English 137 H
Unit 2 Rhetorical Analysis Essay
The photograph depicting four American soldiers striving to raise a large American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the intense World War 2 battle that took place on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima has become quite a popular image and has been featured on everything from posters to stamps. Associated Press photographer Joel Rosenthal took the photograph, which is appropriately titled Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, on February 23, 1945 (“Battle for Iwo Jima”). The photograph, which can be found in the appendix, came to prominence and eventually became synonymous with the American values of unity, pride, and bravery. Rosenthal won various awards for what was to become one of the most iconic images in modern times, including the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for photography (“Battle for Iwo Jima”). Unbeknownst to many, Rosenthal’s renowned photograph was actually the second flag-raising picture taken on Iwo Jima on that February day in 1945. The first flag-raising picture (which can also be found in the appendix) was a much less appealing image because the flag in the picture is relatively small flag, the flag had already been erected, and the picture features more armed soldiers than does the second image. This photographic piece of propaganda is highly effective (and more effective than the first flag-raising picture) because it promotes the American ideals of unity, pride, and bravery, by appealing to its audience via the rhetorical proof of pathos.
To be able to fully appreciate the impact this photograph had on the people of the world in 1945 (and beyond), one must first come to appreciate the tumultuous climate from which it came about. The Second World War was fought largely in Europe, Eastern Asia, and the Pacific Ocean, but the devastating war reached even Northern Africa (Hickman). In February of 1945, what would become by far history’s deadliest conventional war had been raging for nearly six years when the Allied forces composed of the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, and China prepared to close in on the Axis forces composed of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan (Hickman). The United States had labeled the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, which translates literally to “sulfur island,” as a critical target for capture (“Battle for Iwo Jima”). If the island were captured, it would be a tactically imperative location for United States forces, serving as an Air Force base that would be supporting bombers departing for and returning from strikes on the Japanese mainland (“Battle for Iwo Jima”). Iwo Jima was also tactically important because it would facilitate air and sea blockades that would further weaken the Japanese war effort (“Battle for Iwo Jima”). Japanese leadership realized that American capture of Iwo Jima would be detrimental to their war campaign and so were prepared to do everything in their power to defend the island. The Battle of Iwo Jima lasted for 36 hard-fought days, from February 19, 1945 until March 26, 1945 (“Battle for Iwo Jima”). As a result of the 36-day attack on Iwo Jima, over 26,000 Americans suffered casualties, which includes the 6,800 that lost their lives. 18,917 Japanese soldiers lost their lives as a result of the Iwo Jima campaign, leaving only 1,083 of the 20,000 Japanese defenders alive (“Battle for Iwo Jima”).
In the mist of this violent battle, on the morning of February 23, 1945, forty men followed Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier from the bottom of Mount Suribachi, the island’s most prominent feature, to the crest of the mountain with an objective of capturing the crater that doubled as the mountain’s peak and hoisting an American Flag that would undoubtedly be visible for miles (“Raising the Flag Over Iwo Jima”). About two hours after the men began scaling the mountain, the flag was hoisted and the mission was complete (“Raising the Flag Over Iwo Jima”). Marine Corps photographer Sergeant Lou Lowery recorded this first flag raising just as an enemy grenade entered the proximity of the band of soldiers positioned on the mountain’s crater, which he responded to by flinging himself over the crater’s edge, tumbling 50 feet; he and his film came out largely unscathed (“Battle for Iwo Jima”). The first flag was deemed to be too small so approximately three hours later, another battalion was sent to the crest of the mountain (“Battle for Iwo Jima”). This second battalion raised a significantly larger flag atop Mt. Suribachi while Associate Press photographer Joel Rosenthal captured the historic moment in what has become arguably the most recognizable image of modern times (“Battle for Iwo Jima”).
To be clear, Sergeant Lowery’s picture was in no way a poor piece of photography, but it did not possess the same plethora of rhetorical potential as Rosenthal’s picture did. The roots of the second picture’s rhetorical superiority can be traced to the circumstantial differences that become limpid when the two images are compared. The first picture showed the American flag already erect rather than depicting the soldiers working in unison to raise it, as was the case in the second picture. The first picture also displays two soldiers that are clearly armed, with the foremost of the two brandishing a large rifle as he looks on, while the second picture shows only that one of the soldiers depicted is armed but in a much more discrete manner. Since the picture taken by Joel Rosenthal features fewer guns than the picture taken by Sergeant Lowery does, Rosenthal’s picture may better implicitly state that while the United States (strictly within the confines of the Battle of Iwo Jima) were the aggressors, they were not necessarily warmongering or eagerly belligerent—which is how most governments would prefer their armies to be portrayed. Finally, unlike in the first picture, all soldiers in the second picture were focused on raising the flag while soldiers in the first picture were looking on in different directions and not working towards one common goal.
The second image utilizes the rhetorical proof of pathos to associate the image with the American values of unity, pride, and bravery and to arouse these feelings within all that view the image. The picture promotes the notion of unity by showing the soldiers working in conjunction to raise their beloved American flag. All of the soldiers in the second picture working towards a common goal promotes unity more so than do the soldiers looking on in different directions in the first picture because they are not working toward a common goal. The picture also promotes the notion of pride because the soldiers are raising an American flag—the flag of the great nation they are fighting for and the red strips of which may come to represent their own spilt blood at any time, which offers a lead way into the notion of bravery. The picture promotes bravery because even in the midst of intense battle, these valiant soldiers are defending and promoting their country and the interests thereof. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, one of the many leaders of the United States’ war efforts on the Pacific front, attested to the bravery of soldiers like the ones featured in Rosenthal’s image by stating that “among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue” (“Battle for Iwo Jima”).
In conclusion, Rosenthal’s image uses pathos extremely effectively to evoke the American values of unity, pride, and bravery in people that view his famous photograph. The soldiers depicted in the second flag-raising picture help to promote these values by collectively working to raise the American flag during a heated battle—a battle in which they could have easily lost their lives. When Rosenthal’s image is paired with the fact that no less than 6,800 Americans lost their lives during the Battle of Iwo Jima, the values mentioned hitherto become even more pellucid (“Battle for Iwo Jima”). The photograph taken by Marine Corps photographer, Sergeant Lowery, offers a foil that helps to highlight the superior rhetoric that can be found in Rosenthal’s image. For those who view Rosenthal’s Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, the image serves as an effective medium for arousing the feelings of unity, pride, and bravery.
Joel Rosenthal’s Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
Lou Lowery’s photograph of the first flag-raising on Iwo Jima (Lowery)
"Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945." Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept.
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II 101: An Overview." About.com Guide. N.p.,
n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012.
Lowery, Lou. 1945. Photograph. The Picture – Iwo Jima Photos. Web. 28 Sept. 2012.
"Raising the Flag Over Iwo Jima, 1945." Raising the Flag Over Iwo Jima, 1945.
N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012.
Rosenthal, Joel. Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. 1945. Photograph. The Picture –
Iwo Jima Photos. Web. 28 Sept. 2012.