Despite considerable literature on the Bush administration’s war on terrorism rhetoric, little attention has been paid to its discourse of moral disengagement, leaving an important and still relevant gap that this paper aims to address. Rather than approaching this gap in terms of an archival historical analysis that is disconnected from the present, it proposes an exploratory revisit of the rhetoric that the benefits of hindsight might enrich and, we argue, aid in understanding connections to the current post-invasion turmoil and the gradual ISIS takeover. Having subjected nineteen presidential speeches to qualitative content analysis, we identified a number of moral disengagement mechanisms: moral justification, advantageous comparisons, and attribution of blame, dehumanisation of the enemy, the use of sanitizing language, diffusion of responsibility and minimization of harm. We also identified novel themes relating to American excellence/patriotism, religious ideals and fear- arousing appeals, offering original contributions to the existing literature and advancing our understanding of dynamic, real-world, and highest stakes moral disengagement whose parallels can be identified in today’s political discourses. The detailed analysis unveils the apparent paradox of propagating moral disengagement through a thread of arguments that interweave diversity with uniformity, complexity with simplicity, in effect alerting the reader to the processes of moral desensitisation that the past, current and future “warmongering” political discourses may often rely upon.


George W. Bush, War, Terror, Terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan, Rhetoric, Political Discourse, Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement, War on Terror, Speeches

Author Bio(s)

Stefan Cartledge graduated from Leeds University with an upper second-class honours degree in Psychology and is now a teacher of Psychology at the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form in Norwich, UK. This article was originally his dissertation and is his first publication. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Stefan Michael Cartledge at, stefan.cartledge@gmail.com.

Lorraine Bowman-Grieve is a lecturer in Psychology at Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland. Holding an MSc in Forensic Psychology and a PhD in Applied Psychology Lorraine joined WIT in 2013 following a number of years working at Leeds Trinity University College and University of Lincoln in the UK. Lorraine is primarily interested in the application of social and forensic psychology to understanding behaviour and phenomenon related to crime, criminality and terrorism. Lorraine has researched terrorist use of the internet for over 15 years and has a particular interest in the content and function of discourses supportive of terrorism and the potential of alternative discourses in counter-terrorism efforts. Correspondence can be addressed to Lorraine Bowman-Grieve at lbowmangrieve@wit.ie; +353 51 302000.

Marek Palasinski obtained his PhD in Psychology at the University of Lancaster in the UK. He specialises in applying social psychology to the forensic context, in particular to terrorism, violence and cybercrime. He also teaches in these areas. His best email address is: marekpalasinski@hotmail.com

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