Washington, D.C. December 8, 1941

At 12:30 p.m. on this this rainy and blustery day in 1941, standing before a joint ses­sion of the U.S. Con­gress and a world listening by radio, the 32nd Presi­dent of the United States, Franklin D. Roose­velt, laid seve­ral type­written sheets on the speaker’s podium. The day before, the presi­dent had calmly and deci­sively dic­tated to his sec­re­tary a draft request to Con­gress for a decla­ra­tion of war against the Empire of Japan. He had com­posed the speech in his head after deciding on a brief, un­com­pli­cated appeal to the peo­ple of the United States rather than a thorough recita­tion of Japa­nese per­fidies leading up to their savage attack on the unsus­pecting U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Roosevelt pencil-edited his reading copy, making the most signi­fi­cant change in the opening line. “Yester­day, Decem­ber 7, 1941,” the presi­dent in­toned in his seven-minute address to members of Congress, was “a date which will live in in­famy.” Less than an hour after FDR’s speech, which was followed by five minutes of applause, shouting, and foot stamping, Con­gress passed a for­mal decla­ra­tion of war against Japan and officially brought the U.S. into World War II. That same day the presi­dent wrote to British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill, telling him that the two nations were in the “same boat” now, “a ship which will not and can­not be sunk.” Also on that day Brit­ain declared war on Japan, followed within three days by at least eight more nations.

The December 7, 1941, carnage generated a vis­ceral hatred of the Japa­nese in the nation’s psyche that per­sisted to the end of the war and beyond. Late on Monday, Decem­ber 8, the U.S. air­craft carrier Enter­prise, calling off its hunt for the Japa­nese marauders, maneu­vered through the Pearl Harbor channel to park at Carrier Row on the oppo­site side of Ford Island’s Battle­ship Row. After viewing the battered and scorched Pacific Fleet from his flat­top—a black and red inferno lighting the evening sky as fires con­tinued con­suming the USS Arizona, the air reeking of leaking fuel oil and smoke, the harbor waters mottled with flot­sam—Adm. William “Bull” Halsey uttered his mem­o­rable curse: “Before we’re through with ’em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell.”

The Day After Pearl Harbor

Markups of Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy Speech

Above: Page 1 of President Roosevelt’s changes to his first draft of the “Day of Infamy” speech delivered to the U.S. Con­gress on Decem­ber 8, 1941. The five hundred word address is regarded as one of the most famous American political speeches of the 20th century.

Roosevelt asking Congress for war against Japan, December 8, 1941Roosevelt signing declaration of war against Japan, December 8, 1941

Left: President Roosevelt delivers his “Day of Infamy” speech to mem­bers and guests of the U.S. Congress, Decem­ber 8, 1941. Behind him are Vice President Henry Wal­lace (left) and Speaker of the House Sam Ray­burn. To the right, in military uni­form in front of Ray­burn, is Roose­velt’s son James, who escorted his father to the Capitol. Only one mem­ber of Congress, a life-long pacifist from Mon­tana, voted against the declara­tion of war. The anti-war and isola­tionist move­ment that had cam­paigned so strongly against Amer­ican involve­ment in the war in Europe, begun in Septem­ber 1939, collapsed almost imme­di­ately on the day Adolf Hitler’s and Benito Musso­lini’s Axis partner, Japan, launched a pre­emptive strike on U.S. facilities at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Right: A grim-faced President Roosevelt signs the declaration of war against Japan, Decem­ber 8, 1941. That Monday and for days after­wards U.S. recruiting sta­tions were jam­med with a surge of volun­teers and had to go on 24‑hour duty to deal with the crowds seeking to enlist in the armed forces. Famous Amer­i­can avia­tor Charles Lind­bergh, the nation’s leading isola­tionist, made a 180-degree turn, declaring: “Our country has been attacked by force of arms, and by force of arms we must reta­li­ate. We must now turn every effort to building the greatest and most efficient Army, Navy and Air Force in the world.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Address to U.S. Congress, Decem­ber 8, 1941