War Against Japan (8 December 1941)

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WAR AGAINST JAPAN (8 December 1941)


The attack on Pearl Harbor sent a shock wave through the country, representing what Franklin D. Roosevelt so cogently labeled "a date which will live in infamy." America had been rudely awakened out of its isolationist slumber by a masterful Japanese strike. The attack not only severely disabled the Pacific Fleet stationed at Hawaii, but also shattered Americans' naive belief that they were invulnerable to attack. More than 2,400 American servicemen lost their lives, as the Japanese destroyed 160 aircraft and sunk four battleships and three destroyers.

With the country simultaneously seething with fury and stricken with grief, Roosevelt provided the even-handed leadership necessary to overcome the crisis. His radio message to the American people in the wake of Pearl Harbor objectively assessed the damage and hinted at the course of action that the nation would follow in response. Roosevelt portrayed the Japanese as dishonorable, describing their attack as "dastardly" and pointing to diplomats' "false statements" and deception in diplomatic negations. Being a masterful politician, Roosevelt knew that rhetoric could be a powerful tool in mobilizing the nation.

The president adroitly used radio as a means of mass communication throughout the war with his intimate "fireside chats," giving Americans hope and rallying them to ultimate victory. On 8 December 1941 America found itself suddenly and irreversibly at war, but Roosevelt's voice filled the airwaves with the steady resolve needed to calm the people and mobilize them for what lay ahead.

Paul S.Bartels,
Villanova University

See also Japan, Relations with ; Pearl Harbor ; World War II .

Yesterday, December 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 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 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.

I believe that 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 it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

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, December seventh, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

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