A Rhetorical Analysis of Robert F. Kennedy's Speaking on the Issue of Peace in Vietnam, as Revealed in His Kansas Address, "Conflict in Vietnam"
Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
B. F. McClerren
Many Americans have marshaled their rhetoric to support or to denounce the Vietnam war. One of the most insistent voices heard was that of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Hypothesis. It was the hypothesis of this study that Robert Francis Kennedy’s speaking on the issue of peace in Vietnam was intelligent and responsible.
Statement of Purpose. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis by analyzing and evaluating “Conflict in Vietnam,” a speech delivered by Robert Kennedy in Manhattan, Kansas on March 18, 1968. This particular speech was selected for the following reasons: (1) The speech stated a clear position on Kennedy’s stand in Vietnam; (2) Textual authenticity was established by a tape recording; (3) The audience could be identified; and (4) The speech was credited with launching Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
Materials. The primary sources used to gain information about Kennedy, the issues with which he dealt, and the society to which he spoke, were: Robert F. Kennedy: Apostle of Change (New York: Pocket Books, 1968); R. F. K.: His Life and Death (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1968); Kahin and Lewis’ The U. S. in Vietnam (New York: Dial Press, 1967); Joseph Buttinger’s The Smaller Dragon (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1958); and Nguyen Van-Thai and Nguyen Van-Mung’s A Short History of Vietnam (Vietnam: Times Publishing Co., 1958).
Criteria and Procedure. The particular criteria used in this study were derived from those used by Tau Kappa Alpha in selecting their recipient for Speaker-of-the-year award. Two major questions were constructed, in order to aid and direct the analysis of the selected speech: (1) Was Robert Kennedy’s speaking intelligent? and (2) Was Robert Kennedy’s speaking responsible?
Kennedy’s intelligence was analyzed by answering the following questions:
- What were the assumptions upon which the speech was based?
- What was the speaker’s purpose and what were the main ideas set forth in the speech?
- Were the ideas warranted by the evidence used in the speech?
- Were the ideas well adapted to the audience?
In determining whether Robert Kennedy’s speaking was responsible, two questions were answered:
- Did the speaker reveal an awareness of the social consequences of his speech?
- Was the speech free from demagoguery and charlatanism as shown by content, language, and delivery?
Conclusions. There are several conclusions which can be drawn after the analysis of the speech of Robert Kennedy, given at Kansas State University, March 18, 1968.
1. From Robert Kennedy’s assumption that the United States policy in Vietnam was wrong and from his following seven main ideas, one could determine his speaking intelligent. Kennedy’s seven main ideas were:
a. Escalations have brought the U. S. no closer to success than we were before.
b. American control over the rural population in Vietnam has evaporated.
c. Recently, the Saigon government is no better an ally than it was before.
d. Victories that America achieves will only come at the cost of destruction for the nation we once hoped to help.
e. The war in Vietnam is weakening the U. S. position in Asia and around the world.
f. The highest price the U. S. is paying is cost in our inner-most lives and the spirit of our country.
g. The U. S. must negotiate with the National Liberation Front, begin to deescalate the war, and insist that the government of South Vietnam broaden its base, before an end will come to the war.
These ideas all basically implied that unless a change did take place in U. S. involvement, there would be no end to the war in Vietnam. The ideas were appended to general American beliefs about war, peace, survival of self and of country.
Also, Robert Kennedy’s speaking can be determined intelligent by his expressions of good-will and demonstrations of good character.
2. Robert Kennedy’s speaking can be determined responsible from his awareness of military, economic and personal consequences of his speech. Also, there was no evidence of Kennedy revealing characteristics of a demagogue or charlatan.
3. As shown by public opinion polls, it is reasonable to assume that Robert Kennedy’s speaking on the Vietnam issue enhanced his personal and political popularity.
Rishel, Jeanine I., "A Rhetorical Analysis of Robert F. Kennedy's Speaking on the Issue of Peace in Vietnam, as Revealed in His Kansas Address, "Conflict in Vietnam"" (1969). Masters Theses. 4156.