The Case for Combat

How Presidents Persuade Americans to Go to War

by Edward J. Lordan


From Abraham Lincoln to George W. Bush, many American presidents have used their words to garner support to go to war. What are the techniques they employed to convince citizens to get behind their president in committing to combat? Are these methods effective—or ethical?

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Cover image for The Case for Combat

September 2010


Pages 324
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Politics, Law, and Government/Presidential Studies

This book provides a historical analysis of presidential rhetoric regarding war and examines the similarities, differences, effectiveness, and ethics of the persuasive strategies used by the White House through the history of the nation.

In the United States, the decision to use military force typically is made by the president, even though it is actually Congress that has the authority to commit the nation to war. It is also the president's job to inform the American people when that decision has been made—and to attempt to convince the citizens to support their government in the decision to go to war.

The book traces the development of the rhetoric used by presidents to convince Americans to go to war, from the earliest days of the nation to the latest conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. After an overview of the governmental issues related to committing to combat, the author evaluates presidential speeches over the course of ten American conflicts to determine how effective—and ethical—presidents have been in communicating with various publics. Taking neither a pro- nor antiwar stance, this text focuses entirely on the period leading up to the announcement of a formal conflict.


  • Presents ten case histories that examine the presidential rhetoric of the largest wars in the nation's history, including excerpts or entire speeches from ten American presidents
  • Examines how the national and international political environment influenced the decision to enter the wars and the communication strategies used to introduce them
  • Traces the expansion of presidential power and media growth in the nation's history, as well as the impact of these changes on presidential rhetoric


  • Allows for a side-by-side comparison of the rhetorical techniques of presidents, allowing the reader to evaluate how each president made his case for battle
  • Places presidential rhetoric in the context of popular opinion, Congressional decision-making, and evolving mass media to give readers an understanding of the complexity of White House communication
  • Examines the relationship between the legislative and executive branches in the war-making process
  • Provides historical context (economic, social, political, diplomatic) for each war, enabling readers to understand how and why each conflict came about, as well as the issues the president faced in making the decision
Author Info

Edward J. Lordan, PhD, is associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at West Chester University, PA. His published works include more than a dozen research articles as well as two other books, Essentials of Public Relations Management and Politics, Ink.: How America's Cartoonists Skewer Politicians, from King George III to George Dubya. He received his doctorate from The Newhouse School at Syracuse University, and has served on faculties at Saint Louis University, Villanova University, and Temple University.



"Combining historical fact with in-depth analysis of the way leaders communicate, this well-written study of
presidential rhetoric examines persuasion in the context of presidential leadership and US wars. ...Recommended."Choice

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