FDR Pearl Harbor Speech

roosevelt-declaration-of-warPresident Roosevelt signing the declaration
of war after the infamy Speech.
@ FDR Pearl Harbor Speech

FDR PEARL HARBOR SPEECH: Few presidential speeches will ever be so well remembered.  At 12.30pm on December 8, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a Joint Session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. 

The way he did it was rhetorically brilliant, silencing practically all opposition and putting the United States on a war footing. 
Here's a brief look at the events leading up to FDR’s Pearl Harbor speech, as well as an examination of the speech itself, its legacy and related media resources.

Video of the Imfamy Speech

The Attack

burning-ships-at-pearl-harborBurning ships at Pearl Harbor
@ FDR Pearl Harbor Speech

On the morning of December 7 the Imperial Japanese Navy launched over 400 aircraft from its carrier fleet to attack Pearl Harbor. 
The preemptive strike aimed to crush the US Pacific Fleet – Japan needed the US crippled so it could attack territories of the US, the UK and the Netherlands in South-East Asia. 2402 Americans were killed in the attack and a large part of the fleet was destroyed. 
Three American aircraft carriers originally scheduled to be Pearl Harbor at the time but were luckily well away from the port. Within the next day the Japanese also attacked Hong Kong, Guam, Midway and Wake islands and the Philippines.

Roosevelt reacts

President Roosevelt was told of the attacks in the early afternoon of 7 December, and, after meeting with his military advisors, dictated an already thought-out request to Congress for a declaration of war.
His secretary, Grace Tully, typed the speech and prepared the final reading copy.  The speech had the desired effect and at 4pm President Roosevelt signed the declaration of war.

Key aspects of the speech

avenge-pearl-harborA propaganda poster featuring the attack.
@ FDR Pearl Harbor Speech

It was short – Roosevelt kept the speech to just over seven minutes for dramatic effect.

It was framed in the passive – instead of using the active voice (i.e. the Empire of Japan attacked the United States) Roosevelt used the passive: “United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan”.  He thought this would emphasize America’s role as the victim.

Revision – The most famous phrase of the speech “a date which will live in infamy” was originally going to be “a date which will live in world history”. Roosevelt changed the wording at the last moment to better express the mood of the American people.

Unemotional – Roosevelt let the attack speak for itself and rather than voice a personal opinion merely outlined the events and urged for a declaration of war.

Echoed the past – the speech was influenced by the pattern of earlier US defeats. The 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn and the 1898 sinking of the USS Maine were seen as springboards towards an eventual victory and Roosevelt wanted Pearl Harbor to be seen in the same way – “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

Emphasized the urgency – The lines “American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu”, “premeditated invasion” and “There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger” gave the effect that war was no longer a choice, but had been thrust upon the United States.

The nation listened – The address was broadcast live over radio and over 81 percent of homes across the US tuned in.

jeannette-rankinJeannette Rankin offered
the only opposition to the
declaration of war.
@ FDR Pearl Harbor Speech

Only one voice of descent – Congress voted almost unanimously for war after the speech.  The Senate vote was 82 to 0 and the House of Representatives vote was 388 to 1. Only Montana Republican and lifelong pacifist Jeannette Rankin voted against. After booing and hissing from Congress she justified her vote by saying “As a woman, I can't go to war and I refuse to send anyone else”.

Isolationists silenced – The previously strong isolationist movement which sought to keep the US out of the war in Europe all but fell apart after the speech. Recruiting stations started operating 24 hours a day as young men signed up for military duty en masse.

Inspiration for later – Speechwriters used the Infamy Speech as a model for George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Infamy Speech in full

Here’s the text of President Roosevelt’s speech, delivered at the United States Capitol on December 8, 1941.

"Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the E mpire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory."

Copy of the FDR Peal Harbor speech

Here is a annotated copy of the speech used by President Roosevelt. It's now housed at the National Archives in Washington D.C. Click to enlarge.

infamy-speech-part-onePart 1

infamy-speech-part-twoPart 2

infamy-speech-part-threePart 3

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Story by C. Anderson, Feb 2012. Last updated Feb 2012.

References for FDR Pearl Harbor Speech






Photo sources for FDR Pearl Harbor Speech

• Roosevelt declaration of war http://en.wikipedia.org

• Burning ships at Pearl Harbor http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Burning_ships_at_Pearl_Harbor.jpg

• Avenge Pearl Harbor poster http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Avenge_Pearl_Harbor-Our_Bullets_Will_Do_It.jpg

• Jeannette Rankin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RankinJ.jpg

•Copy of the speech http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/day-of-infamy/

Unless otherwise stated, all photos used on the page FDR Pearl Harbor Speech are, to our knowledge, in the public domain. If you think otherwise, please let us know.