Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication


This study analyzes President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam rhetoric during the escalation period of 1964-1965 to uncover what effect his place in history, his personality, and his political style had on presidential rhetoric in the twentieth century. For this purpose, the critical insights of Kenneth Burke are utilized not only to uncover what rhetoric Johnson used during this period but also what it meant to the American people and how it served the President's purposes. According to Burke, man views everything through a "fog of symbols." His dramatic critique of symbols, what is sometimes referred to as "logology," attempts to get men to realize that they have to look through this "fog" at nature, that men tend to make themselves and nature over in the image of their own symbols, and that their efforts often end in disaster. The first part of this study analyzes the symbols Johnson used to describe the Vietnam conflict to the American people. A cluster analysis is used to break the symbols down into equations in an attempt to discover "what goes with what and why." The equations are built around the components of Burke's dramatistic pentad: scene, agent, act, agency, and purpose. Formal speeches of the period are studied as well as smaller rhetorical units from Johnson's press conferences. The second part of this study, accordingly, lifts the "fog" off Johnson's symbols regarding Vietnam. Once the speeches are broken down into logological equations, a more extensive criticism takes place using another aspect of Burke's analysis of language as symbolic action. Applying what Burke calls the "grammar of rebirth," the symbolic meaning of Johnson's Vietnam rhetoric is traced in three representative speeches: his remarks at Syracuse University the day after the North Vietnamese attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin; "Peace Without Conquest," delivered at Johns Hopkins University; and the Opening statement from his news conference of July 28, 1965.