The Moon Speech Analysis

Table of Content

During the sixties American society was known to be a both scholarly and popular cultural period. A lot of countries around the world were still recovering from World War II. In Europe their social class structure was destroyed during the war and by the beginning of the 1960s many working-class people could afford common household items that were becoming popular at the time like, radios, televisions, and refrigerators. While America was in a tense situation regarding civil rights in the early 1960s, many Americans felt as though the rest of the world was improving and thriving while America was at somewhat of a standstill. President John F. Kennedy was elected in 1961 and was entering office during a complex time, a time that was in desperate need of hope for prospering through the poor economy of the post-war 1950s. Kennedy gave a speech in 1962 known now as the “Moon Speech” in Houston, Texas. This speech was given purely to give hope to the American people with no actual evidence that the National Aeronautics and Space Council could achieve placing a man on the moon; before the Soviet Union.

Although this speech is known to be one of Kennedy’s more famous and moving speeches, it somehow works hardly any logos present. Even without the evidence that it was fiscally and logistically possible, this speech instilled hope, and reminded Americans of their freedoms to choose their destiny as they wished through his focus on pathos and his delivery of the speech. John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Speech” was given on September 12th, 1962 at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Most of the speech consists of Kennedy recalling the history and discoveries of mankind. He made statements regarding those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space.

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Statements like this were what instilled hope into the audience and nation that America would not fall behind on the innovations of the times and would push forward and be a leading nation in the Space Race with the Soviet Union. To put it into perspective better “Kennedy condensed 50,000 years of human history into an allegorical half century”. Declaring that at the pace which technology, knowledge and discovery has evolved then “10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves”. This analogy undoubtedly excited the audience and helped them understand how they were living in a time of rapid development, and change. Even though Kennedy was half way into his speech and hadn’t addressed a plan of action. Putting a man on the moon was one of Kennedy’s main focuses during the beginning of his presidency and he was extremely passionate about the topic and that shone through in his speech. This speech gave America a purpose and a goal to support and someday achieve. At the time the Soviet Union had successfully launched the first artificial satellite into space about four years prior.

Also, Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space which occurred before the United States could even launch its first Project Mercury astronaut. Kennedy was under an extreme amount of stress after seeing the Soviet Union progressing so much, and because of the recent Bay of Pigs fiasco. This much stress on a President can lower the ethos when it comes to his speeches but in the Moon Speech he restores that ethos at the beginning of the speech. The chief of NASA at the time was James E. Webb, who at the time of the speech, told Lyndon B. Johnson, the Vice President, that there was no chance of beating the Russians to launching a space station, and it was uncertain as to whether NASA could orbit a man around the moon. The main purpose of Kennedy’s speech was to rally support for the mission to the moon. The space program was granted a budget three times what it was in January of 1961 when Kennedy was elected, which showed that the government was more than supporting this goal and that the people should, too.

Yet no factual data or plans had been disclosed to the people at the time as to how NASA was going to proceed on getting a man to the moon, because there was no actual plan in place. Even though this speech lacked in logical inferences and rational reasonings, the speech was overwhelmingly passionate, well spoken, and influential because of his heavy appeal to pathos. Throughout the process, attempt after attempt of sending a man to the moon after John F. Kennedys speech the public was kept in the dark. Between NASA bureaucrats, public relations’ practitioners and the journalists who covered the progress, there was a competitive aspect to it depending on how each released information to the public. All applying different strategies to deliver the ground-breaking exploration of Last Frontier. The American people feared the developments especially after the Apollo 1 tragedy. Yet the public still held Kennedys words close and retained their faith in the Last Frontier movement even after the failed attempts.

This speech was analyzed using Neo-Aristotelian method of criticism. According to Herbert A. Wilchens, literary criticism is “concerned with effect…It regards a speech as communication to a specific audience and holds its business to be the analysis and appreciation of the orators method of imparting his ideas to his hearers”. Wilchens contributed the three major categories of analysis to Neo-Aristotelian analysis. This method consists of applying the five canons, invention, arrangement, style, memory (not used all the time), and delivery. This is used to analyze speeches like John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Speech”. Through the analysis the different pieces that work together to make the speech effective will be broken down into sections to more closely identify the purpose. Through close analysis and applying the canons to this speech, John F. Kennedy balanced his lack of logos with his generous amount of ethos and pathos. First looking at the invention of the speech concerning the artistic proofs, Kennedy appealed to the audience’s sense of identity, their self-interest, and their emotions through pathos.

He shows this when he states, “we meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a state noted for strength”. His genuine passion on the goal of making it to the moon is a driving factor in his speech. Kennedy’s ethos was pre-existing, meaning that his credibility was already formed before he even walked onto the stage although he had diminished his ethos with the recent Pigs of Bay tragedy. Through all the pressing issues, Kennedy was a reliable president even after recent economic and political events. Kennedy utilizes sparse logos through the points he makes about the cost of sending a man to the moon and the logistics of it. Kennedy realizes how expensive it would be to complete this mission and he has even expanded the budget. Even though Kennedy did not present any factual data surrounding the plan to send a man to the moon, rather he enthralls the audience with vivid details as to how we as a country would go about it. He arranges this speech in a specific manner. He begins by praising the audience and the people of America in general.

He then moves to his analogy of the progression of mankind, while looking forward to how many more steps can be taken and taken within a decade. Afterwards, he starts listing the logistical visions of how America would go about being the first country to put someone on the moon. And he concludes with, well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked. His wording in this excerpt has a friendly and powerful style. This style is important for what he envisioned achieving because statements like this are what reassured the audience in place of a set plan. He ended his speech reassuring the country that his intentions are not for political gain or for his own personal gain, but its for the progression of knowledge.

This arrangement technique draws the audience in with the skillful analogy which builds up the anticipation of the announcement and gets the important information in while he has the audience’s full attention. As far as style is concerned, J.F.K only uses the one analogy of mankind and his word choice to sway the audience. As seen above he uses phrases such as, “my fellow citizens”, “we’ve had our failures”, and the constant use of “we” when he refers to the country are all extremely important when a president is giving a speech. Kennedy’s delivery of this speech was extremely passionate and well done. Quintilian stated that rhetoric is a “good man speaking well” (Foss, 2018). Kennedy equals his genuine words with a strong stance and impactful speaking techniques. His delivery was successful in the use of rhetoric to influence the country that it was possible for America to make it to the moon first.

After the close analysis of the “Moon Speech”, certain aspects of the speech come to light and show how the speech truly works. Kennedy balanced his logos out with extra pathos and ethos throughout the speech to reassure the audience that he was taking care of what he needed to make the moon landing possible. He also arranged his speech in a captivating way that grabbed the audience’s attention from the beginning. His word choice and analogy work hand in hand with his arrangement to capture the audience. All these pieces work hand in hand to make his speech so successful through the hard times the country was going through and with his lack of physical proof of steps taken to improve Americas place in the Space Race. Kennedy’s delivery was a key aspect to his execution of his speech. He is known to be an extremely persuasive and motivational speaker and this speech proves that true.

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