Battle Exhortation: The Rhetoric of Combat Leadership, Keith Yellin, University of South Carolina Press, 200 pp., hardcover, $34.95.
In this groundbreaking examination of the symbolic strategies used in preparing
troops for imminent combat, Keith Yellin offers a powerful, interdisciplinary look at a mode of rhetorical discourse that has played a prominent role in military history, literature, and popular culture from antiquity to the present day. In Battle Exhortation Yellin takes as his focus one of the most time-honored forms of motivational communication, the encouraging speech of a military commander, to evaluate the persuasive potential inherent in oral traditions of combat leadership and to understand better their guiding principles.
Yellin posits battle exhortation as a distinct genre of discourse originating from humankind’s war-torn history and the age-old need to call soldiers into combat. In illustrating his subject’s long history, Yellin draws from the Illiad, the Bible, Spartans, Julius Caesar, Spanish conquistadors, early American infantrymen, Teddy Roosevelt, General Tommy Franks, and others across the vast expanse of military endeavor. Yellin is also interested in how this mode of communication permeates popular culture, both past and present, socializing potential audiences to its recognition and anticipation through delivery mechanisms as diverse as Shakespeare’s Henry V, George C. Scott’s portrayal of General George S. Patton, and the conventions of coaching team sports.
Studying how military commanders articulate empowering battlefield oratory to convey ideals of strength and courage, Yellin assesses the importance of accounting for specific circumstances of a given war, the combat arm of the audience, the presence of nonmilitary observers, and the personal experiences of the speaker. Pointing toward the future of battle exhortation while honoring the rich history of the tradition, Yellin’s work will be of keen interest to communication students and scholars as well as military officers and cadets.
A former U.S. Marine Corps captain, Keith Yellin is an independent scholar and corporate communicator in McKinney, Texas. He earned his B.A. in history from the University of Maryland and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in speech communication from the University of Iowa.
Source: text from University of South Carolina Press
CWL: A copy is forthcoming through inter-library loan. CWL will report in August on Battle Exhortation.