Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Larry Winn, Dale Wicklander, Judith Hoover

Degree Program

Department of Communication

Degree Type

Master of Arts


The Reagan administration launched a two term campaign to win support for the Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua. The rhetorical war began in secrecy and ended in scandal. With Reagan's reputation as a "great communicator" and the priority he assigned to the Contra cause it seemed surprising to find virtually nothing on the topic in a search of the communication journals through mid 1992.

The central research question of this thesis is whether President Reagan used rhetorical strategies and similar depictions to other presidents in his prowar rhetoric against Nicaragua. A common theme of war rhetoric is the dehumanizing of the enemy in order to justify retaliation and to deflect the attention of the audience away from the realities of war. Robert 'vie, using Burke's dramatistic analysis, found over a hundred and fifty years of presidential rhetoric a predictable pattern of justifications for war. He found motives for war arranged in a hierarchy with "rights" as the primary god-term for purpose. Before a textual evaluation this study reviewed the history of the region the role of the rhetor and of the media.

'The data included a computer scan covering all of Reagan's statements on Nicaragua (59,000 words), a brief overview of 45 speeches and a detailed examination of three nationally televised speeches. The television speeches were analyzed in light of the following:

a) Rhetorical exigencies surrounding the appeal were researched.

b) Key players in the drama and their effect on the rhetoric were reviewed.

c) Main arguments and counter-evidence were related to the speeches.

d) A metaphoric analysis was conducted with particular emphasis on mega-images.

e) Identification strategies in Burkeian terms were applied to the speeches.

f) The speeches were subjected to a pentadic analysis to determine ratios and their relationship to motive.

g) The effects were reviewed in terms of the press, Congress and polls.


American Politics | Arts and Humanities | Communication | History | Journalism Studies | Latin American Languages and Societies | Mass Communication | Political History | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Influence and Political Communication | Speech and Rhetorical Studies | United States History