By: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Date: December 8, 1941
Source: Roosevelt, Franklin D. "Franklin D. Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor Speech." December 8, 1941. Available at the Boulder Community Network Government/Political Center online at http://bcn.boulder.co.us/government/national/speeches/spch2... ; website home page http://bcn.boulder.co.us (accessed March 14, 2003).
About the Author: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945), born in Hyde Park, New York, served as the thirty-second president of the United States, from 1933 to 1945. The only person in the nation's history to be elected to the presidency four times, he is best remembered for leading the nation through two of its greatest challenges: the Great Depression and World War II (1939–1945). He died in office in April 1945.
Even as World War II flared overseas, the United States government adopted a policy of nonintervention and chose to stay out of the conflict as long as possible. For the most part, this policy corresponded to the mainstream public desire to avoid the casualties and hardships of another conflict like World War I (1914–1918). By 1941, however, President Roosevelt moved the nation closer to involvement in two main ways. First, the United States began supplying military and other aid to Great Britain and its allies, going so far as to accept noncash payment for such materials under theLend-Lease Act. Second, Roosevelt instructed the U.S. Navy to shoot at German submarines on sight. Despite these actions, the United States was not officially at war.
Then, on December 7, 1941, Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack destroyed nearly all of the U.S. Pacific fleet and hundreds of airplanes and killed approximately 2,500 U.S. military personnel and civilians. The next day Roosevelt addressed Congress and requested that the United States declare war on Japan. The president's speech was not only a formal step toward an official declaration but also an attempt to rally public support for the war. Japan was one of the Axis powers, along with Germany and Italy, so a declaration of war would engage the United States in a preexisting world conflict alongside the Allies (Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). American popular opinion strongly supported the president, and Congress immediately complied with Roosevelt's request to declare war.
Three days after the United States declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The United States found itself joining Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and, to a lesser extent, China against the Axis powers in a conflict that continued until 1945. Like the other nations in the war, the United States suffered many casualties. The war had a unique impact on the United States, however, in five major ways. First, the nation's economy, which had failed to return to its pre-Great Depression health, experienced a great rebound due to wartime spending and production. The country emerged from the war, in fact, with athriving economy. Second, the United States experienced great scientific developments because of advances in military technology. The most notable of these was the development of the atomic bomb, which ultimately played a significant role in ending World War II. Third, the nation emerged from the war as a political and economic world leader. This led to U.S. commitments to help rebuild war-torn Europe. In addition, it placed the United States in opposition to the other global super-power, the Soviet Union, in what would become a decades-long Cold War.
U.S. entry into World War II also changed everyday life in the United States. A fourth impact of the war was the great influx of women into the domestic work-force as they filled positions previously occupied by men. Fifth, the returning war veterans received unprecedented benefits from the government, including the opportunity to attend college through the G.I. Bill. This helped to create a new, young, college-educated middle class in the United States. The declaration of war achieved by President Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor speech was the first step in a war effort that forever changed the face of the nation.
Primary Source: "Franklin D. Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor Speech"
SYNOPSIS: In this speech, President Roosevelt responds to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by explaining the international situation to Congress and then requesting a declaration of war against Japan. Congress quickly granted the president's request and declared war. This effectively brought the United States into World War II.
To the Congress of the United States:
Yesterday, Dec. 7, 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 Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or 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. 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.
This morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday 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.
Always will we 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.
I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.
Davis, Kenneth Sydney. FDR—The War President, 1940–1943: A History. New York: Random House, 2000.
Lord, Walter. Day of Infamy: The Classic Account of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor. 60th Anniversary Edition. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2001.
Prange, Gordon W., et al. December 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor. Reissue edition. New York: Warner Books, 1991.
"Pearl Harbor." National Archives. Available online at http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/treasures_of_congress/... ; website home page http://www.archives.gov/ (accessed March 14, 2003).
"The Pearl Harbor Attack." U.S. Navy Historical Center. Available online at http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq66-1.htm; website home page http://www.history.navy.mil/index.html (accessed March 14, 2003).