[KB] Warrantable Outrage

Herbert W. Simons hsimons at temple.edu
Thu May 29 14:27:05 EDT 2008


Ed and others keep referring to my NCA paper from 1999 on "Burke, Marx, 
and the Issue of Warrantable Outrage." I concluded that it was high time 
for its circulation on this listserv. See the attached. Reactions most 
welcome. And, while, you're at it, offer your thoughts on whether/how 
the essay's stance on Burke and warrantable outrage can usefully be 
applied to America's invasion and occupation of Iraq.

P.S., Thanks Ed for your encouragement.

Edappel8 at cs.com wrote:
>        Without quoting from Greg's response---with an interpretation 
> possibly to the contrary---to my comedic revision of Franklin D. 
> Roosevelt's speech of December 8, 1941, I want to emphasize: It was a 
> joke!  It was not a joke as an application of Burkean comedy to the 
> situation.  I think my charitable and ambivalent construction and 
> phrasing were right-on.  The re-write was a joke as any kind of 
> appropriate discourse, as constrained by the challenges and 
> requirements of the moment.  If Roosevelt had started his address with 
> my wording, and continued on through in that spirit, the Congress and 
> most of the nation would have been in an uproar.  They probably would 
> have thought Roosevelt had lost his mind.
>        The nation was at such an impasse where even Herb's 
> "warrantable" or "earned" outrage would have had to be shunted aside.  
> There wasn't time for the college debate-team ploy and standard of 
> preparation: Let's make our little list of arguments on both sides, 
> and get all our disparate supporting pieces of evidence neatly 
> arranged in our two file boxes, the pro-American and the 
> pro-Japanese.  We were suddenly up against a quasi-medieval culture 
> and then-superior military power (to say nothing of the likely and 
> resultant conflict with Germany, in addition, which Roosevelt had been 
> trying to incite for months).  Japan's military had been barbarically 
> brutalizing China for 4 12 years, tying civilians up in bundles and 
> burning them alive, burying them alive, raping women wholesale from 
> age 8 to 80, providing their newspapers, a la sports reporting, with a 
> contest in civilian decapitations two of their officers were waging.  
> Our nation feared as imminent an invasion on the West Coast.  As 
> Roosevelt enumerated, in anaphoric or epistrophic style, Japan's army, 
> navy, and airforce were on the assault all over the place the night of 
> December 7.  We were hurt and hurt badly by Pearl Harbor.  Only 
> luckily were our aircraft carriers at sea, not in port.
>        Greg is right that Roosevelt did not explicitly demonize the 
> Japanese in this address.  It was still, though, in my judgment, and 
> accoding to my notion of serviceable dramatic taxonomy, a tragic-frame 
> speech, not just melodrama.  Roosevelt was responding to a patent 
> evil, with a massive threat of more of the same.  ("Our people, our 
> territory, and our interests are in grave danger.")  The Japanese had 
> killed many of ours, and broken our things in appalling magnitude.  
> Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war that would lead "the American 
> people in their righteous might [to] win through to absolute 
> victory,"  surely a perfected redemptive vision.  To gain that 
> victory, via an "unbounded determination" that would energize 
> Americans toward "the inevitable triumph, so help us God," we would, 
> by obvious implication, be killing Japanese and breaking their things, 
> of necessity, on a scale more massive than probably anything the world 
> had ever seen.
>        Considerable language of furious conflict and dire threat and 
> carnage pepper the speech: "live in infamy," "dastardly attack," 
> "treachery," "deliberately sought to deceive," "severe damage," "many 
> American lives have been lost," "a state of war has existed."  The 
> language of revenge is not absent: "Always we will remember the 
> character of the onslaught."  Intense mortification is front and 
> center: "We will . . . defend ourselves to the utmost" via that 
> "unbounded determination."
>        The point of it all: Herb's call for "humble irony," a 
> "comedic,self-deconstructive stance," as appropriate transition from 
> raw, "righteous indignation," to a matured antipathy that takes 
> account of the "mistakenness" that "necessarily" characterizes, to 
> some extent at least, both sides of any conflict, will work under some 
> circumstances, but not under others.  The extremity of December 7-8, 
> 1941, was, I submit, one of those others.
>        Ed                        
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Herbert W. Simons, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of Communication
Director of National Communication Association Forum
Dep't of Strategic and Organizational Comm.(STOC)
Office 218 Weiss Hall 13th St and Moore Ave
Temple University, Philadelphia PA 19122
215 806 3741 (C); 215 204 8543 (F)
e-mail (preferred) hsimons at temple.edu


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