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Battle Exhortation
The Rhetoric of Combat Leadership

Keith Yellin

A commanding study of the motivational speech of military leaders across the centuries

In this groundbreaking examination of the symbolic strategies used to prepare troops for imminent combat, Keith Yellin offers an interdisciplinary look into a mode of rhetorical discourse that has played a prominent role in warfare, history, and popular culture from antiquity to the present day. In Battle Exhortation he focuses on one of the most time-honored forms of motivational communication, the encouraging speech of military commanders, to offer a pragmatic and scholarly evaluation of how persuasion contributes to combat leadership.

Yellin establishes battle exhortation as a distinct genre of discourse originating from humankind's war-prone history and the age-old need to inspire troops to fight. In illustrating his subject's conventions, Yellin draws from the Bible, classical Greece and Rome, Spanish conquistadors, and especially American military forces. Yellin is also interested in how audiences are socialized to recognize and anticipate this type of communication that precedes difficult team efforts. To account for this dimension he probes examples as diverse as Shakespeare's Henry V, George C. Scott's portrayal of General George S. Patton, and team sports.

Yellin also examines the constraints that shape battle exhortation, including the specific circumstances of a given war, the combat arm of the audience, the presence of nonmilitary observers, and the personal character and style of the speaker. Speculating on the future of battle exhortation while honoring its rich tradition, this work will be of keen interest to students of communication, history, and military leadership.

A former U.S. Marine Corps captain, Keith Yellin is an independent scholar and corporate communicator in McKinney, Texas. He earned his B.A. in history from the University of Maryland and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in speech communication from the University of Iowa.

"Battle Exhortation is a fascinating and wide-ranging book on a neglected, but important topic: the rhetoric at work in the speeches of military commanders bracing their men for imminent combat. With its well-chosen examples spanning three millennia, its insightful readings, and interdisciplinary approach this lively study will be of great interest to students and scholars of military history, the literature of war, sociology, and rhetoric."—Peter Hunt, author of Slaves, Warfare, and Ideology in the Greek Historians

"Keith Yellin has produced the most comprehensive study of battle exhortations that I've ever read. It is thoroughly researched and balanced by his experience as an officer of Marines. Leaders at any level, in uniform or mufti, will benefit from this enjoyable work. It is a treasure that should grace the libraries of those who lead or aspire to lead."—Brigadier General Thomas Draude, USMC (Ret.)

"In Battle Exhortation Keith Yellin develops an area that has been but a sidebar in the study of military leadership and raises it to the same level of importance as the execution of military plans. Success on the battlefield is much more than understanding the enemy and appreciating the weather and terrain. Words are important. Yellin provides the 'soul dimension' to the study of military history and leadership. This work is a must-read for practitioners and students of military leadership."—Colonel Benjamin L. Abramowitz, USA (Ret.)




6 x 9
200 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-735-1
cloth, $34.95s
Studies in Rhetoric/Communication
Thomas W. Benson, series editor

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