President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy Speech” is one of the most famous speeches by a US president. It is second only to President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Many people know the beginning,
“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
This is much like knowing “Four scores and seven years ago, our forefathers . . . “. It is powerful. What comes next is also important.
As we have mentioned elsewhere on this site, it is important to look at the speech from the perspective of the time. Information was not as immediately or widely available. It was also not entirely accurate.
On Sunday evening, it was reported in Washington DC that the Japanese sent in a third wave of attack. They reported that the Philippines had not been bombed. There was so little hard information that the public was coming to their own conclusions.
The American people were confused. FDR’s Day of infamy speech had to relieve confusion and motivate Americans.
It is important to listen to the intonation in President Roosevelt’s voice during the Day of Infamy Speech. You can play the video below. As FDR continues you can begin to hear his indignation as he begins talking about 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.”
He outlines the deception by the Japanese Government:
“Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State of form 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 had deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.”
FDR mentioned the damage only briefly, presumably because information was still being gathered.
“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.”
An important part of the speech was the list of the targets during the same period of time that Pearl Harbour Was attacked.
“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.”
The next statement in the speech was very accurate. Americans had opinions about the strength of the Japanese Navy and of the US Armed forces. Opinions mostly assumed a major naval superiority over Japan.
“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.”
FDR knew that it is important to instill some fear in order to declare war. There must be a threat and we must act in defense.
“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.”
The Day of Infamy Speech Was Inspiring
FDR knew that simply explaining the facts would make Americans angry, but he wanted to inspire them.
“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 unbounded determination of our people — we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God”
FDR’s Day of Infamy Speech concluded with a request for a declaration of War. Japan had officially declared war on the United States on December 7th.
“I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”
Roosevelt’s speech led to a nearly unanimous vote for war in congress (only 1 voted no), and inspired the nation.