Andrew Pregnall: We choose to go to the moon

For this Thursday’s class, I was responsible for reading/watching JFK’s 1962 “We choose to go to the moon” address at Rice University. Throughout the course of his speech, I noticed three interesting rhetorical techniques that I will explore throughout the course of this blog.

At the outset of the speech, I was immediately struck by Kennedy’s juxtaposition of dualities. He describes “an hour of change and challenge” and a “decade of hope and fear” and “an age of both knowledge and ignorance.” It is evident that Kennedy’s juxtapositions are framing the United States against the USSR, with the United States being associated with the positively connotated words, change, hope, and knowledge, while the USSR is being associated with the negatively connotated words, challenge, fear, and ignorance. I find this technique striking because it simultaneously sets up an “us versus them” mentality while simultaneously promoting a sense of American patriotism that Kennedy can then funnel towards excitement and approval of the mission to the moon.

After his juxtaposition of dualities, Kennedy moves into a narrative about the technological history of mankind. Probably to the chagrin of many a historian of technology, Kennedy frames this history as one of accelerating upward progress. Rhetorically, this is, again, a brilliant technique because it sets up the mission to the moon as just another step in mankind’s destiny of reaching some form of enlightenment. Since JKF is delivering this address to a primarily American audience, this history naturally carries the connotation that Americans should be the ones to reach this next stage of enlightenment. In fact, Kennedy expressly notes that if American wants to lead the world, it needs to reach the moon.

Finally, the last rhetorical technique I noticed was Kennedy’s comparison of the space race to a sailing across the sea. I found this to be clever because it conjured images of past explorers like Columbus who Americans, by and large, view as heroic individuals, and thus carried the promise that our mission to the moon would cement American names alongside the names of those early explorers. It framed our mission as a noble one ultimately made it one the public was willing to support. Overall, this speech exemplified a number of the many reasons JFK is considered to be one of the best public speakers in American history.

Word Count: 386

Speech text from: https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm

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