FDR's Pearl Harbor Speech: Purpose, Quotes & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Responding to a Crisis
  • 1:06 Purpose of the Speech
  • 1:40 Speech Highlights
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has taught high school history in several states with a master's degree in teaching.

On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the catalyst that pulled the United States into World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation with a famous speech in answer to the attack.

Responding to Crisis

On December 6th, 1941, many people in the United States felt confident in their future and the country. Even though most of the world was engaged in and suffering the crippling effects of World War II, the United States was declared neutral and not directly involved. That all changed one day later, however, when the Japanese bombed ships, airfields, and civilians living on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Killing over 2,000 people, the attack on Pearl Harbor (the name of the naval base that received the most damage from the Japanese) brought World War II to America and made many Americans fearful.

It is in moments of crisis and disaster like this that a president must make citizens feel safe. On December 8th, the day following the attack, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president, made one of the most famous presidential speeches as he addressed the ''date which will live in infamy.'' Let's examine the speech to see what President Roosevelt's intentions were and how he accomplished them.

Purpose of the Speech

In addition to comforting the people of the United States, President Roosevelt had two main goals for his Pearl Harbor speech. His first goal was to urge Congress to declare war on Japan. Congress did this almost immediately after Roosevelt's speech. His second goal was to convince Americans to support the war effort. At the time of the speech, Roosevelt was in his third term as president. He was loved by the American people, and they took his words to heart. Overall, Americans were very supportive of the country getting involved in World War II.

Speech Highlights

To best understand this powerful speech, let's look at three different sections. We'll examine what Roosevelt's words meant and how they impacted the way Americans felt.

Immediately after addressing the honorable guests in the audience of his speech, President Roosevelt begins his speech with these words:

''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 Empire of Japan.''

By calling December 7th ''a date which will live in infamy,'' he makes it clear that he understands the significance of the attack and the need to stop future attacks like it. He also clearly calls out Japan, the country responsible for the devastation. He goes on to share that Japan also torpedoed several other American vessels in the Pacific Ocean after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then he continues:

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