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War of the words: The role of political rhetoric during wartime

U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 19, 2023.
JONATHAN ERNST / POOL
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AFP via Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, urging Americans to back military aid at what he calls a perilous moment for democracy around the globe from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 19, 2023.

During times of war, language can be a powerful tool. Political leaders can wield it to change hearts and minds, but also to justify the use of violence.

Political rhetoric has been everywhere since the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent Israeli response in Gaza. The Hamas attack killed 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, and another 240 were kidnapped. Israel's military response has killed more than 18,000 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, with tens of thousands more injured. Most of the enclave's 2.3 million people have been displaced amid a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. There is also rising violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, which is controlled by Fatah, not Hamas.

So how does what we hear from politicians inform how we think about the current war?

Today, we’ll examine the role of rhetoric in our politics — and how it can contribute to violence at home and abroad.

GUESTS:

The Wheelhouse is available as a podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, TuneIn, Listen Notes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe and never miss an episode.

Frankie Graziano is the host of <i>The Wheelhouse</i>, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.
Meg Dalton is the deputy director of storytelling for Connecticut Public. She previously worked for The Takeaway from WNYC, in collaboration with GBH and PRX, and Mobituaries with Mo Rocca. She's also reported and edited for the Columbia Journalism Review, PBS NewsHour, Slate, MediaShift, Hearst Connecticut newspapers, and more. Her audio work has appeared on ‎WNYC, WSHU, Marketplace, WBAI, and NPR. She earned her master's degree from Columbia Journalism School in 2017, where she specialized in audio storytelling and narrative writing, and has taught audio storytelling at Columbia Journalism School, UnionDocs, and public libraries.