Fear and distrust of communism were common themes in the lives of Americans throughout the time period known as the Cold War, which stretched from the years 1947-1991. This fear and distrust were very evident in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address of 1961, right smack in the middle of the Cold War. Kennedy’s goal in his inaugural address was to unite America and the world against the spread of communism and to inspire confidence in the U.S., and he achieves this goal through his use of tropes and schemes.
One device he used that was particularly effective in his speech was anthesis, which is “the juxtaposition of sharply contrasting ideas”; in other words, putting two opposite things together. Antithesis is used frequently throughout the speech, usually referring to communism and freedom, or democracy. One example of this is when he says “neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course”. The two groups of nations he is referring to here are the communist nations and the free nations, both those that are democratic and all others who are not communist. His purpose in including this antithesis is to portray the belief that there are only two sides in the world; communists and non-communists. By doing so, he gives the idea that all non-communist countries are united against communism.
Another device that Kennedy uses to promote the feeling of unity is allusion. One example of this is when he states that “we are the heirs of that first revolution”. The revolution that he is referring to is, of course, the Revolutionary War, when America fought for their independence from Britain. He uses this illusion to promote unity within the US. He is reminding the people that without that first revolution, we would not be here at all. We owe them for creating the country, and because of that it is our responsibility to defend the country from those who would subvert the country’s ideals. In other words, it is our responsibility to defend against communism. A second allusion that he makes is to the Olympic torch. The first time he alludes to it, he says that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans”. The Olympic torch is an international symbol of unity. His purpose in including this allusion is to promote unity against communism not only within the U.S., but among all non-communist countries. It is also to inspire confidence in the U.S. The torch, besides being a symbol of unity, is also in this context a symbol of responsibility. By saying that the “torch has been passed” he is saying that the responsibility to defend the free world has passed to this new generation. He follows this quote by saying that this new generation is “tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage- and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of.. human rights”. This description of the new generation of Americans emphasizes their assets and encourages the idea of confidence in them. The second time he uses this allusion to the Olympic Torch, he says that “the energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country… and the glow from that fire can truly light the world”. The effect of this allusion is much the same as the first time he uses it. It inspires unity in the U.S. and the world, and confidence in the ability of the U.S. to deal with the threat of communism.
Every trope and scheme that Kennedy uses in his inaugural address is meant to inspire unity and confidence in the U.S. He wanted to appear to be a strong president and to inform the citizens of the U.S. that he plans to combat communism during his presidency. This speech was true to its purpose; it inspired both American citizens and citizens of the world. While the Cold War did not end for some years after this speech was given, Kennedy lived up to the image that he presented, performing admirably in many crises. Overall, Kennedy’s inaugural address was a success.
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