Textual Analysis Final [Partington]

In Milton Friedman’s “An Open Letter to Bill Bennett” he attempts to convince Bennett that the United States needs to be handling the “war on drugs” in a different manner. In Friedman’s concise letter he brings up the unnecessary measures the United States is using in order to control drugs, and he argues that our resources could be used in better ways to benefit society. In order to successfully argue his point, Bennett draws on the emotions of the reader, establishes his credibility, points out the logic of his argument, and arranges the piece in an effective way to better communicate his point.

Friedman draws on the reader’s emotions throughout the letter in many different points. He specifically chooses to use words that stick to the reader and cause him to empathize with the points being made. In the last paragraph he uses words such as “plea”, “heart”, “freedom”, and “revolted” to question America’s actions. By choosing words such as these he calls the reader’s attention and urges them to listen to his points. The last sentence of the piece states “A country in which shooting down unidentified planes ‘on suspicion’ can be seriously considered as a drug-war tactic is not the kind of United States that either you or I want to hand on to future generations” (Friedman). By bringing up the impacts our actions could have on future generation, Friedman directly calls the reader’s attention and draws on their emotions. Bringing up future generations is a common argumentative tactic that connects with many peoples opinions, and resonates with many. Friedman’s use of emotional arguments in his letter is clear and effective. He connects a problem that appears to be political, with personal depth that draws the attention of the reader.

Beyond using emotion, Friedman also builds his credibility thus making him more believable and trustable to his audience. Although Friedman is already a credible source he continues to build his reliability throughout the piece. Friedman is inherently credible through who he is as a person. He has published multiple articles in the Wall Street Journal and is a recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. On page 307 he further emphasizes his credibility by talking about a column he wrote “in 1972 on ‘Prohibition and Drugs.” The major problem then was heroin from Marseilles; today, it is cocaine from Latin America. Today, also, the problem is far more serious than it was 17 years ago: more addicts, more innocent victims; more drug pushers, more law enforcement officers; more money spent to enforce prohibition, more money spent to circumvent prohibition” (Friedman).  He brings up the fact that he has published articles on the current subject in the past, proving he is knowledgeable on the subject. He also uses a logic reflecting on the past in an “I told you so” way discussing previous issues in the past that he was aware of. He also calls upon the fact that the current problem is worse than the one in 1972, thus his credibility should be taken seriously because of the logic of the argument.

Friedman uses logical arguments in other places in his article to further argue his point. He brings up facts such as the information regarding the fact that “alcohol and tobacco  causes many more deaths in users than do drugs” (Friedman). He points to rationale surrounding our use of resources in regards to what is affecting the society in greater ways. By using the comparison of the war on drugs to alcohol and tobacco use he forces the reader to reflect on the two problems in regards to one another. The approach of using logic throughout his piece is effective in urging the reader to reflect upon multiple problems and how they can best be resolved.  

The arrangement of paragraphs in his letter is effective in helping the reader understand his point and empathize with his argument. The second and third paragraphs begin with “You are not mistaken” and then “Your mistake”. By directly addressing Bennett in this way he is very effective. He starts off by telling him how he is correct and builds up his confidence, but then soon after addresses where he is flawed in his understanding. By organizing his paragraphs in this format the reader is more likely to agree more with the points he is making in his letter. His middle paragraphs focus on the history of decriminalization and the current issues our country faces surrounding drugs. After addressing these issues he finishes off his letter in his last paragraph where he connects the problem with the ideals of the United States and the affect this issue will have on the individual. By organizing the paragraphs in this format he successfully presents the facts and then follows them by telling the reader why this issue should matter to them.

Friedman’s letter is effective in both its content and organization. He clearly communicates the problem, and successfully urges the audience to understand his point of view and opinion.


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