A Tale of Scholarly Persistance
Randall L. Bytwerk
Most of us who have published a reasonable amount have at least one article with a “history,” a piece that had trouble finding a home. This is the story of one such article, the third manuscript I sent out for editorial review. Its history began in 1976, and after eight rejections it finally appeared in et cetera, a reasonably decent journal. Here is its story, which I hope will encourage those beginning the scholarly process. Although the various editorial responses were not consistent, on the whole the reviewers devoted significant energy to giving advice that might make the essay better. As I was a brand-new Ph.D. at the time I appreciated (and needed) the good advice I received, as I almost always have in the forty years since.
I have had the occasional ill-informed review, of course, but have been spared all sorts of embarrassing blunders, been given excellent counsel, and had my writing strengthened by the dozens of anonymous reviewers who have read my work over the years.
The motto: Don’t give up!
The story begins with a submission to the Quarterly Journal of Speech, the top national journal in my field. QJS had published the first article I submitted to it. Confident of its editor’s acumen, I sent him another essay early in 1976.
It came back with the following letter dated April 28, 1976:
The Quarterly Journal Of Speech: A Publication of The Speech Communication Association
Edwin Black, Editor
Department of Communication Arts
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
April 28, 1976
Dear Professor Bytwerk:
I regret to report that both members of the Editorial Board who reviewed “Rhetorical Functions of Nazi Holidays” have recommended that it be declined for publication in QJS. I am enclosing commentaries from both associate editors. One of these commentaries was addressed to me rather than to the author but it is useful so I am sending it.
I am compelled to agree with my associate that your essay is rambling, and I share the doubts of both of my associates that your evidence is sufficient to draw any interesting generalizations. My suggestion to you is that you let this essay ripen for awhile until you are able to portray the Nazis’ use of holidays as a part of their general approach to propaganda. You may be in too much haste to publish from your dissertation.
The editorial reviews were:
Commentary to the Editor
The essay “Rhetorical Functions of Nazi Holidays” is a rambling essay which surveys the general topic of “Hitler’s holidays” in approximately seven pages. The next two pages describe the Beer Hall Putsch and its celebration as a national holiday in Germany. The last eight pages catalogues the way the celebration of the Beer Hall Putsch on November 9 was rhetorical.
The analysis of the general topic of holidays in Nazi Germany is sketchy and abstract and relies largely on one primary source (Die neue Gemeinschaft) and two secondary sources (Roth and Vondung). The last eight pages which are pertinent to the topic headlined by the title are equally sketchy. The author does support the analysis of the last eight pages with a better selection of sources, however.
The paper has no clear central theme. The author organizes the analysis around the vague notion that “This paper examines the uses to which Adolf Hitler and the German National Socialists put German holidays.” The central theme is so vague and broad that an entire book could be dedicated to its explanation as indeed Roth’s Die Feier: Sinn and Gestaltung indicates. On page 9 the author narrows the focus a bit by examining how the NSDAP was “pursuing clear rhetorical goals”. Still in the few remaining pages the author deals with
(I) deepening the willingness of Germans to sacrifice for Germany, (2) establish myths, (3) confirm immortality (4) teach the youth. Because the paper covers so many points in so few pages the analysis lacks detail, conviction, and sufficient supporting argument.
The strongest part of the paper is on the bottom of p. 12 to middle of p. 16. The author indicates how the celebration of the Beer Hall Putsch contributed to the creation of a myth of the founders (alte Kämpfer) and how that myth worked to create heroic persona. I think that pp. 12-16 contain the kernel of a good article on rhetorical criticism. The present essay, however, is simply a summary of several good secondary sources on the Nazi Holidays. Although the author promises to present a critical essay on the ““Rhetorical Functions of Nazi Holidays” I do not find much critical analysis in the piece. The author does not sort out the distinctions and similarities among rites, rituals, celebrations, and the rhetoric associated with them. Is rhetoric the broader category and holidays a subset of rhetorical devices? Are rhetorical events (speeches for instance) distinct from and different than celebrations and holidays? Do rites, rituals, and celebrations have their own purposes to which rhetoric can contribute?
In sum the paper is interesting and pages 12-16 are of publishable quality but the rest does not make the kind of analysis of rhetorical materials required by the Quarterly Journal of Speech, in my estimation.
Associate Editor’s Commentary to the Author
This paper seems to be another manifestation of our field’s inability to cope with, perhaps I should say account for, the phenomenon of Nazi Germany. We have produces articles on the rhetoric of Nazi marching, the rhetoric of Hitler’s speeches and the rhetoric of the Nazi speaker system. Now we have a paper on the rhetoric of Nazi holidays in general, and of 9 November in specific.
My quarrel with such an approach is not merely that it fragments the phenomenon of Nazi Germany, but that it is patently misleading. For example, this paper is interesting, insightful and well written. Unfortunately, the reader gains the impression that the Nazi use of holidays was persuasive, was effective. The reader easily forgets that other, more powerful forces were in movement. Those forces included Nazi marching, Hitler’s oratory and the speaker system; they also included “individual terror.”
As H.M. Pachter wrote about the Nazi’s some years ago: “Terror and propaganda not only alternate in the fascist methods of conquering power. Terror, for them, is propaganda at its highest pitch.” It is only by remembering such other forces that the reader can place the rhetoric of holidays into its proper perspective.
What is that proper perspective? In my judgment the holidays were not of “substantial power” (p.1); rather, they seem to have had an almost inconsequential effect on the people-other than the Nazi members themselves.
There is a clue on page seven of the paper which indicates that the author realizes the ineffectiveness of the holidays. The statement, “In some areas, Party ceremonies numbered less than one percent of those held by the churches,” is attributed to Vondung by means of a footnote. The following statement argues, without documentation, that the Nazi leadership thought the Feier to be a valuable persuasive tool.
This method is not persuasive with me. The article admits that attendance figures were miniscule in comparison to religious holidays, but moves forward by analysis of rhetorical structure and rhetorical intentions to imply that they were persuasive.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Nazi leaders hoped and intended the holidays to be effective, but we have little evidence that they succeeded.
Part of the problem may be due to reliance on Volkischer Beobachter (six or seven citations), whose main purpose was to make the Party appear to be strong, persuasive and well accepted. I would suggest that (if you rework this paper) you reconsider the reliance on VB, and give the reader instead evidence of your familiarity with other methods employed by the Nazis; one way of accomplishing this would be to cite the 900 page study, The Third Reich, commissioned by UNESCO. The quotation above on terror may be found in this volume (“National-Socialist and Fascist Propaganda for the Conquest of Power”). There are also relevant essays by D. d’Harcourt (“National-Socialism and the Catholic Church in Germany”) and B. Forell (“National-Socialsim and the Protestant Churches in Germany”).
Not getting the point, I submitted the essay again to QJS with revisions. It came back on September 9, 1976:
September 9, 1976
Professor Randall L. Bytwerk
Dear Professor Bytwerk:
Re: “Rhetorical Functions of Nazi Holidays”
I regret to report that again your essay has not elicited favorable reactions from members of the Editorial Board. One associate editor, who had reviewed your earlier draft, recommended that this draft too be declined. Another associate editor, new to the essay, believes it better suited to a regional journal than to QJS. Both associate editors provided commentaries, which I enclose.
I concur in the recommendations of my associates, and am therefore declining your essay. It is, I believe, informative as far as it goes, but the insights yielded by your analysis do serve rather to confirm what others have already written than to advance our understanding of Nazi propaganda. I therefore encourage you to submit the essay elsewhere.
The editorial reviews:
Associate Editor’s Commentary to the Author
I must recommend the rejection of this manuscript. In its first version, the paper (a) did not prove its thesis (i.e. , that Nazi Holidays were persuasive to anyone other than the party faithful); but (b) gave the impression that the holidays were solely responsible for the success of Hitler and the NSDAP.
The revised has new but similar problems. It opens with Pachter’s comment on totalitarian propaganda as violence. This quotation is used as a straw man to be bowled over, a foil for J. Ellul (although the block quotation does not deny Pachter’s statement).
The paper concludes, however, with the acknowledgement that Hitler saw “violence as a powerful tool of persuasion. ”Thus, the beginning and ending of the paper are at war with each other.
And what of that material in between? We still have the analysis of a single tool considered in isolation from the total propaganda effort. We do not have claims of the effectiveness of the Nazi holidays; as such, the reader says, “so what?” The stress on participation in the holidays creates the appetite for figures. How many did take part. But there is no data. Even the low estimate (was it 1%?) included in the first version is missing.
Ironically, the best advice for the author is implicit in the block quotation from Ellul on page one. The author admires Ellul and should take to heart these words: “…each technique must be utilized in its own specific way, directed toward producing the effect it can produce best, and fused with all the other media…” (italics added) An informed analysis of Nazi days would assess its specific effect while showing how it is fused to such media as: violence, radio, the party speaker system, executions, Speer’s spotlights, etc .
Associate Editor’s Commentary to the Author
In certain important respects I think this is a good essay, even though I cannot, as one reader, give it a particularly favorable recommendation for publication in QJS. I think the essay is good because it presents clearly and succinctly one highly dramatic example of Nazi propaganda in the creation of the 9 November holiday. Documentation is interesting and well presented so far as it goes. What puzzles me, however, is that there is no reference anywhere to the work of Kenneth Burke, particularly to his, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle.” I don’t think there is a single theoretical point in the present essay not long since suggested by Burke. In that respect there is unfortunately an ingenuous air about the essay. Nevertheless, the essay has value in that it presents so tangibly and specifically the creation of Nazi propaganda and myth. I sincerely hope the essay can be published somewhere in the literature of our field because I should like to make it a standard reading assignment in my undergraduate persuasion courses. Since I don’t find the essay particularly original, however, I cannot strongly recommend that it appear in our prestigious, national journal.
Well, I sent it to another top journal in the field, which returned it on January 6, 1977:
Communication Monographs: A publication for The Speech Communication Association
January 6, 1977
Dear Professor Bytwerk:
The associate editors have finished their review of your manuscript, “Und Ihr habt doch gesiegt: Rhetorical Functions of a Nazi Holiday.” As you will see from the comments which I enclosed both raise questions abut the manuscript. One feels that the manuscript while interesting and well done does not probably extend our understanding sufficiently to warrant publication in Communication Monographs and should therefore be sent to perhaps a regional journal. The other reader would prefer to see the theoretical implications of the piece fleshed out, a view with which the first reader does not agree.
However, since we are at the end of our editorial tenure we don’t haveto make the choice between rejecting and revising since we must now refuse all manuscriptswe cannot accept as is. I’m therefore returning the two sets of comments to you. If you decideto revise you might wish to resubmit the manuscript for the consideration of the new editorial board of Communication Monographs headed by the Editor-Elect, John Bowers. He will have an editorial board assembled and will be receiving manuscripts soon.
Thank you for letting us see this manuscript.
The Reviewers’ Comments:
The paper is quite interesting, generally well written and organized, and appears to be well researched and documented. The essay could be polished technically and stylistically, I think, and the enumerated comments below aim in that direction.
My principal criticism, however, is the ms. does not achieve synthesis as well as it might. The author does well in showing how the ritual or 9 November evolved and to what uses it was put. She or he alludes to other myths and to Nazi mythology in general, stating that the celebration or 9 November became an important part or the general mythology and relates to other rituals, but neither argument is developed. Readers are not shown the central thrust of the general mythology nor what other rituals have contributed to it.
In addition, the central argument of the essay seems to be that Nazi propaganda was variegated, mythology playing a role but only one role in a totalistic program to influence belief and action. The author(s) states at one point that myths enable people to follow the turns of future rhetoric (p.2) and that most elements of the totalitarian propaganda program have connections with other elements (p. 18). Again, however, how mythology functions in a total program and how it relates to other elements of the program is hinted at from time to time, but nowhere is this argument developed. Perhaps it should be, either in the introduction, or the conclusion, or both.
In short, the conceptual base on which this discussion of the celebrations of 9 November rests may be implicit but is not developed as thoroughly as might be advisable. If the editor and author(s) agree that the above comments constitute a problem the manuscript has some key sentences that move toward synthesis might be revised to push further in this direction, and the authors might argue (instead of claiming) that the ritual of 9 November functions within Nazi mythology and that such mythology functions with a wholistic view of Nazi propaganda.
1. My marginalia are offered as friendly tinkerings. I hope they are useful to author and editor alike.
2. I believe this manuscript is deserving of publication but in a lesser journal. This was a difficult call to make. My rationale was essentially this. The theoretical premises (i.e. the rhetorical functions of myth) are not news but the historical illustrations (the Nazi data) are. The piece then, does not extend theory significantly, rather it increases our understanding of the known. As history, the manuscript is more than a footnote but distinctly less than a comprehensive view of its subject (9 November celebrations).
Yet, I feel the paper would not be significantly improved by expanding either its theoretical or historical dimensions. One cannot very well instruct an author to go out and create new theory on the one hand, and, on the other, does CM want to publish an expanded historical piece? Thus, I do not believe revision would significantly improve the status of this piece for this particular journal. Nevertheless, because it is generally sell written and well documented, I believe it deserving of publication someplace. It strikes me as quite similar to the Bosmajian piece which appeared in Central States not long past: enough news to merit attention but not enough to command national audience. I think the real home for this sort of material is a textbook. Please convey all of my comments to the author.
Having been convinced that the top national journals weren’t going to take the essay, I turned to the regional communication journals, first trying the Central States Speech Journal. The rejection came on June 8, 1977.
June 8, 1977
Dear Professor Bytwerk:
Thank you for submitting your essay on the rhetorical functions of a Nazi holiday.
On the advice of the editorial consultants, I have decided not to publish the essay. You will find their specific and detailed responses enclosed. I hope these will be of some help to you as you continue in your research.
James R. Andrews, Editor
This paper is obviously both the first and last words on the 9 November rallies in Hitler’s Germany. The author provides ample evidence of his or her knowledge of such matters and leaves little doubt that he or she has analyzed the rallies carefully. Whether or not these facts constitute sufficient reason to publish the article in C.S.S.J. is problematic, however,
At the very least, I think that the paper should be rewritten in such a way that the case study be made to justify itself. Right now, the paper’s primary value is that it serves as an historical artifact. The paper adds a paragraph or two to our general understanding of Nazi rhetoric and/or of Hitler’s regime. The paper does not, however, tell us anything particularly new about rhetoric-in-general. Although the case study has been conducted with competence, a reader is left with very little “trans-situational” understanding of the rhetorical dimensions being probed. In other words, the ultimate theoretical worth of the study is questionable since no overriding conceptual rationale for the study’s existence has yet been set forth by the author. On page 6, for example, the author launches directly into the various strategies being employed by Hitler but fails to connect this laundry-list of strategies to some larger set of theoretical propositions. The “functional” method of structuring the paper does little to help matters since the reader is continually presented with case-specific observations via such a technique. The paper does not provide us with much information about the nature of myth, the rhetorical utility of ritual-in-general, or the rhetorical concomitants of totalitarianism. To put it briefly, the paper does not ever really get beyond itself.
I think that an eminently good piece could be constructed from the skeleton of this essay, however, and that such a reworking-although major-would easily place the essay in publishable status. Primarily, I feel that the author should be encouraged to discover exactly what it is that the 9 November rallies contribute to our understanding of rhetorical behavior. What do we now know about myth that we didn’t know before the rallies were researched? In what sense, if at all, do the 9 November rallies tell us something new about symbolic realities? How is it that the 9 November rallies differ from other sorts of ritualistic activities and what are the rhetorical correlates of that difference? (See, for example, your last sentence on p. 17 for an interesting direction in which to travel on this score.) To what extent were the rhetorical constraints within which Hitler operated unique to his “kind” of human circumstance? (Your remarks about historicity on p. 5 and expediency on p. 7 provide direction here, it seems to me.) What does it mean to say that Hitler created an “artificial community” (p. 12) and how does such a notion tie into traditional ideas about the social construction of reality?
Dear Professor Bytwerk:
I am returning your manuscript, “Und Ihr habt doch gesiegt,” with the recommendation that you revise it along the lines suggested by the consulting editor and submit it to another journal.
The reason I am recommending that you send it to another journal is that my remaining issues are full.
I appreciate your allowing us to review your essay and wish you luck with it.
Walter R. Fisher, editor
The reviewer’s comments:
I recommend the author begin the manuscript with some recognition of other work that has been done on Nazi mythmaking, etc., and then focus on the November 9 putsch and the heroes and myths that came out of that event.
Some improvement is needed in the writing style. The first paragraph is ten lines long consisting of 8 sentences. P. 8: “Just this idea is clear in the rhetoric of 9 November.” !!!!
p. 2: “myths having little relation to objective reality.” But the myths came out of “reality” and affected “reality.”
The author says “We are concerned with epideictic.” (p. 19) Yet on p. 11 we read: “To convince Germans that it was their duty to follow Nazi dictates.” The author needs to make more clear how “epideictic” and ““eremonial” are being used in this manuscript.
p. 16: “Four of the major rhetorical goals.” I am not persuaded that there are only four.
Some of the quotations can be deleted from pages 11, 13, and 14. The points the author is trying to make can be made just as well without so many quotes and footnotes. 52 footnotes for a 17 page manuscript is a bit much.
The Ellul quote on p. 17 is out of context since he is talking about the various media: radio, posters, newspapers, etc. Placing the quote within the context of what appears on p. 17 is misleading.
I would recommend the author read what Charles E. Merriam has had to say about the “Miranda of power” in his Political Power.
The manuscript would be greatly improved if the author demonstrated a wider reading on the subject of the rhetorical functions of myths, heroes, holidays, rituals, etc.
I do not find this study to be a significant contribution to rhetorical thought. In the first place, I am dubious about the subject matter and would find it necessary to have a clearer justification for the examination of a Nazi holiday. There may be some redeeming social significance to this, but the author does not make it clear.
Well, they at least thought there was some hope, so I sent it next to Communication Quarterly, another of the four regional communication journals. It took them a while, but I got a somewhat encouraging response:
January 19, 1978
Dear Professor Bytwerk:
Two of our associate editors have read your essay, “Und Ihr habt doch gesiegt,” and both advise me to encourage a revision but not to accept it in its present form. The problem may really be one of audience. Your essay is, I think, clear and well written, but it does not clearly announce a new historical finding or develop a new critical position. It is certainly useful as narrative and rhetorical history, but as it stands may be more appropriate for another journal.
We would be happy to have another look if you should decide to revise for us. Thanks for sending your essay to Communication Quarterly.
Thomas W. Benson
CQ Review #266: Nazi Holiday
This is basically a sound and interesting study. It is incomplete in a number of respects and the author needs to consider them and rework (not just patch on a paragraph) the paper to anticipate questions in the reader. For example, how does this holiday differ from our July 4 (which originated as an effort to tout Jefferson, and only became a national holiday because the opposition party disappeared)? Or what about Castro’s celebration of his abortive first landing against Batista? Author needs to read up on the social psychology of fanatical groups such as those studies by Koch and by Coser.
Page 15, para 1, last line: here is a golden opportunity to cut below the surface and find some profounder accounts of this holiday. “One obeyed or one was forgotten.” What is the place of remembrance in German culture (look to Heidegger on this) and in classical culture in general?
In sum, #266 needs to both broaden and narrow his focus: the paper needs a larger awareness of the anthropological significance of holidays such as this, and at the same time, a deeper understanding of the symbolic meaning of such a memorial within the German tradition (such that it might have come to pass even if Hitler had never existed).
In general, my response to this manuscript is favorable in that I find it interesting, instructive, and thoughtful. However, I suggest we return it to the author with suggestions of, for the most part, compositional revisions.
First and perhaps foremost, I think the author needs to be more clear on just what it is that he or she is up to. On the one hand, it seems to me the prose does not — or does not yet — yield sufficient “pay off” to justify the title “Rhetorical Functions of a Nazi Holiday.” (It seems, after all, to deliver only in terms of an isolation of “goals” with exploration of the major dimensions of same.) On the other hand, the expressed purpose (page 2) of arguing that “the rhetoric of 9 November is an excellent example of what Nazi rhetoricians were about” seems a bit superficial.
Second, while I’m unable to trace it specifically, it seems to me that a number of the analytic notions afoot here tend to “slip and slide” a good deal, if not in fact change as key ideas develop. (I apologize for slipping and sliding myself, but I remain basically unclear on what’s happening analytically in this prose.)
Finally, I think this manuscript would be markedly improved if the author rendered his or her organization of the total composition much more evident. The same probably applies to the development of what are taken to be major lines of thought. In its present form, the piece seems to have key ideas and lines of thought “clumped” rather loosely.
Beyond the above I find very little of substance to complain about. Indeed, I’m quite confident that there’s a good deal more here than this author has permitted to meet the eye.
But I was tired of revising, so next I turned to the Journal of Popular Culture,which had published an earlier (and to my mind not as good) essay of mine on a similar theme. They were mildly interested:
Center for the Study of Popular Culture
Bowling Green State University
May 11, 1978
Dear Mr. Bytwerk:
I am returning your manuscript to you for revision. I am included the suggestions of our reader which I would like you to use in reworking the article.
I look forward to reading the revised version.
Ray B. Browne, Editor
I find Bytwerk’s article interesting but I think that the lack of comparative data in it somehow suggests that the creation of national myths through festivals is uniquely German (or in this case Nazi). George Mosse himself has always taken a broader view of the importance of the festival and its relationship to mass political movements (whether of the Right or Left) and if Bytwerk would do the same his essay would become even more interesting and certainly more valuable. In short, rhetorical manipulation in the context of national holidays is an important part of popular culture the world over. Achieving unity in a fictitious or even a “real” world is and has been, a problem for a variety of political leaders all through history. Since it does not appear to be the author’s point to make a link between the rhetorical functions of this Nazi holiday and the final outcome of Hitler’s Germany, I think some comparative effort would be more than useful.
I decided to try yet another journal rather than revising again. There was one more regional communication journal, the Southern States Communication Journal. It took a while, but the usual letter came back, dated April 13, 1979.
University of Richmond, Virginia
Speech Communication and Theatre Arts
April 13, 1979
Dear Professor Bytwerk:
I regret to report SSCJ will not be able to publish your article on the rhetorical functions of a Nazi holiday.
Two critics have examined your manuscript. One recommended rejection and one recommended publication. Unfortunately, neither made significant comments explaining their conclusions.
I am impressed with the innovative features of the paper, but I am concerned with several instances of careless writing which cause me to worry about the quality of the work as a whole. I find who misspelled words and a case of incorrect capitalization in the abstract alone. On page 2 I find the phrases “inherently invisible nature must somehow become visible” and “rhetoric is in the foundations of myths.” I don’t understand the logic of either phrase, and am concerned that your language throughout the essay may confuse or mislead. On pages 4 and 5 you give a translation of a poem with no reference to your source; this causes me concern about the degree to which you have relied on secondary sources. (In fact, even when you footnote a quotation, you fail to indicate who did the translation.) On page 2 you appear to be using the term “myth” in the second paragraph as a substitute for either mythology or sets of myths. Again, I simply am not able to follow the meaning.
It is quite possible that all of the minor concerns above could be explained away. Given the availability of manuscripts which are much closer to being ready to print, I have determined not to ask for a revision.
Thank you for your interest in SSCJ. Future contributions from you would be most welcome.
Having been rejected by about every journal in my field at the time, I now checked out et cetera, edited by Neil Postman. It just so happened that he was preparing a special issue on propaganda and my manuscript arrived at the right time.
The Journal of the International Society for General Semantics
School of Education
New York University
New York, New York 10003
May 17, 1979
Dear Professor Bytwerk,
Your article is superb. It also came just in time to meet our deadline. In short, we are pleased to publish it in our “propaganda issue”, which will appear this summer.
Thank you for sending it.
I would like to believe it took a scholar of the stature of Neil Postman to recognize the article’s strengths, but probably more important than that was he was one article shy of what he needed for the special issue he mentions.
And so the article appeared in the v. 36 (1979), pp. 136-146 of the journal.