Date of Award

Summer 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Goldzwig, Steve

Second Advisor

Feldner, Sarah

Third Advisor

Ugland, Erik


This paper examines John F. Kennedy's rhetoric concerning the Berlin Crisis (1961-1963). Three major speeches are analyzed: Kennedy's Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis, the Address at Rudolph Wilde Platz and the Address at the Free University. The study interrogates the rhetorical strategies implemented by Kennedy in confronting Khrushchev over the explosive situation in Berlin. The paper attempts to answer the following research questions: What is the historical context that helped frame the rhetorical situation Kennedy faced? What rhetorical strategies and tactics did Kennedy employ in these speeches? How might Kennedy's speeches extend our understanding of presidential public address? What is the impact of Kennedy's speeches on U.S. German relations and the development of U.S. and German Policy? What implications might these speeches have for the study and execution of presidential power and international diplomacy?

Using a historical-rhetorical methodology that incorporates the historical circumstances surrounding the crisis into the analysis, this examination of Kennedy's rhetoric reveals his evolution concerning Berlin and his Cold War strategy. It is argued that Kennedy began with a military strategy, flexible response, which was established in his Radio and Television Report in July 1961 and over the next two years this strategy evolved into a strategy of peace embodied in a policy of détente. Kennedy moved away from Eisenhower's Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) strategy and the implied either-or choice of holocaust or humiliation toward a more flexible policy that gave the president many more options. By including a historical account of U.S.-German relations from World War II to Kennedy's ascension in 1961 to his untimely death in 1963, this study also connects Kennedy's rhetoric to important developments in U.S.-German relations and highlight's the president's crucial role in shaping this process.

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