Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English

and American Studies
English Language and Literature

Bc. Kristína Pavlíková

(Counter)terrorism metaphors in the speeches of Barack Obama

Master’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: Mgr. Jana Pelclová, Ph.D.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Kristína Pavlíková

I would like to thank my supervisor Mgr. Jana Pelclová, Ph. D. for her guidance, inspiring

ideas and above all her patience throughout the making of this thesis.

Special thanks go to my family for their unconditional support throughout my studies.
Table of Contents
1 Introduction 1

1.1 Style conventions 2

2 Theoretical background 3

2.1 Conceptual metaphor 3

2.2 WAR ON TERROR metaphor 6

2.2.1 Terrorism 6

2.2.2 George W. Bush and WAR ON TERROR metaphor 7

2.2.3 Criticism of WAR ON TERROR metaphor 11

2.2.4 Barack Obama and his foreign policy views 14

3 Data and methodology 16

3.1 Corpus 16

3.2 Critical metaphor analysis 17

4 Analysis 20

4.1 Conflict metaphors 20

4.2 Morality metaphors 26

4.3 Journey metaphors 32

4.4 Building metaphors 37

4.5 Light and darkness metaphors 39

4.6 Fire metaphors 41

4.7 Nature metaphors 42

4.8 Disease metaphors 44

4.9 Violence metaphors 46

4.10 Human beings metaphors 49

5 Conclusion 52

Works cited 57

Primary sources 57

Secondary sources 62

Résumé 67

English résumé 67

Résumé česky 68

Appendix 69

1 Introduction

In the US, the presidents are elected by the citizens and therefore need to maintain a positive public image as well as comply with the desires and demands of the American people. As a consequence, the presidents have to work with various rhetorical strategies to accomplish this goal. One of the rhetorical tools they turn to is the use of metaphorical expressions. The underlying reason for this choice is the fact that the conceptual metaphors are a salient tool for facilitating the process of persuasion, which is one of the most important dimensions of the political discourse (Lakoff, 1991, p. 16). The metaphorical expressions help the listener to visualize and better understand the presented strategies and the analysis of those metaphorical expressions is a good way of understanding the underlying ideologies, attitudes and beliefs of the speaker.

The issue of terrorism is one of the key topics in the US, resonating in both domestic and foreign policy discourse. The main objective of this work is to qualitatively analyze and asses the metaphorical expressions and their underlying conceptual metaphors in the speeches of the American president, Barack Hussein Obama, regarding the issues of terrorism and counterterrorism. To analyze the corpus of the twenty-two selected speeches, the Critical Metaphor Analysis approach proposed by Jonathan Charteris-Black was adopted. The analysis aims to explore what new metaphors Barack Obama uses in his speeches that replaced the WAR ON TERROR metaphor created by Bush’s administration. The analysis also intends to examine how these new conceptual metaphors developed over time in terms of their strength, intensity and emotional appeal, as well as to compare the discovered conceptual metaphors by Obama and their development with Bush’s WAR ON TERROR concept. The expected results of this analysis are (1) a comprehensive insight into the metaphorical expressions Obama uses to conceptualize terrorism and counterterrorism, (2) a demonstration of the development of the individual concepts, and (3) a proof of the significant shift in Obama’s discourse from that of his predecessor.

The primary sources for this thesis are the twenty-two selected speeches concerning the issues of terrorism and counterterrorism delivered by the President Obama on various occasions over the span of six years. The secondary materials include linguistic works discussing conceptual metaphor, journal articles and studies analyzing the conceptual metaphors as well as the (counter)terrorism discourse, and the contemporary newspaper articles to further illustrate the social and political background.

The work is divided into five main parts: Introduction (this part); Theoretical framework, introducing the main linguistic as well as social terms that are operated with throughout the thesis; Data and methodology, providing the information on the corpus and the methodology used for the analysis; Analysis, which is the very analysis of the selected corpus; and Conclusion, summarizing the findings of the analysis. The individual speeches analyzed in this work are attached in the Appendix part in the electronic format on the DVD disc.
1.1 Style conventions

Adopting the practice of Lakoff and Johnson (1980) and the accepted practice of cognitive linguistic, the UPPER CASE is used to identify the conceptual metaphors (e.g. CONUTERTERRORISM IS A CONFLICT).

The examples from the corpus are given in italics.

The metaphorical expressions in the examples that serve as an evidence of the conceptual metaphors are underlined.

The examples from the corpus are followed by the number in brackets which serves as an identification of the particular speech from which it was chosen. The individual speeches are numbered and attached in the Appendix.
2 Theoretical background

Even though the main purpose of this work is a linguistic analysis of President Obama's speeches with the focus on the metaphors that replaced the WAR ON TERROR metaphor, it is also important to explain the historical and political background and the origins of this metaphor, as well as some of the key terms and concepts that will be operated with throughout this work.
2.1 Conceptual metaphor

Metaphor is a broad term with many definitions. Spencer (2012) even suggests that since metaphor has been defined in so many ways, there is no human expression that would not be metaphoric in someone’s definition (p. 395). The dictionary describes metaphor as “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable”1. This central notion of transferring meanings is also embedded in its etymological sense: the term metaphor comes from the Greek word ‘meta’ meaning beyond or above and ‘pherein’ meaning carrying or bearing (Spencer, 2012, p. 395). In other words, metaphor can be simply characterized as a tool through which a thing is regarded as a representative of something else.

There are two distinct ways of understanding metaphors: the first one considers metaphors purely rhetorical tools serving little purpose but to make speech sound nice (Charteris-Black, 2004, p. 25), the second one sees metaphors from the cognitive point of view, as tools for understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 5). The first view of metaphor as purely artistic trope was prevalent until the ground-breaking publication Metaphors we live by by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, in which they managed to export this cognitive understanding of metaphor (Spencer, 2012, p. 396). Lakoff and Johnson (1980) explain that metaphors structure the way people think and act, and that the human conceptual system is fundamentally metaphorical (p. 3). The conceptual metaphors introduced by Lakoff and Johnson are cognitive processes that are commonplace, inescapable and rooted deep into our unconscious, but unlike the traditional understanding of metaphors, conceptual metaphors are cognitive, not linguistic (as cited in Sabbah, 2011, p. 155).

In Metaphors we live by, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) identify three overlapping categories of conceptual metaphors: orientational metaphors involving spatial orientation and emerging from our physical experience (p. 14); ontological metaphors that portray experiences in terms of subjects and substances and therefore are necessary for dealing rationally with them (p. 25-26); and the most complex type, structural metaphors, in which one basic domain of experience (usually more abstract) is conceptualized and structured in terms of another basic domain of experience (usually more concrete) (p. 117). As Drulák explains, the conceptual metaphor basically makes us apply what we know about one area of our experience, so called source domain, to another area of our experience named target domain (as cited in Spencer, 2012, p. 397). In other words, the source domains provide frameworks for target domains and thus determine the ways in which the entities to which target domains refer are understood.

Within this cognitive approach, there are two kinds of metaphors: the already mentioned conceptual metaphors and metaphorical expressions. As Spencer (2012) explains, the conceptual metaphor does not have to be explicitly visible in discourse and represents the conceptual basis, idea or image that underlies a set of metaphorical expressions. Metaphorical expressions on the other hand are directly visible and represent the specific statements found in the discourse which the conceptual metaphor draws on (p. 396-397). The typical example of the difference between the conceptual metaphors and the metaphorical expressions is the conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR and its realized metaphorical expressions such as ‘Your claims are indefensible.’ or ‘He attacked every weak point in my argument.’ (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 4).2

As Spencer (2012) argues, “the metaphorical formula A IS B (…) is slightly misleading and not totally accurate as it suggests that the whole target domain is understood in terms of the whole source domain” (p. 397). As one concept cannot be exactly the same as another concept, the similarity between the two domains is only partial. According Lakoff and Johnson (1980), it is the very systematicity of the conceptual metaphors that allows us to understand one aspect of the concept in terms of another that leads to necessary hiding of other aspects of that concept (p. 10). Moreover, Fabiszak (2007) points out that this ability to manipulate the image of the world by deliberately highlighting or hiding certain aspects of the phenomena makes metaphors a powerful rhetoric device used to influence the public opinion (p. 102).

Another aspect of the conceptual metaphors is that they are closely related to each other. According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980), “metaphorical entailments can characterize a coherent system of metaphorical concepts and a corresponding coherent system of metaphorical expressions for those concepts” (p. 9). This systematic organization can be observed in the fact that each conceptual metaphor governs a system of correspondences between the source domain and target domain and that the individual conceptual metaphors may also systematically relate to each other to form a hierarchical or parallel structure (Xue et al., 2013, p. 678). In other words, metaphorical expressions under a conceptual metaphor as well as different conceptual metaphors with the same underlying concept can form a consistent system and operate systematically.

The analysis of the metaphorical expressions and their conceptual metaphors allows uncovering the underlying motivations and ideologies of the speaker, as the metaphors “reflect and constitute the discourse’s fundamental constructions of a certain topic” (Hülsse & Spencer, 2008, p. 578).

2.2 WAR ON TERROR metaphor

2.2.1 Terrorism

First of all, it is necessary to explain the main “enemy” in this war: terrorism. Oxford Dictionary offers a definition of terrorism as “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”3. However, this broad definition can be criticized as all-encompassing, because the perception of a group as a terrorist is very subjective. The definition by Manningham-Buller (2011) is, on the other hand, too exclusive: “Terrorism is a violent tool used for political reasons to bring pressure on governments by creating fear in the populace” ( n.p.). This definition forgets about the philosophical or ideological motivations that could lead the individuals or the groups to resort to the acts of terrorism. To go even further, terrorism is viewed not as a physical fact but as a social construction from a constructivist perspective (Hülsse & Spencer, 2008, p. 571-572). And despite terrorism being one of the most frequently used terms of the beginning of the 21st century, there is no universal definition for this phenomenon. Sarfo & Krampa (2013) assign this fact to the high complexity of this phenomenon, the emotionally charged nature, as well as its association with a wide variety of groups and motivations (p. 378).

As the assassination of Caesar by a group of Roman senators seeking to block his bid for total power or the large-scale massacre of French Protestants by the high-ranking noblemen in France in 1572 exemplify, political violence has always existed at very high levels throughout the world (Rubin & Rubin, 2008, p. 4). Nevertheless, the emergence of modern terrorism is connected with the French Revolution of 1789. According to Rubin & Rubin (2008), the reason for this is that “many of the critical elements of terrorism are clearly expressed and implemented during the French Revolution: the deliberate instilling of fear, the elimination of entire social groups, the use of terror against others as a way of mobilizing one’s own supporters, and incitement to murder as a means of political expression and to achieve utopian goals” (p. 4). And although the essence of the terrorism introduced by the French Revolution stays more or less the same even after more than two centuries of its existence, there are three major elements that need to be mentioned: Rubin & Rubin (2008) describe these changes as the deliberate and conscious establishment of an ideology as the part of the strategy, shift of the terror from those in charge to a larger crowd, and rationalization of the punishment of a set of classes or categories of citizens (p. 3-4). Another major difference between the terrorism in the past and its perception in the modern era is the fact that since the second half of the 20th century, the concept is viewed mostly in terms of non-state violence. This shift in meaning was supported by the Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States from September 11, 2001, which changed the perception of terrorism around the world. Although there have been dozens of terrorist attacks targeting the United States and its citizens since 1980s4, none of these threats were even close to the scale and subsequent impact of the 9/11. These attacks are also the main reason why the perception of terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents” (Singh & Singh, 2012, n.p.) has been prevalent in the international community since 2001.
2.2.2 George W. Bush and WAR ON TERROR metaphor

Even though the speeches on terrorism have been part of the American politics for a long time, they became more popular with ex-President George W. Bush as a result of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York (Sarfo & Krampa, 2013, p. 378). According to many available studies on the matter, the counterterrorism discourse of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, was often very emotionally charged to elicit a strong reaction from the public. The very metaphor WAR ON TERROR coined by the former president of the United States and his administration is a clear proof of those conclusions. The WAR ON TERROR was not only widely used term in the administration’s discourse; it also became the name of the official counterterrorism strategy of the White House.

The WAR ON TERROR metaphor was coined by George W. Bush and his administration after the terrorist attacks from 11 September 2001. During this carefully coordinated attack, four U.S. passenger airliners were hijacked, two of which crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the third crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the fourth crashed prematurely in a field in Pennsylvania after its crew and passengers overpowered the hijackers. To understand the origin of this metaphor and its influence, it is essential to realize the immense effect the 9/11 attacks had on the American nation. In his essay Metaphors of Terror, George Lakoff (2001) explains that “the assassins managed not only to kill thousands of people but to reach in and change the brains of people all over America” (n.p.). Although the proposed WAR ON TERROR took shape in administration comments since the 9/11 attacks, the president Bush first officially used the phrase WAR ON TERROR on September 20, 2001: “Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there” (Lewis & Reese, 2009, p. 86). The term WAR ON TERROR (or also known as Global War on Terrorism, war on terrorism, or the war against terrorism) refers to the global military, political, legal, and conceptual struggle against both terrorist organizations and regimes accused of supporting them: “We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward any nations that continue to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime” (Bush, as cited in Rubin & Rubin, 2008, p. 309).

According to Lewis & Reese (2009), this phrase is also a powerful ideological frame that both provides linguistic cover for widespread political change in the name of national security and offers an institutionalized way of seeing the world (p. 85). One of the first uses of the term WAR ON TERROR in the official documents was the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism from February 2003, which was described by president Bush as “strategy (that) outlines the effort our nation is making to win the war against global terror” (The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 2003, n.p.). After September 11, the prevention of terrorism became a much higher priority not only for the United States, but also for most other Western countries. President Bush established the Office of Homeland Security to “develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks” (Rubin & Rubin, 2008, p. 307-308). And even though there was no enemy present in the country, the administration of George W. Bush started the promised hunt on the members of terrorist organization responsible for 9/11 attacks, Al-Qaeda. On October 7, 2001, U.S. and British forces together with their allies began air strikes against Afghanistan, whose Taliban regime was accused of harboring Al-Qaeda members (Rubin & Rubin, 2008, p. 310).

The frequent use of the WAR ON TERROR metaphor strengthened the Manichean view of the world of many Americans as divided between good and evil, recalling the ideological cliché that was typical for the era of Cold War (Ferrari, 2007, p. 605-607). According to Bonazzi, President Bush has interpreted the universal nature of the American nation in absolute terms, as embodiment of Good, while the imperfect terrorists and their supporters were portrayed as Evil that needs to be constantly monitored (as cited in Ferrari, 2007, p. 607). As Fabiszak (2007) points out, this simplistic Manichean dichotomy inevitably leads to “an unnecessary increase in violence, as a war against evil is by definition a just war” (p. 84). Bush’s administration was well aware of the consequences of this polarization, since the experience of the Cold War confirmed that the more evil the representation of the enemy, the more support can be gained from the public (Reyes-Rodríguez, 2006, p. 372). The frequent use of this metaphor therefore strengthened American nationalism and patriotism and gave the president extraordinary powers in both the domestic and foreign issues.

Furthermore, this conceptualization of the terrorism as evil creates only two camps and leads to the situation where everyone must choose which side they are on, there is nothing in-between, no space for neutrality (Spencer, 2012, p. 406). The counterterrorism strategy was based on the conflict frame and “the social norm of being at war was presented and imbued into the psyche of the American populace as ‘common sense’” (Reyes-Rodríguez, 2006, p. 367). In other words, the strong emotions that were embedded in the metaphorical expressions based on the concept of WAR ON TERROR were used to rationalize the military intervention of the American army against both the terrorist organizations and the countries accused of supporting them. According to Reyes-Rodríguez (2006), this idea of revenge against terrorists motivated ultra-patriotism on the part of the US citizens and thus prevented them from questioning any kind of resolution coming from the administration (p. 368).

Another aspect of Bush’s conceptualization of terrorism was an absolute vilification of the enemy. The terrorist were regarded not only as evil, but also as “nihilists loving death more than life” (Zulaika & Douglass, as cited in Hülsse & Spencer, 2008, p. 574). In other words, the terrorist motivations are portrayed as impossible to be understood and at the same time as obvious. As Hülsse & Spencer (2008) explain, the intentions of the terrorists are simply assumed and their individual circumstances are ignored, because doing otherwise might lead to humanizing of the terrorist who need to be understood as an inhumane evil for the purposes of Bush’s administration (p. 574).

Last, but not least, Bush often associates the terrorism and its ideology with the religion of Islam, which unavoidably leads to triggering of the negative stereotypes within the American society. As Jackson points out, the WAR ON TERROR metaphor was designed with a clear political purpose to achieve a number of key political goals (as cited in Hülsse & Spencer, 2008, p. 577).
2.2.3 Criticism of WAR ON TERROR metaphor

Criticism of the WAR ON TERROR addresses many issues, from the ethics, economics, and legitimacy of the actual war conflicts to the use of the phrase itself.

Already couple of days after the 9/11 attacks, George Lakoff (2001) argued in his essay Metaphors of Terror, that since there is no “no enemy army, no regiments, no tanks, no ships, no air force, no battlefields, no strategic targets, and no clear ‘victory’, the war frame just doesn’t fit” (n.p.). Lakoff (2001) also expressed his concerns about the real reasons behind the choice of this particular metaphor: “I have a rational fear: a fear that the September 11th attack has given Bush’s administration a free hand in pursuing a conservative domestic agenda” (n.p.). Ian S. Lustick5 emphasized the crucial role of the media: he claims the constant attention to the possible terrorist-initiated catastrophes was the reason for the spread of the WAR ON TERROR metaphor and subsequent perception of the world through this framework. “In the mind of the American people, and in the mind of the media as represented in television shows, movies, the way the news is presented, represented in the words of our leadership, we're fighting a war comparable to World War III, comparable to a war against the Axis powers, a war against terror, a threat to civilization” (as cited in Kreisler, 2005, n.p.). He also claims that there were “ulterior motives that were driving the operation of this so-called War on Terror that were not simply to stop another attack against the United States” (as cited in Kreisler, 2005, n.p). Lewis and Reese (2009) also confirm the views of political reasons behind the choice of this metaphor: the all-consuming nature of WAR ON TERROR “took the focus away from other problems while justifying a wide array of policies, from tax cuts to the Patriot Act” (p. 86). In other words, the words WAR ON TERROR were chosen on purpose to enable Bush’s administration to introduce the policies which sound far more palatable when implemented in the name of a metaphor rather than preserving American military supremacy (Barrett, 2007, p. 15). Barack Obama, then U.S. Senator from Illinois, also criticized the political motivations behind the WAR ON TERROR framing and above all its potential for becoming a perpetual war: “… a war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics would lead to a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences” (American Rhetoric, 2007, n.p.). George Lakoff (2005) foresaw this kind of potential of the metaphor: “The abstract noun, ‘terror,’ names not a nation or even people, but an emotion and the acts that create it. A ‘war on terror’ can only be metaphorical. Terror cannot be destroyed by weapons or signing a peace treaty. A war on terror has no end” (n.p.). As Light points out, “victory in the conventional sense cannot be achieved, which leads to the assumption that it will be a war without victory, and therefore a ‘war without end’” (as cited in Barrett, 2007, p. 13).

The ruthless foreign policy of self-interest of Bush’s administration was criticized also because of its shadiness. The WAR ON TERROR was used as a justification for the invasion of Iraq, although it was a known fact that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the attacks from September 11, 2001, and indeed saw Osama bin Laden as an enemy (Lakoff, 2006, n.p.). Critical attitude towards the decision about the invasion of Iraq was repeatedly expressed by Barack Obama6: “… I oppose dumb wars, rash wars that are based on passion as opposed to wars based on a sober assessment of our national security interests” (American Rhetoric, 2007, n.p.).

The criticism of the WAR ON TERROR came also from one of the biggest allies of the United States, the United Kingdom. Several prominent figures criticized not only the excessive use of it by the U.S. administration, but also the very essence of the phrase. Baroness Shirley Williams7 criticized the notion of leading the war against something with such a subjective nature as terrorism. According to her, terrorism is a subjective noun, because those secessionists we approve of we call freedom fighters and those we disapprove of we call terrorists (Howard, 2004, n.p.). David Miliband8 criticized the use of the phrase WAR ON TERROR as a tool for justification of military action: “... the War on Terror implied a belief that the correct response to the terrorist threat was primarily a military one – to track down and kill a hardcore of extremists” and it has caused “more harm than good” (Borger, 2009, n.p.). In one of the three lectures broadcasted as a part of the BBC series Reith Lectures in 2011, the former Director General of the MI59, Eliza Manningham-Buller (2011), criticized the very concept of the war on terror. She compares the WAR ON TERROR to the similar concept of war on drugs – both are misnomers because such wars can never be won. Moreover, she claims that framing the counterterrorism as a war legitimizes the terrorists as warriors, which is undesirable (n.p.).

Due to the negative connotations it acquired over the course of time, the conceptual metaphor WAR ON TERROR (and its underlying metaphorical expressions) as well as the name War on Terror of the official military campaign were dropped from the official U.S. government vernacular in 2009. However, it stopped being widely used already during the years 2006 and 2007. In March 2009, Obama’s administration replaced the name with the term Overseas Contingency Operation (Singh & Singh, 2012, n.p.). Although the term is no longer officially used by Obama’s administration, it is still widely used by the politicians, media and also public.

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