Monday, October 4, 2010

President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Infamy Speech

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese planes in two waves. The first hit came at 7:53 A.M., the second at 8:55 A.M. By 1:00 P.M., the carriers that had changed the people of the United States’ lives were already heading back 3,842 miles to Japan. Behind them, they left 2,403 dead, 188 destroyed planes and 8 damaged or destroyed battleships. The following day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the congress urging them to declare war on Japan and their allies. Roosevelt’s speech uses a strong tone to not only urge the American congress to declare war on Japan and also conjure up a feel of nationalism in the American people, but also indirectly warn the Japanese that they will be brought to justice. Former President Roosevelt addresses the members of congress in figure 1.

Fig. 1. President Franklin D. Roosevelt Infamy Speech photograph. American Rhetoric; President Franklin D. Roosevelt addresses Congress; 1941; JPEG.

After establishing the United States Congress as his primary audience with “Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives,” Roosevelt dives right into his speech by describing December 7th, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy.” This phrase, though small, established the tone for his speech. It let the congress know that what he was about to say about yesterday’s event was going to be both shocking and important, and that the congress as a whole needed to take action immediately. After describing to the congress the events of the preceding day, Roosevelt dramatically summed up the offenses that Japan had committed. He stated, “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.” By stating it in a grocery list fashion, Roosevelt was able to shock the members of congress by just stating the events the Japanese had committed. Roosevelt gives one final shock to congress when he states, “Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.” By wording it this way, Roosevelt is forcing the congress to vote to go to war, otherwise they would not be protecting our country when it is in “grave danger,” an unpatriotic act.

Although Roosevelt was addressing congress, he also knew that the American people would be listening. In fact, the speech was broadcasted live by radio and attracted the largest audience in US radio history, with over 81 percent of American homes tuning in to hear the President. Roosevelt tried to appeal to the American public’s anger felt by the destruction the Japanese had created. When Roosevelt says, “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,” he is reassuring the public that he understands their wishes, and he, like them, want to bring the guilty parties to justice. Figure 2 shows former President Roosevelt speaking in front of the many microphones from a wide variety of news and radio stations.

Fig. 2. President Roosevelt speaking photograph. American Rhetoric; President Franklin D. Roosevelt; 1941; JPEG.

Finally, in addition to Roosevelt’s allies, he knew that his rival would be listening. In his speech, Roosevelt gives a few threatening statements directed specifically towards the Japanese. When Roosevelt is directing the Japanese, there is a sense of anger heard in his voice along with his word choice. Roosevelt states, As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.” When Roosevelt says this one sentence, he is informing the Japanese that our armed forces are ready, and they will take all necessary measures to ensure the American people’s safety. Roosevelt continues by stating, “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.” By saying this with such emotion and power that Roosevelt did, he was able to prove to the Japanese that the American people will not, nor will they ever accept defeat.

Overall, Roosevelt is able to convince the United States congress that it is important for us to go to war, and defend our liberties. While doing so, Roosevelt also appeals to the anger the American people feel after the attack, while also warning the Japanese that they will be brought to justice. All of this was possible by strong wording and emotional impact.

Work Cited

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. "Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation." Speech. American Rhetoric. N.p., 8 Dec. 1941. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

Work Consulted

"Attack at Pearl Harbor, 1941." Editorial. EyeWitness to History. Ibis Communications, Inc., 1997. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.