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Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Day After, December 8, 1941

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has been the subject of hundreds of books. Even casual students of history know the basic facts of that Sunday morning 65 years ago. What is less discussed are the events of December 8th, 1941, the day after the attack. Tonight, we will discuss one aspect of that day.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was not an isolated incident, but was rather one thrust of an overall Japanese offensive in the Pacific. Ninety minutes before the first bombs were dropped in Hawaii, Japanese forces invaded British Malaya, which is today the country of Malaysia. Hong Kong was attacked eight hours later, as were the Philippines. At peace the day before, the United States now found herself on the defensive in a war she was not prepared to fight.

On Monday, December 8th, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. He had been President for nearly nine years, longer than any other Chief Executive. He had been elected to a third term in 1940, making him the first President to not abide by the then-tradition of stepping down after two terms. For many Americans, Roosevelt was larger than life. In these days before television, his inability to walk unaided was rarely, if ever, spoken of. He had the voice of a blue-blooded New Englander and the laugh of a gentle grandfather. He had come to office during the worst days of the Great Depression and while his fiscal policies had not made the nation whole again, his confidence in the American people was unwavering.

When FDR stood in front of the microphones that Monday, he was not just addressing Congress, but the American people as well. His address was heard on every radio and the transcript was read in every newspaper. The United States had not been attacked by a foreign power since the War of 1812; there was much anger, but there was also much fear. Allied victory in the war seemed a dim hope that day, for almost all of mainland Europe and more than half of the Pacific were controlled by the Axis powers. All that stood in their way was a nation still arming for war and the brave people of the British Empire, who had already endured more than two years of costly battles.

This is what President Roosevelt said:

"Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7th, 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 United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."

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