When your average person looks back in history, some would say they wish it was them who had invented something famous or lived in a time where there was no such thing as an atomic bomb. However, would any wish they were the President of the United States during a time of world crisis? Would anyone wish they could be President Franklin Roosevelt right after Pearl Harbor was bombed?
While we have the luxury of not having to be in his shoes, Roosevelt would have to decide very quickly on how to respond to such a devastating attack on a U.S. naval base. So, President Roosevelt made his decision on December 8th, 1941 to stand before Congress and ask them to declare war against the nation responsible for the attack; Japan. Perhaps the most memorable and most important address of his presidency, he declared the action committed by Japan a “deliberate deception” and the speech was responded with a thunderous applause from Congress. Shortly after his address, the United States stated officially it was entering World War II.
Japanese pilots had attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor by bombing it on the day before Roosevelt’s speech. The surprise attack decimated most of the U.S. warships in the Pacific Fleet as well as the majority of Navy aircraft and Air Corps stationed on the island of Oahu. The bombing raids resulted in wounding almost 1,200 individuals and killing 2,403 people that included 68 civilians.
Roosevelt and those advising him were notified of intelligence reports suggesting an imminent assault by Japan days earlier; however, he hoped that American and Japanese diplomats that were in Washington negotiating on what was hoped would be a peaceful solution. Roosevelt was enraged when realizing that while Japanese and American diplomats were trying to resolve their issues regarding recent military actions by Japan not only in China but in other areas in the Pacific; aircraft carriers from Japan were traveling to Hawaii with the purpose of attacking it. His words on December 8th expressed his personal fury and indignation.
Previously, he had demonstrated his oratorical abilities when his “fireside chats” during the Great Depression raised the morale of the nation. He already had said memorable things such as “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” stated with equal conviction that the United States “would never forget the character of Japan’s onslaught against us.” Roosevelt had also vowed that the “unbounding determination of our people… will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.”
Regardless, the motivating address was hardly necessary as millions of Americans and Congress, who already had heard in the news the details of the assault, shared the president’s anger and commitment to defending the nation. The next day, young men swarmed to armed forces recruiting stations while both the Republicans and Democrats immediately declared war against Japan; there was only a single vote of dissension.