The Iranian Bomb — The Limits of Rhetoric

–Richard E. Vatz

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a treasure trove for those interested in understanding what rhetorical study is all about, rhetoric creates reality to the extent that the animals who have taken over Manor Farm from Farmer Jones do not realize that their deprivations and depredations created by the newly ruling pigs are comparable to, and then worse than, those from which they suffered when they lived under the odious Jones.

And indeed rhetoric can completely control satisfactions and dissatisfactions to a point. In a major article in my field I wrote decades ago in the journal Philosophy and Rhetoric, “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation,” I argued that reality is almost wholly created through rhetoric with the exception of some “situations which directly confront our own empirical reality…” Thus, when someone shoots Fred, he will pay attention to being shot despite whatever else persuaders try to put on his agenda.

This is the case with much of the Barack Obama administration’s rhetorically deceptive universe. Economy and employment numbers in the tank? Not to worry: the President reassures us that we’re moving in the right direction. Why, the prophetic words of a former president that “prosperity is just around the corner” should be quite comforting.

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Major U.S. wartime military leaders concerned about repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” No problem: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates supports it, and even those opposed to it indicate to the president that they will come around when this irritating little war environment cools down.

Where can rhetorical redefinition of reality not work? In the hardnosed reality of the political
and military consequences of completely nefarious and irresponsible world principals and nations acquiring — and perhaps using — nuclear weapons.

For years some of us have been writing about this inescapable drama. Iran continues to move toward the very acquisition of nuclear weapons which will transform the Middle East’s, not to mention the world’s, geopolitical situation and possibly even lead to catastrophic nuclear war between Iran and Israel, albeit thankfully such acquisition has moved more slowly than those of us ignorant of nuclear technology progression and international espionage intervention would have thought.

Remember the days when people lost sleep worrying that the United States and the Soviet Union, separated by a few thousand miles, might miscalculate one another’s intentions and accidentally engage in a nuclear exchange?

What would you think are the chances of miscalculation when the distance is less than 1000 miles, as it is between Iran and Israel?

The Obama Administration seems conflicted, as it seems about virtually all major issues, regarding whether it is possible to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. “Maybe we can?”

What Iran claims may be world power “constructive” talks begins this week, but even the agenda of the talks is not agreed on.

If President Obama wants to abjure his Hamlet-like leadership and recognize that some crises cannot be rhetorically papered over, the incipient Iranian nuclear crisis is the place to start.

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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