Famous Speeches: “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”

U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt speaks before a joint session of Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, in Washington, D.C. (National Archives via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1941, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt gave what has become one of the most famous speeches in American history.

Here are a few things you may not have known about the “Infamy Speech.”

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, sinking six American ships and killing almost 2,500 U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines and civilians.

The next day, Roosevelt spoke before a joint session of Congress. He described the events of the previous day as “a date which will live in infamy.”

That turn of phrase wasn’t in the initial draft of the speech. Originally it read, “a date which will live in world history.” Roosevelt himself changed the wording.

Roosevelt chose the word “infamy” not because of the scope of the attack, but rather because it was unannounced and came while diplomats from the two countries were negotiating.

The speech was written to appeal to Americans’ patriotism and their sense of being wronged by Japan, rather than the idealism used by Woodrow Wilson at the start of World War I, 24 years earlier.

The tone of the speech has been referred to as determined realism. Roosevelt didn’t attempt to sugarcoat the amount of damage done to the American military. He used the speech to rally Americans to fight back against the Japanese aggression.

The speech was broadcast live on radio, and it has been estimated that 81 percent of American homes tuned in.

Less than an hour after Roosevelt finished speaking, both houses of Congress passed a declaration of war against Japan with only one vote against it. The lone “nay” vote was from Montana Republican Jeannette Rankin, who was a pacifist.

Following the speech, the White House was inundated by telegrams praising the speech, while military recruiting stations stayed open 24 hours a day to handle the throngs of volunteers.

Our question: How long after declaring war on Japan did the United States declare war on Germany and Italy?

Today is Constitution Day in Romania and Uzbekistan, and National Youth Day in Albania.

It’s National Brownie Day, National Christmas Tree Day, and Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day.

It’s the birthday of entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., who was born in 1925; singer and songwriter Jim Morrison, who was born in 1943; and comedian Sam Kinison, who was born in 1953.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1986, the top song in the U.S. was “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range.

The No. 1 movie was “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” while the novel “Whirlwind” by James Clavell topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What two states were the sources of the marble used in construction of the Washington Monument?



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