frame analysis: george bush announces desert storm

What follows is a frame analysis of a speech given by George Bush Sr.  announcing the commencement of the US-led attack on Iraq during the first Gulf War.  (As such, I am not attempting to say what or who was “right” or “wrong” or to support/dispute any of the claims; rather, I am trying to deconstruct Bush’s strategic framing of the situation, his attempt to emphasize certain features of the situation and avoid mentioning others.)  Of note, I am analyzing the transcript of the speech as published in the New York Times on January 17, 1991.

I intend to illustrate, in particular, how George Bush attempted to frame a specific aspect of the situation, the impending injury and death of Iraqi people during the conflict, and how the editorial frame of the NY Times (in which the transcript is nested) serves to disrupt that frame.

Throughout the speech, Bush attempts to set up the primary enemy as Saddam Hussein, often employing metonymy to substitute Hussein for the Iraq army (and its members):

For example:

“the dictator of Iraq invaded a small and helpless neighbor”
“Saddam Hussein was unwilling to leave Kuwait”
“to drive Saddam from Kuwait by force”
“sanctions alone would not force Saddam from Kuwait”
“Saddam Hussein systematically raped, pillaged and plundered a tiny nation no threat to his own”
“have forces in the Gulf area standing shoulder to shoulder against Saddam Hussein”
“their dictator that he must lay down his arms”

Secondly, Bush commonly disconnects or strategically avoids mentioning the human casualties of the US attacks (rendering them perceptually “invisible” beyond his framing of the situation):

“an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait”
“air attacks are under way against military targets in Iraq”
“But even as planes of the multi-national forces attack Iraq”
“Much of Saddam’s artillery and tanks will be destroyed”

In contrast, Bush acknowledges the “humanity” of the US forces and prepares the public for the imminence of American casualties (which he knows will be front and center in the US media and thus a salient and unavoidable feature of the public’s general frame of the conflict):

“I instructed our military commanders to take every necessary step to prevail as quickly as possible, and with the greatest degree of protection possible for American and Allied servicemen and women . . . Our troops will have the best possible support in the entire world . . . I’m hopeful that this fighting will not go on for long and that casualties will be held to an absolute minimum.”

“Our operations are designed to best protect the lives of all the coalition forces by targeting Saddam’s vast military arsenal.”

Further to his “humanization” of the US forces (familiarity breeds affiliation), Bush goes on to directly name and quote three US military personnel in support of the US-led attack:

“Listen to one of our great officers out there, Marine Lieut. Gen. Walter Boomer. He said: ‘There are things worth fighting for . . .'”

“Listen to Master Sgt. J. P. Kendall of the 82d Airborne: ‘We’re here for more than just the price of a gallon of gas . . . ‘”

“listen to Jackie Jones, an Army lieutenant, when she says, ‘If we let him get away with this, who knows what’s going to be next.'”

However, Bush’s “necessary” acknowledgment of US causalities (which he mitigates by framing within the hero/martyr schema), is much less graphic than the terms he uses in order to activate the innocent victim schema in relation to the Kuwaiti victims of the Iraq invasion:

“Kuwait, a member of the Arab League and a member of the United Nations, was crushed, its people brutalized”
“He subjected the people of Kuwait to unspeakable atrocities, and among those maimed and murdered, innocent children.”

Bush does, however, make mention of the Iraqi people, (distancing them from Hussein):

“We have no argument with the people of Iraq”
“It is my hope that somehow the Iraqi people can, even now, convince their dictator that he must lay down his arms . . .”

but avoids directly mentioning the imminent civilian casualties that will result from the US-led attacks:

“Indeed, for the innocents caught in this conflict, I pray for their safety.”

Thus, in summary, Bush sets up Saddam Hussein as the primary enemy (evil man schema), and depersonalizes the targets of the US-led attacks while graphically describing the Kuwaiti casualties of the Iraq invasion.  He also acknowledges the imminent US casualties (because of their unavoidable salience in the collective psyche, I propose), but mitigates any perceived negativity of such occurrences by framing them in a context of necessary, courageous sacrifice in the name of “freedom.”

When Bush does make mention of the Iraqi people, he distinguishes them as the logical foil to Hussein and only indirectly hints at the possibility of Iraqi civilian casualties.  Thus the audience must engage in their own cognitive elaboration of the message to directly include Iraqi civilian casualties – injured or killed as a result of the US-led attacks – in the situational frame.

Interestingly, the “editorial” frame of the transcript in the NY Times serves to disrupt Bush’s attempt to exclude, or at least minimize, the cognitive salience of the Iraqi casualties in the audience’s awareness.  As you can see below, the headline, instead, notes that the US-led air strikes were “Against the Iraqis” thus implicating – and calling up in the cognitive frame – the entire Iraqi population (or any of its members) as possible targets (whether that was true or intended or not).


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