In The News… FDR’s Infamy Speech

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December 7, 1941, was “a date that will live in infamy,” but December 8 was the date President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the Infamy Speech.  Read the speech transcript here.  After you watch the video and read the transcript, there are 8 things you should know about FDR’s December 8 Pearl Harbor speech:

1.  FDR wrote the speech himself.  “FDR dictated virtually ever word of his address to his secretary, Grace Tully.  The only exception was the next-to-last sentence, the phrasing of which was suggested by his close adviser Harry Hopkins” (Source).

2.  The catchphrase/speech title was originally bland.  “Dec. 7, 1941, was originally a ‘date which will live in world history.’ Not a great opening line. Fortunately, Franklin D. Roosevelt revised that to “a date which will live in infamy” before his address to Congress and the nation the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor” (Source).

3.  The Infamy Speech was very short.  Lasting only 6 and a half minutes long, FDR purposefully kept his presentation short for dramatic effect.  The speech contained 25 sentences and less than 500 words (Source).

4.  Active versus passive voice was considered.  “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 more usual active voice—i.e. “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” (Source).

5.  FDR’s call to action took only 33 minutes.  “Thirty-three minutes after he finished speaking, Congress declared war on Japan, with only one Representative, Jeannette Rankin, voting against the declaration” (Source).

6.  FDR did not deliver a declaration of war but a persuasive speech for both Congress and the nation.  “Because FDR knew he had to persuade his people that going to war would be for a greater good, he devoted his full energy to revising the draft of this ‘declaration of war.’ Theoretically, the ‘Day of Infamy’ speech did not declare war against Japan. It was a request to Congress to declare war. However, because of FDR’s awareness of audience, the speech was an effective declaration of purpose, a speech that would rouse Americans to support their country in the war effort” (Source).

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7.  FDR relied on the facts as opposed to giving his personal opinion.  “With the exception of his dramatic reference to ‘infamy’ and one mention of ‘treachery,’ FDR never offered a personal opinion on the Japanese attacks in his address.  Instead, he solemnly detailed the facts of the event, relying on listeners to draw their own conclusions” (Source).

8.  FDR relied on contrast.  “Roosevelt purposefully framed the speech around the perceived low moral character of the Japanese government. He drew a sharp contrast between the “righteous might” of the American people and the aggressive and deceitful nature of the Japanese regime” (Source).

Analyzing speeches in American history not only allows us to study rhetoric and delivery but also allows us to see how great leaders and strong speeches shaped our nation.

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