December 7th, 1941
, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces.
The next day, Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the United States Congress with his memorable “a date which will live in infamy” speech
This speech had two purposes:
1. To urge Congress to formally declare war on Japan (which they did just minutes later), and
2. To rally the American people to support the war effort.
Yesterday, December 7, 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 most memorable phrase of this speech comes in its first line. The label “infamy” foreshadows the tone of the entire speech. Consider the
very different tone
resulting from the
■ Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a tragic date — …
■ Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a pivotal day for our country — … ■ Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which we experienced sorrow… ■ Yesterday, December 7, 1941, the United States of America was… [that is, suppose no labelling phrase was used at all]
None of these alternatives are consistent with Roosevelt’s goal. Roosevelt continues to use vivid, emotional words throughout the speech, including: ■ “suddenly and deliberately attacked”
■ “deliberately planned”
■ “deliberately sought to deceive”
■ “surprise offensive”
■ “unprovoked and dastardly”
■ “premeditated invasion”
■ “onslaught against us”
■ “this form of treachery”
These phrases continue the “infamy” theme, and characterize the Japanese actions as duplicitous and dishonorable.
Consider the following phrases:
[…] the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the
Empire of Japan
also launched an attack against Malaya.
attacked Hong Kong.
attacked the Philippine Islands.
attacked Wake Island.
And this morning
attacked Midway Island.
has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area.
By using this exhaustive variety of word forms (“Empire of Japan”, “Japanese Government”, “Japanese forces”, “the Japanese”, “Japan”), Roosevelt makes it clear that the many components of Japan cannot be separated. That is, the attack was not made simply by the Japanese military, but by the Empire, the government, the armed forces, and Japan itself. Imagine if the entire passage (“… last night Japanese forces attacked …”) quoted above had been abbreviated to the following sentence, which is identical in meaning: Yesterday, Japanese forces attacked Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippine Islands, Wake Island, and Midway Island.
Would this have had the same rhetorical effect as the six individual sentences? No, not even close!
Roosevelt’s use of repetition amplifies the message and draws more attention to the two key words: “Japanese” and “attacked”. If one were asked to narrow the speech down to just two words, those two words would be “Japanese attacked”.
Roosevelt’s immediate audience for this speech was the members of the United State Congress. In the final sentence of the speech, Roosevelt clearly asks Congress to make the formal declaration of war:
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
The other audience for this speech was the United States public as a whole. In the sentences which precede the final one above, Roosevelt makes his call-to-action clear to the American people:
[…] that always will
our whole nation remember
the character of the onslaught against
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in...
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