One of the most famous speeches given in modern times was a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt which has come to be known as "December 7, 1941 - A Date Which Will Live in Infamy." He delivered it to Congress the day after Japan had launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. In terms of rhetoric and literary devices, what makes this speech an effective speech?
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Having attempted to remain neutral in World War II , the US officially joined the war after the speech by Franklin D Roosevelt on 8 December 1941, declaring war on Japan. The speech - "The Infamy Speech" - was kept short as Roosevelt wanted to make the most dramatic impression and had to convince his country that he had not "tricked" them into war.
Roosevelt needed to "speak" for all of the US and cleverly used the passive voice in his first paragraph in order to portray the US as the innocent "victim" of the "dastadly" Japanese with whom he had been negotiating. The tone therefore is set as the US mourned but Roosevelt went to great pains to ensure that he set forth a realistic path rather than an idealistic path to prevent coming across as vague, abstract and possibly insincere.
The "unbounded determination of our people" was stressed so as to unite Americans and minimize opposition within the US. Roosevelt purposely used the same framework in his speech as had been successfully used before to show that even defeats can be a tool in striving against the enemy. By making use of "rhetorical conventions" Roosevelt was able to "assume extraordinary powers as the commander in chief" and guide his country towards a brighter future. His appeals though were far more emotionally motivated. There was no reference to the "just " war (WWI) but to the personal affront leaving "our people, our territory and our interests (are) in grave danger."
Using emotionally-charged words not the least of which includes "treachery", "deliberately," "premeditated,""onslaught" and "deceive" would be sure to raise the consciousness levels of even the most apolitical people in the US and by revealing a superiority over the Japanese a modern-day reader can just imagine the nodding heads as Roosevelt delivered his speech. Using words such as "infamy" right at the beginning would have caught everybody's attention and, even today "a date which will live in infamy" is recognized globally as December 7 1941; just as "9 11" is synonymous with the attacks on the World Trade Center.
The Japanese attack was such a surprise and repeating the word "deliberately" several times adds to the effectiveness of this speech. Roosevelt wanted his people to understand the extent of the betrayal by "the Empire of Japan" and that it was much more than just a military operation and so he made several references to Japan in all its forms, whether it be "the Japanese government"..."Japanese forces"...or "Japan," clearly referencing each attack Japan had made in order to reflect Japan as a very real threat.
Whilst projecting a united front against this enemy and " with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph," Roosevelt remains humble -"so help us God."
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