops” rhetoric as a political propaganda tool. This rhetoric is used to hide the complete picture of the war and has made war a state of normalcy for the country.

14 thoughts on “Week 5 Readings: The Justification of War

  • February 18, 2018 at 10:56 am

    Vishy, I think you did a great job summarizing this week’s readings and fleshing out the main ideas. I find it interesting how in our society, the “support the troops” rhetoric seemingly creates support for the war while in reality it is focused on the soldiers themselves and far removed from the concept of war and the political motivations behind it. By deflecting the attention to the soldiers themselves, this rhetoric fails to acknowledge the controversial nature of America’s self-determined obligation to become involved with foreign affairs and have a militaristic presence across the globe. I also find Vicaro’s article about the deconstructive rhetoric used to justify military involvement especially intriguing. The use of specific terminology as framing that Vicaro discusses reminded me of the video that we watched in class about the Clean War rhetoric. Just as Afghanistan was deemed a “failed state,” the framing of bombings as “air strikes,” and civilian casualties as “collateral damage” all work together to sanitize the idea of war. Between the sanitation of war through certain vocabulary, and the rhetoric that focuses on the troops themselves rather than the institution of the military or the war, the public is insulated from the realities of war.

    I also agree with your point that America has made war a state of normalcy, and thinking back, for the vast majority of my life the U.S. has been openly at war. That militaristic outlook and tendency of the U.S. is now facing a foe in the War on Terror that is not concrete, and as a result, it seems as if there is no foreseeable end to this new, modern war.

    • February 19, 2018 at 2:06 am

      Hey Brendan,

      I appreciate the comments. Its great to hear that we seem to be on the same page. I find it interesting too that it the use of deconstructive rhetoric has led to such an elaborate global war that could be categorized as illegal if it was framed any other way. The elaborate and deep seeded nature of this war is very worrisome because it is unlike any other war America has waged.

  • February 18, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    Vishy, I also agreed with Stahl’s critiques of the trope of “Support the Troops”. When I was reading Stahl’s explanation of how the trope both deflects and disassociates, I thought back to war movies I’ve watched that invoke this kind of “new patriotism.” Though, for me, it’s unpleasant to watch the violence of these movies, I’ve certainly been intrigued by some of the characters and the solidarity they exude. Films or other media that focus on the soldiers as characters ask the audience to develop a respect for the soldiers (or maybe a particular soldier – whether based on a real person or not), and possibly the relationships they form with other soldiers (thinking to “Band of Brothers”). When executed well, it’s not too difficult to get this kind of response from viewers – similar to the way that we might respond to movies with superheroes or characters who face challenges and have to fight through them. Movies like these create an almost human interest story, just using soldiers as characters. Stahl’s essay is important because it exposes the distinction between using soldiers as subjects for media or slogans and actually addressing the moral (or immoral) cause of the war at hand. In other words, movies displaying this “new patriotism” or slogans like “Support the Troops” offer a specific story that exists within a vacuum, lacking broader context or acknowledgement of why these soldiers are killing and fighting. This makes me ask, when films don’t address the cause or justness of a war and focus mostly on individual characters, should viewers feel like something is missing? Stahl’s essay seems to suggests they should, and that there is a need for more critical viewership or evaluation of the slogans, media, and symbols that we consume as citizens.

    • February 19, 2018 at 2:17 am

      Hey Kaitlin,

      I think what you bring up is a fair point, the portrayal of soldiers and the army in movies and other media has been designed to create a personal connection between the audience and the soldier.Also, from a purely entertainment perspective it is easier to connect to a personal dramatized stories than to have an educational film on the legitimacy of war. This ties into the war being portrayed as a soldier’s struggle rather than being seen as the propaganda tool it actually is. I also agree there needs to be more education about the war from a factual perspective instead of an emotional one.

  • February 18, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    Vishy, nice summation and articulation of this week’s articles. I thought Vicaro’s piece was particularly interesting as a demonstration of constitutive rhetoric and its resulting implications. Not only can constitute legal rhetoric undermine the legal status of an individual, but furthermore it serves to confuse the public as to that individuals actions that warranted detainment. Considering the two groups responsible for holding the U.S. government accountable to war treaties are the U.S. citizenry and international courts, it makes sense that these rhetorical nuances targeted at these groups have been so successful. Stahl’s discussion of the deflection and disassociation generated by the “support the troops” ideology similarly targets key audiences to generate support for the war effort. I liked that you highlighted in the Stahl article how through this “support the troops” ideology makes any questioning of war problematic. We recognize and see this cultural pressure constantly, and I thought Stahl provided a clear and concise account of this phenomena. It is truly astounding how much ideological power the United States government has over its own people and the international community. I agree with your point on our history of American exceptionalism, and I think Vicaro’s article demonstrates that power well. The U.S. essentially rewrote international law by creating the “unlawful enemy combatant” status and this characterizes that felt exceptionalism well. It will be interesting to see in the years to come how our populace responds to understandings and critiques like those posed by this week’s authors.

    • February 19, 2018 at 4:10 am

      Hey Collin,
      I agree, the entire war on terrorism waged by the US is being framed in away that lets the US off on a technicality. The positioning of the war has made it problematic to criticize it at a national level because of the misinformation being spread through the “support the troops” rhetoric and any word against the war is considered to be anti-national or “unpatriotic”. It seems hypocritical for the country to be a called a democracy with the government creating conditions that make it impossible to criticize/question its actions without social consequences.

  • February 18, 2018 at 11:49 pm


    I think you did a great job summarizing this week’s readings while also asserting your own opinion. It was particularly helpful to include a link to the Monroe Doctrine into your response to support and strengthen your claim of America engaging in a “long and tedious war.” I agree with your assertion that there is a “historical trend of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny” and think Stahl’s article lays out a good foundation for the emergence of the phrase and how that correlates to those trends.

    Stahl’s idea that the phrase, “Support the troops” stifles debate and quiets the minority opinion and narratives on war enhances trends of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny. Because debate is stifled by the “support the troops” phrase, the dominant ideology of nationalism and pro-war rhetoric is able to freely circulate and thus reinforce the American exceptionalist tendencies you mention. The rhetorical tropes of deflection and dissociation, together, help redefine war and rhetorically construct it to normalize its violence. Deflection turns war into, “an internal struggle to save the soldier” (Stahl, 535) while Dissociation condemns the “active citizen” (a person who questions or shows disdain for the war) and places them on the wrong (minority) side of the argument. The dominant rhetoric is circulated by the use of film and rhetorically constructs how citizens incorporate and normalize war into their everyday lives.

    • February 19, 2018 at 6:47 am

      Hello Alex,

      I think your response is very insightful. Agreeing to everything you said I just wanted to add one point that these strategies to justify war demonizes the world and creates a narrative that isolates America from the rest of the world which fuels the American exceptionalism ideals. It creates a narrative of “the others” which in my opinion is very reflective of World War 2 rhetoric and has no place in a world that is shrinking and become more connected than ever.

  • February 19, 2018 at 9:51 am

    I thought your summaries were thorough and insightful. I liked how you focused on Stahl’s conception of ‘deflection and dissociation’ in characterizing the “support the troops” motto, as these types of meaningless slogans seem to offer a rallying cry for those who want to feel as if they are supporting their soldiers when really we are only supporting the deployment of more troops and the further escalation of tensions such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. As we can see, there is an inherent contradiction in this slogan. I also appreciated your analysis of the Butterworth’s piece about the Armed Forces bowl and other such shows of military-inspired public entertainment. Having attended an Armed Forces bowl game in the past, I have always enjoyed the sort of soldier-oriented spectacle that these occasions offer, yet I have never thought about the cultural significance of these types of demonstrations. Finally, I thought Vicaro’s analysis of ‘deconstitutive rhetoric’ was particularly interesting as an alternative to our previously held conception of constitutive rhetoric. Vicaro does a particularly good job of explaining how this sort of rhetoric “discursive action that
    undermines the existing legal status of those to whom it refers and produces a disarticulate, destitute subject by denying the individual access to the civic forums in which rhetorical agency may be exercised”. Examples of this ‘discursive action’ came to my mind last week when we were discussing the role of peaceful dissent and opposing viewpoints in a republic such as ours. It would certainly seem that there are certain aspects of the discourse surrounding the war on terror, particularly from the neoconservative war party, not only to discourage opposition, but to focus all their efforts on creating a narrow and rigid definition of patriotism.

    • March 28, 2018 at 5:22 am

      Hey Alex,

      Thank you for the response. Having never been to one of the armed forces bowl or any American sporting event that has a military honoring theme I do not know what it feels like to first hand appreciate and enjoy something that is so ingrained in everyday society as an almost cathartic experience of honoring the troops. Therefore, my views on these events are very critical which I feel are justified the general public is blinded by the use of patriotism as propaganda. From what I gather, you agree with me on this and it is always great to receive insight from someone who has first hand experience at such events.

  • February 20, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    Hi Vishy,

    Thank you for your summation and reflection on this week’s readings. I think you insightfully addressed each of our articles and I particularly appreciated the connection you drew between The Monroe Doctrine and the historical trend of exceptionalist values that have and continue to fuel and justify war engagement. I think it was a perfect document to draw on and really puts this idea that our authors from the week address into perspective.

    As I read Stahl’s article, as well as your summary, I thought about the part of Militainment, Inc., that we watched as a class, particularly related to this idea of language that “deflects and dissociates,” which highlighted the very strategic language used to describe war efforts in popular media. We saw how news outlets use very specific phrases, for example “target of opportunity” versus “bombsite”, or “collateral damage” instead of “dead civilians”. This coded language deflects from what is really going on in these war efforts and dissociates normal people from understanding the truth and relating to these occurrences. Through his work in both this article, “Why We ‘Support the Troops’: Rhetorical Evolutions” and Militainment, Inc., Roger Stahl heavily harps on this idea of strategic discourse used to justify and support military efforts. Stahl’s claims are justified and I think the extent of this issue is contributing to a change in the way war is rhetorically conceptualized by the public and will continue to do so in the future.

    • March 28, 2018 at 5:36 am

      Hey Tegan,

      I agree with your comment. I think it is almost scary how the use of deconstructive rhetoric and strategic language is being used by the government to redefine American public’s opinion about the war effort. This new way of justifying war is very close to propaganda and misinformation being spread about the war. My view might be a little exaggerated but the fear I think is justified because it is very concerning that criticisms of the war are dismissed and public opinion seems to have been misguided.

  • February 20, 2018 at 11:00 pm

    I love your description of the phrase “support the troops” and similar rhetoric as “hollow,” for as Stahl points out, the phrase is often used when there is fear of debate from dissenters. In fact, I think this notion of rhetorical “hollowness” was present throughout all the readings this week, particularly in Stahl and in Vicaro’s analysis of deflection in rhetoric about enemy combatants, a rhetorical trope that is so paradoxical that it is subject to criticism and reconstruction. I think that the Butterworth and Moskal reading actually helps to contextualize the hollowness of this rhetoric and the measures that corporate America has to take to keep these ideologies in the public discourse. As Butterworth and Moskal note, it is “the American public’s acceptance of the military’s place in the economic and political segments of American society” that keep this rhetoric afloat, even though many Americans now question the war effort in the so-called War on Terror.

    Additionally, I think your link to the text of the Monroe Doctrine was an insightful inclusion for this discussion. One portion of the Doctrine says that America’s singular government exists because it “has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure.” Linking the loss of [soldier] blood to the very existence and endurance of the American political system parallels much of the war rhetoric that we have been discussing recently. The “cult of the soldier,” and the almost worshipful attribution of American existence, prosperity, and security to the military, is clearly a concept that is rooted in our nation’s history.

    • March 28, 2018 at 9:33 am

      Hey Emily,

      Thank you for your comments! The hollowness of the “Support the Troops” movement after closer examination is startling. It is amazing how three words are used to shape the opinions of an entire population by deflection and disassociation. These three words carry so much rhetorical power that there are entire institutions created around this ideology, which is definitely a cause for concern.

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