Classroom Activities

  1. When Reagan spoke on the 40th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, he addressed two different audiences. At Pointe du Hoc, he participated in a strictly American ceremony, whereas the Omaha Beach remarks were part of a larger Allied commemoration. Discuss the various roles or personas Reagan adopts in each speech to identify with his immediate audience. How does he use this strategy to bolster his rhetorical authority as the President of the United States and the leader of the Western Alliance? Do you think he is successful? Why or why not?
  2. What are the primary forms of supporting materials Reagan uses in both speeches? Does he offer any sort of concrete evidence for his claims, such as statistics, examples, or testimony? Which forms of evidence or other supporting materials do you think are most persuasive in the two speeches? Why?
  3. After reading the texts of Reagan’s addresses, watch the video footage of the president’s speeches at Pointe du Hoc (on YouTube) and Omaha Beach (on YouTube). How do the visual images of these speeches (such as the physical location, speech setting, audience members, etc.) affect your perception of the speeches?
  4. Watch the 1984 Reagan campaign film, “A New Beginning” (on YouTube), and discuss how excerpts of these two speeches are blended together to tell the story of D-Day. How did the filmmaker deploy the words of these speeches (and the visual images accompanying them) strategically? Why do you think the campaign chose to feature these specific addresses in their campaign video? How do you think that portion of the campaign film helped shape a particular image of Reagan—or tell a story about Reagan—that his campaign advisers hoped to communicate during the campaign?
  5. Compare Reagan’s commemorative rhetoric with later addresses given by President George W. Bush in 2004 (on the American Presidency Project) and President Barack Obama in 2009 (on the American Presidency Project) in Normandy. What similarities can you identify between these speeches? What are some key differences?

Student Research

  1. Reagan won the 1984 presidential election by a landslide. Watch “A New Beginning” (on YouTube) and describe how you think this film portrayed Reagan to the U.S. public. How do you think his speeches at Normandy functioned within the larger narrative frame of the campaign film? How do you think the campaign used these particular speech to make a point about Reagan’s foreign policy, even though they dealt with past events that Reagan was not involved in?
  2. Listen to primary accounts of D-Day from World War II veterans in Voices of Valor (see disc 2 for specific recollections of the Allied landings). Imagine you are tasked with writing a speech for the next major anniversary of D-Day. How would you incorporate these voices? How would you make their own personal experiences and narratives relevant to a contemporary audience?
  3. Using a library database such as ProQuest Newsstand or LexisNexis, find newspaper coverage of Reagan’s commemoration of D-Day from U.S. newspapers and from international papers as well. Compare and contrast how U.S. and foreign media covered Reagan’s historical narrative. Pay particular attention to how these reports described Reagan’s linkage of World War II with the Cold War and his own administration’s foreign policies.
  4. Go to your campus library and locate the May 28, 1984, Time magazine article by Lance Morrow (“D-Day: Forty Years After the Great Crusade”). Compare Morrow’s description of the national significance of D-Day with the overarching themes of Reagan’s speeches at Normandy. What similarities do you notice? What differences can you find? Then write your own opinion piece reflecting on the significance of the story of D-Day for today’s foreign policy debates.

Citizenship Resources

  1. In the past decade-and-a-half, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have used moral arguments to support U.S. military action in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya. Read Bush’s address to a Joint Session of Congress on September 20, 2001 (on the American Presidency Project) and Obama’s statement to the U.S. public following the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 1, 2011 (on the American Presidency Project). How did both presidents use moral arguments and personal narratives as a justification for their military action? Identify the specific rhetorical purposes these appeals served and then decide whether you think these claims were ethical. Why or why not?
  2. Read or watch the most recent State of the Union address and pay particular attention to sections where the president refers to the United States’ relationship with other countries. How does s/he describe the nation’s role in the world? What evidence or other supporting materials does s/he provide? Can you find moral arguments that reflect themes similar to those in Reagan’s speeches at Normandy in 1984?
  3. Read the Joint Congressional Resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq and the House Report in favor of this resolution. What arguments do Members of Congress make for or against military action in Iraq? Do they cite previous U.S. military action in other wars as justification for this action? What moral arguments, or arguments about good versus evil, can you find?
  4. Look at the transcripts of the 2011 and the 2015 Republican Presidential Debates at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA (September 7, 2011 and September 16, 2015). Search for moments when the candidates in the debate mentioned Ronald Reagan or his policies as a justification for their own arguments. Do you notice any common themes? Why do you think candidates use previous presidents—and especially Reagan– as evidence for their own arguments? What does invoking memories of Reagan and other previous presidents this allow them to do? How might it increase their credibility? Could it also harm their candidacy in any way?