Kennedy, “Ich bin ein Berliner” Speech

I have much admired the Speech Kennedy gave in West Berlin on June 26th, 1963, and I think it provides many great examples of rhetorical strategy.

In Chapter nine of the book, a section describes one type of peroration that consists of the argument arousing pity from the audience, persuading them to identify with the rhetor or his point of view. There are many great examples of speeches that do this, and I think Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech is a perfect example. Following the list on page 314 of our textbook, the following are examples of various emotional appeals found in the speech:

  • Imply ignorance on the part of opponents- The opponents of Kennedy’s speech are those who side with the Communist cause and favor the Communist movement throughout Europe at the time. By declaring several, hypothetical statement made by those opponents and then following it with “Let them come to Berlin,” he implies this ignorance. Simply put, he says “If you think Communism is the wave of the future, well, then come to Berlin,” etc etc.
  • Compare state of affairs with similar one- He makes the emotional appeal when he compares democracy (which has never had to create a “wall to keep our people in”) with Berlin, he shows the stark contrast in the state of affairs between countries.
  • Show how state of affairs is insulting/injurious- He says about the Berlin Wall enclosing Communist East Berlin as, “an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.” He says that the oppression of East Berlin denies the “elementary right of free men… to make free choice.” This is very powerful emotional rhetoric, and paints a vivid picture of how the Berlin Wall is both insulting to men and injurious to the concept of freedom.
  • Point out effects elsewhere- In the speech, Kennedy mentions how Europe as a whole cannot achieve lasting peace as long as “one German out of four is denied” the rights of free men. He also speaks about how the notions of peace, justice, and hope are transcendent values that should be sought and appreciated by all mankind.
  • Show what happens if state of affairs remains unchanged- If unchanged, Kennedy makes it clear that East Berlin citizens will remain on the “front lines” of this communist oppression, and peace in the country of Germany, along with the continent of Europe, will never be fully achieved. Freedom will continue to suffer and humanity will negatively affected.
  • Ask audience to identify with those injured/insulted- The common name for this speech is, “Ich bin ein Berliner” which translates to mean I am a Berliner [Berlin citizen].” This strategy is used the speaker, President Kennedy, to show his support and personal identification with those in both West and East Berlin. He also says of his (worldwide) audience, “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin.” This is a perfect example of the rhetorical strategy appealing to the audience’s emotions. Of course they should identify and see themselves as “citizens of Berlin,” because the battle for justice and freedom are universal and necessary for all humanity, not just for some and neglected to others.
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