The message of Charlton Heston’s speech is that there is a cultural war going on where the freedom to think and to express those thoughts in the way one believes to be right is being curtailed and that the audience, who are students of Harvard Law School who are perceived to be champions of free thought must live up to this expectation even to the point of employing the method of peaceful civil disobedience as was done by Martin Luther King.
This is an appealing message to this specific audience because it played on the pride of the Harvard students of being “champions of free thought” and it serves to challenge them on living up to this expectation as stated earlier. Heston established his ethos by building on his various experiences in the movie industry, politics, civil activism and military through which he was able to establish his intelligence, character and goodwill. These are three traits which according to Aristotle builds up the credibility of a speaker (Griffin).
First, he used his persona as a movie star where he related his triumph in portraying great men to his task at hand. To this effect he said, “If my Creator gave me the gift to connect with the hearts and minds of those great men, then I want to use the same gift now to re-connect with your own sense of liberty, your own freedom of thought, your own compass for what is right. ” (1999) As part of the introductory paragraphs in the speech, this served to cement his credibility generally to speak not only of the subject but also on any topic for that matter.
These words were uttered to achieve the effect of making his audience rise up to their supposed role as part of the prime law school in the land to be the first to lobby for the freedom of thought and expression even if it means walking the footsteps of civil disobedience like Martin Luther King. Despite the noble intentions of Heston, the students are not the appropriate target of these words. The proper audience for these would be their mentors or professors and the university’s leaders because whatever the latter’s values and principles will be cascaded to the students through the university’s curricula or teaching strategies, for example.
He added significant details regarding his political and military career to deepen his credibility. He mentioned becoming president of the National Rifle Association, his association with Martin Luther King, his days in civil activism, his service during the World War II. What concretized his credibility was when he cited the event when he read to the stockholders of Time Warner and the press corps afterwards the lyrics of IceT’s song Cop Killer “celebrating the ambushing and murdering of police officers” (Heston, 1999).
This led to the cancelling of IceT’s contract and the release of the album. Heston used the pathos “shame” countless times during the speech in order to challenge his audience not to tolerate their perceived social conformance. He insulted them several times to achieve this. For this he uttered the following: “Before you claim to be a champion of free thought, tell me: Why did political correctness originate of American campuses? And why do you continue to tolerate it? Why do you, who’re supposed to debate ideas, surrender to their suppression?; “You are the best and the brightest….
But I submit that you and your counterparts across the land are the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation… And as long as you validate that and abide it, you are, by your grandfathers’ standards, cowards. ” and; “Who will defend the core values of academia, if you, the supposed soldiers of free thought and expression lay down your arms and plead, “Don’t shoot me. ”(1999) The examples posed in the speech are not consistent and fully effective.
For instance, the case of Antioch College in Ohio where the courtship process must have the approval and knowledge of the college; in New Jersey where doctors who are infected with HIV are not required to discuss this with their patients; the segregation of black students at the University of Pennsylvania; and the controversial forced resignation of David Howard only because he said the word niggardly during a meeting; these are examples which are given to elaborate on the curtailing of the freedom on what to think, what to say and how to express these thoughts.
These evidence the “cultural war” stated in the thesis statement meant to elaborate on the problem being tackled in the speech. These are also meant to cultivate indignation on the part of the audience. The rest of the examples are not consistent with this motive, however, since they exemplify for instance respect and protection of the rights of tranvestites and transsexuals and establishing connection with Hispanic roots which are irrelevant, if not contradictory to the thesis of the speech
Heston also used enthymeme as an argument to support the statement by Martin Gross that, “blatantly irrational behavior is rapidly being established as the norm in almost every area of human endeavor… Americans know something without a name is undermining the country, turning the mind mushy when it comes to separating the truth from falsehood and right from wrong… ” The enthymeme was when Heston posed the premise that he thinks that “hyphenated identities are awkward” specifically Native-American.
After which he said he is a Native American and even a “blood-initiated brother of the Miniconjou Sioux”. It was at this juncture that he left the argument open for the audience to make their own conclusion. Charlton Heston has effectively established his ethos during the speech by banking on his relevant experiences. He also made very clear his intentions in delivering the speech. However, he did not present enough convincing logos in order to support his intentions and to move his audience to action.
The appropriateness of some of his words can also be questioned. The organization of the speech can be considered exemplary in that first he used ethos to establish his credibility, then rightfully followed it with logos and then pathos in the end. Thus, over-all the speech was effective in that the speaker was able to establish his credibility well but partially ineffective because of the choice of logos and pathos.