Good Example Of Opinion Analysis Essay
James Poulos’ essay “On Selma, Sniper and Our Misguided Hero Worship” excoriates American culture for its desire to have heroes with no moral complications, using the examples of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Chris Kyle, the people behind the recently released films Selma and American Sniper. His first point is that, culturally, we “share a longing for great heroes even when we share so little else” (Poulos, web). As a result, our tendency is to change Kyle’s record one way or the other. The temptation is either to tiptoe around Kyle taking part in a war that turned out to have been misguided and certainly was bloody the whole way, or to disgrace the American flag by denouncing Kyle’s behavior in combat. As Poulos points out, Kyle had 160 confirmed kills during his service in Iraq as a Navy SEAL. Kyle and King are both people who American culture tends to celebrate for their deeds. They are also people who, as Poulos points out, had an awareness of the importance of mortality that was Christian in its consciousness, and their Christian faith provided “certitude about their rectitude” (Poulos, web); in other words, their faith made them certain that they were right, and they acted on their rightness. Both men had belief systems that are unpopular in modern times; the liberal devotion to equality that motivated King from the beginning is at odds with the mishmash of centrism with a Tea Party fife playing in the background that seems to be American politics in the aftermath of the 2014 midterm elections, and Kyle’s certainty that he was doing the right thing by mowing down his Iraqi targets is at odds with the general revulsion toward the whole Bush-Cheney continuum, with its emphasis on war-for-profit and dropping bombs before performing all of that annoying due diligence. Poulos’ argument is that heroes do not have to be simplistic in their makeup and that these men’s determination to act makes them heroes anyway, no matter what one thinks of their actions.
Poulos uses several rhetorical strategies to express his primary rhetorical argument. He uses synecdoche when he describes the way in which people detect heroism. The fact that both King and Kyle were dead – and dead well before their natural time – automatically elevates them toward a type of heroism in our culture. Poulos hearkens back to the cultural definition of the hero, “known and celebrated for the way their remarkable deeds were carried out in the face of bodily destruction” (Poulos, web). Kyle kept shooting target after target in an atmosphere bristling with IEDs and other dangers that kept killing other American soldiers. King persisted with his mission for equality for African-Americans in the face of threat after threat, knowing that each threat could be the last one. Throughout human history, though, Poulos argues that “the price of [heroes’] deeds was their blood” (web). Poulos uses synecdoche in this sentence (making the blood stand for the life of the whole person). The power in this synecdoche comes from the fact that the reader can visualize the blood staining a street or a floor or a wall and know, without seeing anything else, that that person has paid the ultimate price for those beliefs. In the context of our culture, that decision brands that person a hero.
Poulos also used juxtaposition for multiple effects throughout his essay. The first produces an alliteration that echoes with each repetition, from one paragraph to the next. Pairing the two names (King and Kyle) all the way through drives the pairing of those two names into the consciousness of the reader. Dr. King and Chris Kyle had remarkably different backgrounds, but for the purposes of this essay, they are both heroes in American culture, and Poulos uses this juxtaposition to find their similarities. Pairing the differences of these men side by side to show their actual similarities produces a powerful rendering of the meaning of a hero. When Poulos writes “King thought that social democracy was a political necessity. Kyle thought that stamping out savagery was” (Poulos, web). While social democracy and eliminating savages might seem to be widely divergent goals, the fact that both thought they were political necessities brings them into common. The effect of this juxtaposition is to bring the definition of a hero into high relief – and by pairing the names in phrases like “King’s or Kyle’s heroism” (Poulos, web), the author shows that these two men, both so different in the purpose and their tactics, were ultimately similar in a way that matters deeply.
Poulos also uses diction to establish his points in a powerful way. When he describes the “hard lesson” that people have to take away from their disappointment with the political process, he says that “we’re let down – often bitterly, sometimes disastrously” (Poulos, web) every time people go to the political process to find unity. The word bitter suggests a deep-seated anger that takes months, if not years, to develop, showing the depth of the investment that so many people have in a united country. The word disastrously shows how awful the consequence of this naïve approach to politics can be for a society. Two examples that come to mind would be Germany after the Great War and the United States after 9/11. The German experience after the Great War – economic disaster followed by a brazen attempt at revival under Adolf Hitler – sought to unify all ethnic Germans in a larger nation that would end up trying to take over the world and incinerate as many of their enemies as they could – this would be a disastrous result from using politics to ensure unity. The shift of the American attention span from the search for Osama bin Laden to the wild goose chase for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ended up a more bitter disappointment, as so many soldiers and civilians died . The effect of that attempt to wave the bloody shirt by President Bush and draw the country into a unified attack on Iraq has consequences that continue to roil today.
Poulos uses synecdoche, juxtaposition and diction (as well as other rhetorical devices) to make his argument about the true nature of heroes. As long as our culture insists on having heroes that are squeaky clean and do not have any flaws, our culture will have no new heroes, because that sort of person does not exist. Greatness is a messy process, involving the sort of trial and error that ends up splattered all over Twitter in our modern age. Heroes never quite become idols this way, but their actions do remain legend.
Poulos, James. “On Selma, Sniper, and Our Misguided Hero
Worship.” The Daily Beast 22 January 2015. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/22/on-selma-sniper-and-our-misguided-hero-worship.html