On December 8, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave one of the most famous speeches in history, known as the “Day of Infamy” speech, to members of Congress and the American people through a live broadcast on the radio. In his speech, he addressed the recent attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese and asked Congress to declare war against the country.
Reception in the Moment
In 1941, almost every family had a radio in their home. This is extremely important because before technology, American’s didn’t find out about a war until a few weeks after it had been declared. Thanks to the radio, a few American’s heard FDR’s speech and by word of mouth the idea of wanting to declare war on Japan spread rapidly throughout the country. This gave American’s time to not only enlist, but also prepare to shift to a nation that’s going to be in war. This meant that there would be wage and price controls along with food and fuel shortages throughout America.
After the initial shock of the bombing and the call for action from FDR to Congress, American’s who didn’t have to go to war, like women, went on with their daily lives but they also did what they could to help their community and comfort them in this time of change. FDR’s speech made American’s feel united and they felt a strong sense of nationalism because he portrayed America as a strong nation with even stronger citizens who can overcome any obstacle.
Today, people study the final version of FDR’s address in their American History classes. Still the most defining and memorable moment of the speech is the 11th word, infamy. It not only defined FDR’s declaration of war and the rest of his presidency, but it also gave the speech it’s well known name “The Day of Infamy”.
Historians today still think of the speech as incredible because they’ve discovered that the iconic word, infamy, wasn’t in the first draft of Roosevelt’s speech. During the editing phase of the address, he received advice from multiple colleagues who didn’t share the same vision for the speech. Eventually, after altering and getting rid of words himself, infamy was added for not only a rhetorical flourish, but to also give a judgement call about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Many still consider FDR’s speech one of the greatest of the 20th century because it was not only an address to Congress, but it was also given to the American people to help them understand that a call for war was completely necessary after the attack.
In a way, the value of the speech has lessened because people today don’t feel the same sense of pride that American’s felt once they heard FDR’S address, but the audience of the speech hasn’t changed. Originally the speech was a call for arms, but today American student’s and historians study and analyze FDR’s address to understand the history of America.
If you’re not interested in history or you aren’t forced to understand the purpose of FDR’S address in school, then you might not care about the word infamy or how it changed America. But, in 1941, Roosevelt said one word in a seven minute speech and was able to influence America and ignite a war.