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December 7, 2011
'A date which will live in infamy.'
Exactly 70 years ago, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. We can look at that event now, through the prism of time and distance coldly, rationally, and understand that war was forced upon us. We can vaguely sense the outrage and shock that Americans at that time felt as an echo that has crossed over the decades to arrive diminished and largely cleansed of the raw power those emotions engendered in the America of 1941.
But if you want to get a real sense of the almost speechless rage and feelings of utter betrayal that Americans felt at the time, you can do no better than listen to Franklin Roosevelt's masterful Declaration of War, given before a joint session of Congress on December 8.
Roosevelt's indictment of the Japanese imperial empire is rightly considered one of the finest speeches of the 20th century. Like the Continental Congress laying out the reasons for going to war with Great Britain to achieve our freedom in the Declaration of Independence, Roosevelt carefully built his case for war with a series of accusations falling like hammer blows against the Japanese that leave one breathless today. The speech is short - barely 8 minutes - but it encapsulates all the horror, the anger, even the feelings of helplessness that the American people felt that day.
Listen now and be transported back in time as Roosevelt hurls down the gauntlet and challenges the mighty Japanese empire.
Text of speech follows:
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:
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.
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 or 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.
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, that 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 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
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