The 1960s was considered to be one of the most violent generations in American history, which evoked depressing memories of the Vietnam War, and Civil Rights Protests. Furthermore, the people during that time period witnessed the assassinations of U.S. President John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Cuban Missile Crisis, and the moon landing. However, on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy delivered his first and last inaugural speech not only to the citizens of the United States but to the entire world. In his address, Kennedy exercises the rhetorical appeals ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos to justify his call to action which is for the American people to unite with the rest of humanity to ensure human rights, freedom, peace, and stability for the world.
John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ceremony was considered a defining moment in U.S. history. For his inaugural address, Kennedy made sure his message to the nation was short and clear, but still used all 4 rhetorical appeals to establish what his vision is for the United States. He talks about how “the world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” (Norton Custom Library) Kennedy explains that his goal for our nation was to achieve global unity, which meant supporting freedom and human rights for all humankind. He suggests that “we [should] observe [this day] not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom.” (Norton Custom Library) Yet, he continues to remind his audience that “the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” (Norton Custom Library) Kennedy doesn’t want the nation to forget that “we are the heirs of that first revolution.” He uses the metaphor of “[letting] the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been to a new generation of Americans…” to describe the people's responsibilities for the welfare of our country. (Norton Custom Library) Kennedy pledges his “loyalty [to his] faithful friends” and says that if we are “united, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures.” However, if we are “divided, there is little we can do--for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.” (Norton Custom Library) In addition, Kennedy juxtaposes “that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction' to highlight that without peace, our world will fall into the depths of self destruction. (Norton Custom Library) Throughout his speech, he conveyed a promising tone and his optimistic mood was so contagious to the audience that he was able to convince them that he was capable to be president of the U.S. Kennedy encouraged his audience to come together and work hard to make the world a better place to live in.
Before going in-depth and highlighting certain areas that correlate to how Kennedy uses rhetoric appeal in his speech, it is essential to understand what exactly is the purpose of an inaugural address. The inaugural address is a speech given after a president has been elected that informs the people of their future intentions for the nation as a whole during their presidency. In Kennedy’s speech, he informed the people of his intentions as a leader which involved achieving peace and freedom by unifying the citizens of the U.S. and the rest of the world together. In the 1960s, the citizens of the U.S. were going the Post-Cold War phase, a state of political tension and military rivalry between the U.S. and Soviet Union and other nations following WWII that stops short of full-scale war. When it came to NASA trying to build rockets that could fly a man to the moon or constructing nuclear war missiles such as the Atomic Bomb, the Soviets were always two steps ahead of the Americans. However, when Kennedy was sworn to be President of the U.S, many Americans became more hopeful and optimistic that with him in charge, he could make the 1960s a more peaceful and unified decade. It’s important to understand “that when a new president is inaugurated, [they have to] give an amazing inaugural address [that could] earn the trust of the entire half nation that did not vote for him.” (Torgeson) For President Kennedy, he did an exceptional job of gaining every citizen’s trust by appealing to kairos. He was able to deliver his message to the world in the most appropriate manner prior to the Cold War and was able to unify the entire human race and make the world a better place for everyone.
At the beginning of his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy immediately establishes his ethos by listing the members of both houses of Congress: “Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens.” (Norton Custom Library) Kennedy asks his audience to not look at this day as the day where John F. Kennedy was victorious and elected as the 35th president of the U.S, but to recognize this moment “as a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change.” (Norton Custom Library) Here, Kennedy established himself as a president who valued unity over partisanship. Throughout his speech, he continues to make a strong appeal not only his ethics, but our ethics as a country united through common values to convince the nation that he is a courageous leader. For instance, Kennedy stated that “in the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.” In other words, Kennedy does not “shrink from this responsibility – [he] welcome[s] it.” (Norton Custom Library) Kennedy encouraged the United States to have faith in him because he had the confidence and skill set to lead the nation through the difficult times that lie ahead. At the end of his speech, he establishes his ethos as an unselfish leader again by concluding “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.” (Norton Custom Library) John F. Kennedy utilizes his ethical appeal by explaining his goal in his inaugural address which was to inspire his audience that we can achieve peace and freedom with him in charge. In addition, Kennedy reveals the truth that it’s not just the people of the U.S. that deserve the justice of freedom, the citizens of other insignificant countries such as Cuba.
Not only does John F. Kennedy use ethos to earn the nation’s trust, but he also establishes pathos to help the U.S. citizens understand that he shares the same values that they do. Throughout his speech, he addresses many different groups during his repetition of “to those.” First, Kennedy appeals to American patriotism which was considered an important concept to use in order to succeed during the Cold War. He refreshes his audience’s memory of the founding fathers and reveals parallels between “the first revolution” and the current generation, “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage.” (Norton Custom Library) Here, Kennedy does an exceptional job of referring to the core American value of liberty in his speech in order to praise the nation’s dedication to the survival of that value. After promoting a patriotic spirit, Kennedy challenges the American people by asking for their help and support in creating a safer world. He does this by appealing to the emotions of those who lost loved ones and then inspires the country to act when he says, “The graces of young Americans who answered the call of service surround the globe.” (Norton Custom Library) Another social group that he talks about is the lower class people who are suffering from poverty. Kennedy appeals to their emotions when he states, “to those people in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves..” and that “if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” (Norton Custom Library)
Although it may have seemed to be a difficult task to uphold, especially during that time period, Kennedy remained confident and hopeful as he states “the energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” (Norton Custom Library) In many speeches, it’s easy for the speaker to appeal to an audience emotionally, because that audience will often share similar values and beliefs that the speaker mentions. However, in Kennedy’s case, his audience was the entire nation which meant that he had to find things that he could talk about that would appeal to the majority of the nation’s emotions. He refers to the idea of developing peace among other nations which causes a huge turn-on for his audience.
At the same time, Kennedy created a positive and optimistic vibe that was so contagious that every citizen in the nation believed that America was going to face a better future with him as president. Throughout his inaugural address, Kennedy uses an appeal to different classifications, analogies, and facts during the 1960s and discusses his plans for dealing with each of them-- “old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share,” “new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free,” “people in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery,” “that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations,” and “nations who would make themselves our adversary” (214, 215) First, Kennedy applies an analogy by explaining how the spread of Communism from the Soviet Union to less developed countries like Cuba was considered a reminder that.. “those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” (Norton Custom Library) In other words, the spread of Communism was proved to be futile to those who adopted its principles. Throughout his speech, Kennedy continued to use the facts of the Cold War to negotiate peace and unity between America and the Soviet Union by stating “let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us. Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms – and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.” In his augural address, John F. Kennedy appealed to real-world facts and figures that occurred during the 1960s to specify what his main goal was for the future generation of Americans: to unify the entire human race. During his inaugural ceremony, John F. Kennedy was calling all Americans to action and be the difference, to take a stand, to make the change, and to do what is morally right. There was a great reference to our country being the first to revolt against the will of greedy men, and that we are the heirs of that revolution with the duty to uphold and bring basic human rights to all human beings across the globe.
Through these various techniques, John F. Kennedy was able to challenge our nation to come together and unite with our rival nations. As a rhetor, Kennedy understood that his inaugural speech was far more effective because he knew who his audience was: all countries around the world including ours. Ultimately, Kennedy utilized all four rhetorical appeals in order to gain admiration from his audience and leave them with the responsibility to carry out his idealistic concepts for the world. Unfortunately on November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but his famous last words from his speech “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” still remained inspirational and effective when it came to fighting against tyranny, poverty, disease, and war. Even in death, Kennedy’s future intentions for the next generation of America still remained and to those who would listen to his speech again would regain a sense of hope in unifying the nation.
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