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Infamy Speech

infamy speech, infamy speech by franklin d. roosevelt
The Infamy Speech was a speech delivered by United States President Franklin D Roosevelt to a Joint Session of Congress on December 8, 1941, one day after the Empire of Japan's attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and the Japanese declaration of war on the United States and the British Empire The name derives from the first line of the speech: Roosevelt describing the previous day as "a date which will live in infamy" The speech is also commonly referred to as the "Pearl Harbor Speech"

Within an hour of the speech, Congress passed a formal declaration of war against Japan and officially brought the US into World War II The address is one of the most famous of all American political speeches


  • 1 Commentary
  • 2 Impact and legacy
  • 3 Media
  • 4 See also
  • 5 Notes
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


A first draft of the Infamy Speech, with changes by Roosevelt The wreckage of the USS Arizona ablaze after the attack

The Infamy Speech was brief, running to just a little over seven minutes Secretary of State Cordell Hull had recommended that the President devote more time to a fuller exposition of Japanese-American relations and the lengthy but unsuccessful effort to find a peaceful solution However, Roosevelt kept the speech short in the belief that it would have a more dramatic effect

His revised statement was all the stronger for its emphatic insistence that posterity would forever endorse the American view of the attack It was intended not merely as a personal response by the President, but as a statement on behalf of the entire American people in the face of a great collective trauma In proclaiming the indelibility of the attack and expressing outrage at its "dastardly" nature, the speech worked to crystallize and channel the response of the nation into a collective response and resolve

The first paragraph of the speech was carefully worded to reinforce Roosevelt's portrayal of the United States as the innocent victim of unprovoked Japanese aggression The wording was deliberately passive Rather than taking the active voice—ie "Japan attacked the United States"—Roosevelt chose to put in the foreground the object being acted upon, namely the United States, to emphasize America's status as a victim The theme of "innocence violated" was further reinforced by Roosevelt's recounting of the ongoing diplomatic negotiations with Japan, which the president characterized as having been pursued cynically and dishonestly by the Japanese government while it was secretly preparing for war against the United States

Roosevelt consciously sought to avoid making the sort of more abstract appeal that had been issued by President Woodrow Wilson in his own speech to Congress in April 1917, when the United States entered World War I Wilson laid out the strategic threat posed by Germany and stressed the idealistic goals behind America's participation in the war During the 1930s, however, American public opinion turned strongly against such themes and was wary of, if not actively hostile to, idealistic visions of remaking the world through a "just war" Roosevelt therefore chose to make an appeal aimed more at the gut level—in effect, an appeal to patriotism rather than to idealism Nonetheless, he took pains to draw a symbolic link with the April 1917 declaration of war; when he went to Congress on December 8, 1941, he was accompanied by Edith Bolling Wilson, President Wilson's widow

The "infamy framework" adopted by Roosevelt was given additional resonance by the fact that it followed the pattern of earlier narratives of great American defeats The Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 and the sinking of the USS Maine in 1898 had both been the source of intense national outrage and a determination to take the fight to the enemy Defeats and setbacks were on each occasion portrayed as being merely a springboard towards an eventual and inevitable victory As Professor Sandra Silberstein observes, Roosevelt's speech followed a well-established tradition of how "through rhetorical conventions, presidents assume extraordinary powers as the commander in chief, dissent is minimized, enemies are vilified, and lives are lost in the defense of a nation once again united under God"

Roosevelt expertly employed one of the three terms defined by the ancient Sophists as essential to their definition of rhetoric Coming from over two thousand years ago, the idea of kairos, which relates to speaking in a timely manner, makes this speech powerful and rhetorically important Delivering his speech on the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt presented himself as immediately ready to face this issue, indicating its importance to both him and the nation As Campbell notes in Deeds Done in Words: Presidential Rhetoric and the Genres of Governance, war rhetoric is similar to inaugural rhetoric in that the speaker utilizes their speech to inform their audience that now is the necessary time for them to take charge In this sense, the timing of the speech in coordination with Roosevelt’s powerful war rhetoric allowed the immediate and almost unanimous approval of Congress to go to war Essentially, Roosevelt’s speech and timing extended his executive powers to not only declaring war but also making war, a power that constitutionally belongs to Congress

The overall tone of the speech was one of determined realism Roosevelt made no attempt to paper over the great damage that had been caused to the American armed forces, noting without giving figures, as casualty reports were still being compiled that "very many American lives have been lost" in the attack However, he emphasized his confidence in the strength of the American people to face up to the challenge posed by Japan, citing the "unbounded determination of our people" He sought to reassure the public that steps were being taken to ensure their safety, noting his own role as "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy" the United States Air Force was at this time part of the US Army and declaring that he had already "directed that all measures be taken for our defense"

Roosevelt also made a point of emphasizing that "our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger" and highlighted reports of Japanese attacks in the Pacific between Hawaii and San Francisco In so doing, he sought to silence the isolationist movement which had campaigned so strongly against American involvement in the war in Europe If the territory and waters of the continental United States—not just outlying possessions such as the Philippines—was seen as being under direct threat, isolationism would become an unsustainable course of action Roosevelt's speech had the desired effect, with only one Representative Jeannette Rankin voting against the declaration of war he sought; the wider isolationist movement collapsed almost immediately

The speech's "infamy" line is often misquoted as "a day that will live in infamy" However, Roosevelt quite deliberately chose to emphasize the date—December 7, 1941—rather than the day of the attack, a Sunday, which he mentioned only in the last line when he said, "Sunday, December 7th, 1941," He sought to emphasize the historic nature of the events at Pearl Harbor, implicitly urging the American people never to forget the attack and memorialize its date Notwithstanding, the term "day of infamy" has become widely used by the media to refer to any moment of supreme disgrace or evil

Impact and legacy

Roosevelt's speech had an immediate and long-lasting impact on American politics Thirty-three minutes after he finished speaking, Congress declared war on Japan, with only one Representative, Jeannette Rankin, voting against the declaration The speech was broadcast 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 The response was overwhelmingly positive, both within and outside of Congress Judge Samuel Irving Rosenman, who served as an adviser to Roosevelt, described the scene:

The White House was inundated with telegrams praising the president's stance "On that Sunday we were dismayed and frightened, but your unbounded courage pulled us together" Recruiting stations were jammed with a surge of volunteers and had to go on 24-hour duty to deal with the crowds seeking to sign up, in numbers reported to be twice as high as after Woodrow Wilson's declaration of war in 1917 The anti-war and isolationist movement collapsed in the wake of the speech, with even the president's fiercest critics falling into line Charles Lindbergh, who had been a leading isolationist, declared:

Roosevelt's framing of the Pearl Harbor attack became, in effect, the standard American narrative of the events of December 7, 1941 Hollywood enthusiastically adopted the narrative in a number of war films Wake Island, the Academy Award-winning Air Force and the films Man from Frisco 1944, and Betrayal from the East 1945, all included actual radio reports of the pre-December 7 negotiations with the Japanese, reinforcing the message of enemy duplicity Across the Pacific 1942, Salute to the Marines 1943, and Spy Ship 1942, used a similar device, relating the progress of US–Japanese relations through newspaper headlines The theme of American innocence betrayed was also frequently depicted on screen, the melodramatic aspects of the narrative lending themselves naturally to the movies

The President's description of December 7 as "a date which will live in infamy" was borne out; the date very quickly became shorthand for the Pearl Harbor attack in much the same way that September 11 became inextricably associated with the 2001 terrorist attacks The slogans "Remember December 7th" and "Avenge December 7" were adopted as a rallying cry and were widely displayed on posters and lapel pins Prelude to War 1942, the first of Frank Capra's Why We Fight film series 1942–45, urged Americans to remember the date of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, September 18, 1931, "as well as we remember December 7th 1941, for on that date in 1931 the war we are now fighting began" The symbolism of the date was highlighted in a scene in the 1943 film Bombardier, in which the leader of a group of airmen walks up to a calendar on the wall, points to the date "December 7, 1941" and tells his men: "Gentlemen, there's a date we will always remember—and they'll never forget!"

Sixty years later, the continuing resonance of the Infamy Speech was demonstrated following the September 11, 2001 attacks, which many commentators compared with Pearl Harbor in terms of its impact and deadliness In the days following the attacks, author Richard Jackson notes in his book Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-terrorism that "there a deliberate and sustained effort" on the part of the George W Bush administration to "discursively link September 11, 2001 to the attack on Pearl Harbor itself", both by directly invoking Roosevelt's Infamy Speech and by re-using the themes employed by Roosevelt in his speech In Bush's speech to the nation on September 11, 2001, he contrasted the "evil, despicable acts of terror" with the "brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity" that America represented in his view University of Washington Professor and author Sandra Silberstein draws direct parallels between the language used by Roosevelt and Bush, highlighting a number of similarities between the Infamy Speech and Bush's presidential address of September 11 Similarly, Emily S Rosenberg notes rhetorical efforts to link the conflicts of 1941 and 2001 by re-utilizing Second World War terminology of the sort used by Roosevelt, such as using the term "axis" to refer to America's enemies as in "Axis of Evil"


See also

  • Events leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor
  • Japanese declaration of war on the United States and the British Empire
  • Walter Lord#Publications, Lord wrote Day of Infamy 1957


  1. ^ Presidential Materials, September 11: Bearing Witness to History, Smithsonian Institution 2002 "Printed copy of Presidential address to Congress Reminiscent of Franklin D Roosevelt's address to Congress after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor"
  2. ^ Address by the President of the United States, December 8, 1941, in Declarations of a State of War with Japan and Germany, Senate Document No 148 77th Congress, 1st Session, at p 7, reprinted at the University of Virginia School of Law project page, Peter DeHaven Sharp, ed
  3. ^ See Senate Document No 148 77th Congress, 1st Session, in Congressional Serial Set 1942
  4. ^ William S Dietrich, In the shadow of the rising sun: the political roots of American economic decline 1991, p xii
  5. ^ Franklin Odo, ed, The Columbia documentary history of the Asian American experience, p 77
  6. ^ "FDR's "Day of Infamy" Speech: Crafting a Call to Arms", Prologue magazine, US National Archives, Winter 2001, Vol 33, No 4
  7. ^ a b Robert J Brown, Manipulating the Ether: The Power of Broadcast Radio in Thirties America, pp 117–120 McFarland & Company, 1998 ISBN 0-7864-2066-9
  8. ^ Neil J Smelser, in Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, p 69 University of California Press, 2004 ISBN ISBN 0-520-23595-9
  9. ^ James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric: key concepts in contemporary rhetorical studies Sage Publications Inc, 2001 ISBN 0-7619-0504-9
  10. ^ Hermann G Steltner, "War Message: December 8, 1941 — An Approach to Language", in Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Criticism ed Thomas W Benson Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993 ISBN 1-880393-08-5
  11. ^ Onion, Rebecca 2014-12-08 "FDR's First Draft of His "Day of Infamy" Speech, With His Notes" Slate Retrieved 2015-11-16 
  12. ^ a b Emily S Rosenberg, A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory Duke University Press, 2003 ISBN 0-8223-3206-X
  13. ^ a b Sandra Silberstein, War of Words: Language, Politics, and 9/11, p 15 Routledge, 2002 ISBN 0-415-29047-3
  14. ^ Poulakos, John 1983 "Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric" Philosophy & Rhetoric 16 1: 35–48 JSTOR 40237348 
  15. ^ Campbell, Karlyn 1990 Deeds Done in Words: Presidential Rhetoric and the Genres of Governance Chicago: University of Chicago 
  16. ^ "Day of infamy", Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions, ed Elizabeth Webber, Mike Feinsilber Merriam-Webster, 1999 ISBN 0-87779-628-9
  17. ^ Samuel Irving Rosenman, quoted in Brown, ibid, p 119
  18. ^ Quoted in Brown, ibid, p 119
  19. ^ Quoted in Brown, ibid, p 120
  20. ^ Tony Barta, Screening the Past: Film and the Representation of History, pp 85–87 Praeger/Greenwood, 1998 ISBN 0-275-95402-1
  21. ^ Robert J Sickels, The 1940s, p 6 Greenwood Press, 2004 ISBN 0-313-31299-0
  22. ^ Quoted by Benjamin L Alpers, "This Is The Army", in The World War II Reader, ed Gordon Martel, p 167 Routledge, 2004 ISBN 0-415-22402-0
  23. ^ Quoted in Barta, ibid, p 87
  24. ^ See for instance CNN, "Day of Terror — a 21st century 'day of infamy'", September 2001
  25. ^ Richard Jackson, Writing the War on Terrorism: language, politics and counter-terrorism, p 33 Manchester University Press, 2005
  26. ^ See eg Paul Wolfowitz, "Standup of US Northern Command", speech of October 1, 2002: "Although September 11th has taken its place alongside December 7th as a date that will live in infamy "
  27. ^ George W Bush, Address to the Nation of September 11, 2001


  • Freidel, Frank 1990 Franklin D Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny Boston: Little, Brown and Company ISBN 0-316-29260-5 

External links

  • Transcript contains some errors and truncations
  • Recording of the speech
  • "FDR's "Day of Infamy" Speech: Crafting a Call to Arms" – article from the National Archives and Records Administration on the speech with images of Roosevelt's original draft of the text

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