Monday, October 24, 2011

Rhetorical Analysis

There are a lot of nations that pose a great threat to American security.  The frightening images of 9/11 were called back into our minds just over a month ago, with the tenth anniversary of one of the most devastating terrorist attacks this country has ever seen.  A helicopter carrying several Navy Seals from the famous “Seal Team 6” was shot down a few weeks ago.  Violence continues to grip nations across the globe, as revolutionary fires burn bright in the Middle East.  It is no secret that America has many enemies who are chomping at the bit to take a slice at this great nation.  Most people would agree that the American public needs to be made aware of these threats.  However, actually helping people to become aware of these threats is very difficult.  I recently read a blog post aimed at informing the American public about the top ten threats to American security. While the post only listed five countries, the author did say that he would continue the article at a later date.  The post has some very valid points in it; however, I do not feel that Reid Smith, the author of "The Top Ten Greatest Threats to American Security", does an effective job of convincing the American public that the countries he lists pose an immediate threat to the United States, because the language he uses is far to flashy for his audience, he does not give any backing for many of the incredible claims he makes, and though he tries to incite fear, he comes across almost as a paranoid conspiracy theorist, therefore causing his audience to dismiss his argument.

Reid Smith is clearly an academic writer; this is evident in the way that he writes, and the flashy language he uses.  For instance, in his first sentence he says, “I wanted to provide a cursory analysis of the most significant threats to American territorial security, national sovereignty, and interests abroad, as evidenced by foreign state actors.” Last time I checked, about half of the words in this sentence were not used in everyday conversation.  Something like, “I wanted to talk about some threats to American security,” would have been more than sufficient.  If he were to have used more simplistic language his audience would know exactly what he’s talking about.  For example, most people don’t know what a “state actor" is, and he refers to them several times without offering any explanation for what they are.  Though out his post he continually uses words that are far to complex for your average American.  “Interventionism,” “oligarch,” and “erstwhile” are just a few of the flashy words that he uses through out his article.  From what I can tell Mr. Smith is trying to inform the general American people of these threats, however, his use of language not only fails to inform the public properly, but may confuse them even further, therefore completely failing to accomplish his goal. 

Another way that Reid Smith fails to properly inform the public of these threats is through the incredible claims he makes in his post.  Mr. Smith repeatedly makes claims that, while they may be true, require some sort of evidence or citation for them.  As it is a blog post, in-text citations are not really common or necessarily appropriate, but he still could explain where he got his information.  For instance he says that Russia owns, “Some 4650 nuclear warheads….” First of all, that is a huge number and would shock most Americans.  I for one would like some sort of evidence to back up such an astonishing claim.  He could say something like, “according to a recent estimate done by the department of such-and-such” but he just throws it out there with no citation whatsoever.  Mr. Smith then goes on to make many other claims though out his article that are very questionable when left without a citation.  He says that the Somali government is openly funding al-Qaeda; he also claims that subsection of al-Qaeda is now committing piracy on the high seas, and that Sudan is one of the top countries on the U.S.’s terrorist watch list, and has been since 1993.  Whether or not these statements are true isn’t really the issue.  What matters is the fact that they are not common knowledge and therefore, ought to have some sort of citation.  Mr. Smith is unprofessional, and weakens his argument when he offers no citation or backing for the information he is throwing at his audience.  In the end, he leaves his audience wondering if he might be making things up.

Not only does Mr. Smith sound as though he could be making things up, he also sometimes comes across as incredibly paranoid—almost to the point of a conspiracy theorist.  While this is a similar mistake to the one mentioned previously (not citing sources), it is still different in the fact that these claims are causing Mr. Smith to weaken his argument in a different manner (sounding paranoid).  Mr. Smith says that Russia is run by “billionaire oligarchs and their political pawns,” suggesting that the whole country is run by crime lords, or that the elected officials are merely political puppets of the upper class billionaires.  He also says that Vladmir Putin, who is apparently “set to return to the presidency next year” is “no friend of the United States” and will make things as difficult as possible for the U.S. when he becomes president again.  He also claims that American citizens are joining jihadist terrorist cells. “Recently,” he says, “two New Jersey men were arrested at JFK airport for planning to travel to East Africa to join the terror network.”  He goes on to talk about how many other American citizens have been caught sneaking out of the country to enlist in terrorist groups.  He then talks about innocent civilians being ruthlessly beheaded by gangs in Mexico, and the possibilities of rogue scientists working with foreign nations, and asks what governments might funding terrorist organizations.  Mr. Smith is obviously trying to incite fear in his audience with this article.  However, through all this he just comes across as paranoid.  Not only that, but some of his arguments are also downright false adding to his image as a conspiracy theorist.  For instance the Russian government is completely legitimate; their government is actually not too different from ours.  Also, Vladmir Putin may not be America’s number one fan, but he was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2007.  He’s not about to start blowing things up.  Through making these ridiculous claims, Mr. Smith again, not only weakens his argument, but also comes across as a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

Through out Mr. Smith’s entire article he repeatedly tears down his own argument by using language that is too far above his audience, not citing his claims, and coming across as a paranoid conspiracy theorist.  Reid Smith does not effectively convince his audience that the countries he lists pose an immediate or serious threat to American security, because he simply does not sound legitimate. 

NOTE:  I apologize if there are a few "proofreading" or spelling errors. (I know there were in my OpEd). I have dyslexia and it's really hard for me to spot those sorts of mistakes, but I did my best to get them!

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