See the video on Blip.tv
I am hardly the first person to notice the parallels in rhetoric and ideology between the administration of President George W. Bush and those of his father or of Ronald Reagan. But most analyses of the neo-conservative approach to "cowboy diplomacy" aim to place Bush and the Iraq War in the context of a Cold War hangover, where religious extremism replaces communism and Baghdad replaces Saigon.
Instead, I think this ideology reaches deeper into the past, into the history of the world wars and the forging of American identity as a benevolent but militarist global policeman. What we have forgotten is that throughout the last century, liberals and Democrats were as complicit as Republicans in creating that ideology, and that fascism and atheism have been its constructed enemies as often as socialism or theocracy. Indeed, what I aim to explore in this video is whether American national identity has been defined in terms of such an ideology, whether America's existential sense of self has becomes contingent on supplying the army of good in a war against evil. If so, does the war construct itself?
I am interested thus in exploring the rhetoric of ideological and morally-motivated warfare in presidential speeches to determine if this rhetoric has become a self-fulling prophecy. Like Orwell's Oceania, do we shift this rhetoric seamlessly between the Eurasias and Eastasias of the world to maintain our sense of purpose?
Finally, my title, quoted from Santayana, considers whether this phenomenon reflects a broader tendency for cycles and repetition in history itself.
Harry S. Truman, "Address to Joint Session of Congress," March 12, 1947
John F. Kennedy, "Inaugural Address," January 20, 1961
Ronald Reagan, "Address to the National Association of Evangelicals," March 8, 1983
George W. Bush, "State of the Union Address," January 29, 2002