The 'War on Terror' Narrative: Discourse and Intertextuality in the Construction and Contestation of Sociopolitical Reality.

Author:Chang, Gordon C.
Position:Brief article

The "War on Terror" Narrative: Discourse and Intertextuality in the Construction and Contestation of Sociopolitical Reality. By Adam Hodges. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 180 pp.

Just about every book written on the George W. Bush administration and its War on Terror has quoted Bush's speeches, highlighting a few rhetorical flares and strategies to make specific points. However, most such works are not empirically and systematically focused on the linguistic aspect of the administration's conduct. The works that are linguistically focused tend to be published in the form of journal articles, so they typically examine only a few particular dimensions of the discourse. Adam Hodges' book stands out as a systematic, longitudinal, and empirical investigation that uses an integrative approach to analyze an administration's use of language.

The book begins by analyzing the different kinds of discursive practices used by Bush to construct the War on Terror Narrative. Chapter 2 focuses on the systematic use of metaphors and analogies according to established frames. Chapter 3 describes the particulars of a political narrative that consists of events, characters, and settings. Chapter 4 shows how political speakers build causal links between political enemies, agents, and organizations. They do so by depicting a mutual complementariness among the enemies and by erasing important differences among them. Readers thus come to recognize common rhetorical strategies utilized by many U.S. presidents to instigate wars. They will also be impressed by how much content within political realities is produced in language.

The second part of the book centers on how the narrative was circulated, reiterated, and adapted by the supporters, opponents, and discussants of the president's policies. Chapter 5 describes the characteristics of discursive sound bites and talking points. Hodges argues that because the general public rarely hears presidential speeches in their entirety, an important purpose of the speeches is to present sound bites and talking points that can be easily quoted and repeated. Writers, anchors, and commentators participate in this circulation as they reiterate the president's language. By contrast, opponents attempt to reshape the memorable phrases in creative ways--notably from weapons of terror and of mass destruction to weapons of misdirection and of mass distraction.

Chapters 6 and 7 enliven the previous discussion. They are based...

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