Persuasive speaking for negative effect is probably never more intense than in time of war, particularly a war between cultures. Lecturers on both sides paint the enemy in horrific colors with propaganda, rhetoric and racial or cultural biases. This creates a great opportunity for unbiased persuasive speakers to step outside the conflicts and comment on the cultural changes and attitudes that influence countries at war.
Cultural and Racial Biases in War
Speakers who employ balance and lack of bias are more necessary than ever during times of racially slanted propaganda-based conflict. In our post-9/11 world, for example, there has been an ongoing rhetoric against Middle Eastern culture, to the detriment of American citizens of that ethnicity. An excellent persuasive speech topic is to examine the damage done in times of war to people of the enemy's ethnicity. Supporting examples abound, from current headlines to Manzanar and other WWII Japanese-American encampments.
Wartime Support, Or Not
American culture has radically changed in its response to war. National responses of antipathy to Vietnam and the Gulf War are the cultural norm today, in sharp contrast to the patriotic jingoism of World War I and World War II. A compelling speech topic could compare these responses, and examine the cultural changes responsible for them: "Why Iraq Was Not Your Grandfather's World War," for example. Another fine persuasive topic is the use of different kinds of propaganda at the two disparate times, and how it encouraged, or discouraged, the nation's responses to the conflicts.
Race and Feminism in War
Speaking of war and cultural changes -- which is the whole point of persuasive speaking on this topic -- another promising set of speech topics might compare feminine social influence in World War II and the crossing of color lines in that same period: How did those cultural phenomena pave the way for the rise of feminism and civil rights in the 1960s? Did those movements influence the lack of popularity in subsequent wars such as Vietnam? Historic examples from Martin Luther King to Rosie the Riveter are solid persuasive appeals.
Spirit-Stirring War Music
A vastly entertaining persuasive speech topic, which also allows for touches of expository demonstration, is an examination of a culture's music during wartime and how it reflects societal approval or disapproval of the conflict. A rich field of examples is available, from the brazen tympani of Spartan conflicts to Shakespeare's commentaries, in "Othello," on 16th century war music: "the spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife." Stirring or deflating, a culture's music in war is emblematic of its attitudes towards conflict.
- University of Illinois: Modern American Poetry: the Anti-War Movement in the United States
- San Francisco Chronicle: WWII Fades into Distant Past, and With It, Our Sense of Patriotism
- London's Global University: Patriotism and Propaganda in the United States in World War II: A Study in American Women
Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.