Political and Nuclear Fallout: A Rhetorical Analysis of Ted Gup’s Editorial
Between the 72nd anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
President Trump made the controversial statement that if North Korea threatened the U.S., they
would be “met with fire and fury.” His words stirred the American people with a variety of
reactions. At one end of the spectrum, people applauded him for being authoritative in a way
previous presidents had not been. At the other end, people either ignored him and wrote it off as
ignorance from an incompetent leader, or they were instilled with fear of the future of their
country and the whole world.
Among this latter group was Ted Gup, a professor of journalism at
Emerson College. His editorial titled “The world has already seen ‘fire and fury’” was published
in The Washington Post shortly after the president’s remarks. Addressing a predominantly liberal
audience, Gup appeals to their emotions and ethics and utilizes antithesis to make the claim that
both the threat and use of nuclear weapons is uninformed, unsafe, and unethical.
Gup hopes to convince his readers that nuclear war is wrong by appealing to their
emotions—an appropriate choice for an emotional topic.
He begins by recalling the experiences
of Shima Sonoda, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. He describes her search for her
four-year-old daughter who was nowhere to be found in the debris, insinuating that she had very
likely been vaporized instantly. These details draw upon the reader’s sympathy and empathy as
they pity the small child who had never known life without war. Using an example of children is
an effective appeal to emotion because children are innocent and most people feel a natural need
to protect them. A deeper emotional connection can be felt as the reader considers the
perspective of the mother who had to go on suffering in life without her daughter.
It touches on the relationship between mother and child which is a connection that people find compelling. It may remind them of their own mothers. Gup makes the most of this connection by describing
their interaction immediately preceding the blast and their interactions every day following it.
Right before, the daughter asked for a can of tangerines, which her mother denied her. After she
died, however, her mother consecrated a can of tangerines to her memory every day for many
years. Tangerines become a sort of motif, a visual symbol that triggers a sorrowful response
within the reader. While emotional appeals are often considered a cheap way to win over an
audience, Gup’s use of it is effective and respectful because it does not manipulate anyone. It
describes the real, emotional experiences of Shima Sonoda that cannot be downplayed without
insulting her reality.
While Gup’s appeals to emotion are used help the audience understand such realities, he
appeals to their ethics to then send the message that in many ways, they can never understand it
fully. They must trust and rely upon the stories of victims because the audience would never be
able to imagine the magnitude of the suffering at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rather than inflating
his own credibility, Gup establishes the credibility of two people who experienced the effects of
nuclear weapons firsthand. The first was the woman previously mentioned: Shima Sonoda. One
of many hibakusha, she was described as a “frail woman whose words were carefully measured
and whose emotions had long been contained.”
Although it is common in Japanese culture to be
reserved with one’s emotions, the circumstances here hint that there is more to her contained
feelings than just culture. Her carefully measured words speak to the difficulty of finding the
right words to describe the horrific scenes she had beheld. She and the other hibakusha are the
most credible people to illustrate the effects of nuclear weapons because they lived with the
consequences for the rest of their lives. The second credible witness was Lt. Col. Bernard T. Gallagher. He flew for the Air Force “through a dozen mushroom clouds,” felt the strength of the winds, and observed the levels of radiation to which he was exposed. Though he had not
experienced the same intense physical and emotional agony of the hibakusha, he could not
adequately describe it in his own words, and instead, resorted to quoting the Bhagavad Gita:
“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” It may be so that these dismal words are still
Including the experiences of people who were present during the atomic bombings
was essential in earning the trust of the readers. The credibility of the sources leads them to be
more accepting of everything they are being told and thus allows Gup to cultivate a more
compelling argument: the audience should reconsider the validity of nuclear war.
If his previous techniques still did not have ample assurance for the audience, they might
find it in his use of antithesis, a powerful tool of persuasion. He writes regarding President
Trump’s words, “He said it from the clubhouse of a Bedminster, N.J., golf course, a universe
away from Hiroshima’s skeletal dome.” Though the famous dome is the Hiroshima Peace
Memorial, it is a reminder of death and destruction. This example shows the despondency of
Hiroshima in brilliant juxtaposition to a clubhouse at a green golf course, stereotypically a place
where wealthy people entertain themselves without a care in the world.
President Trump is so far removed from the idea of suffering that he cannot have anything of significance to say regarding
nuclear weapons. It was successful in showing that President Trump is not an authority on the
matter. Antithesis is used more subtly here to highlight the contrast between a man who had no
firsthand knowledge of the bombings—in fact, he had not even been born yet—and the others
who had lived it and dealt with it for the remainder of their lives. While this criticism of the
president may not sit well with many people, it is perfect considering the audience. The Washington Post is read mainly by liberals, so by catering to their beliefs and disapproval of the president, Gup’s argument holds more weight.
Gup’s argument was not just about President Trump’s statement about North Korea; it
was about the bigger picture. The real, significant argument is that the use of nuclear weapons
should not ever occur again if humanity wishes to avoid obliteration, which is a topic that
concerns everyone. Its effects have been seen before, and it is important to consider what those
who experienced it have to say.
Although the argument does not have sufficient appeals to logic to
change the minds of proponents of nuclear weapons, it is sufficient to convince those who
already believe in his purpose to advocate for a world without nuclear weapons. He is successful
in persuading them that if they truly believe in the cause, then they would not stand for the
president’s careless rhetoric and ignorant mockery of one of the most devastating events in
history. He would be met with fiery and furious people who would use their voices to effect any
change they can.