Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

John Mucklebauer


American political leadership, military commanders, and informed observers have recognized a widening civil-military gap as a potential problem for American democracy. This gap has been characterized by the differing values, knowledge and experiences between the military and wider society. Although some rhetorical scholarship has examined military affairs, the field as a whole has paid limited attention to this perceived civil-military gap. Rhetorical analysis offers a novel means to examine the discourse surrounding the American civil-military relationship. This study uses complementary rhetorical approaches--employing rhetorical criticism of the communication surrounding the relief of General Stanley McChrystal and discourse analysis of online responses to an active duty Army officer's editorial on political affairs--to offer insight about this gap. In an attempt to map a portion of the terrain surrounding the perceived civil-military divide, rhetorical analysis can illuminate unnoticed connections between the two sides of the divide: the actions that may occur when societal norms are violated, and online media as a space for study of the intersection between American civilian and military personnel; and increase understanding of the permeability of boundaries and the patterns of language use to chastise transgression and return violators to the fold within these spaces. This study suggests the utility of rhetoric not only to identify the boundaries American civil-military relations, but the possibility of rhetoric to be part of a solution to lessen the perceived divide. New media spaces might provide one location to bridge the perceived civil-military gap. Such places provide an accessible space where a military viewed as a 'separate tribe' might increasingly connect, at an unofficial level, with wider society to promote common understanding of differing experiences, values, knowledge and boundaries. The paper concludes that attention to rhetoric may better show and more healthily enact the subservient role of the military within American democracy and provides a potential means to bridge the perceived gap between wider society and its military.


© 2012, Joseph Leo Wyszynski