Analysis of “Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation” Speech

The Day of Infamy

On the seventh of December, 1941, the lives of many people drastically changed. In that particular afternoon, all American radio broadcasts were interrupted with important news. Pearl Harbor had been attacked by an unforeseen Japanese air raid. The results of the attack were devastating and, according to the National WWII Museum, “killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, and destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships, including 8 battleships” (“A Pearl Harbor Fact Sheet”). The following day, December 8th, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president at the time, gave an address to the distressed nation regarding the attack. His speech consisted of an explanation of what had taken place at Pearl Harbor, evidence that the attack was in fact predetermined, and a request for the United States of America to wage war against Japan. Currently neutral in regards to the second world war, the United States of America was close to entering the war but was hesitant. In his speech entitled the “Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation” – also known as the “Infamy” speech – Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded the government and the people through word choice, design, and appeal, to declare war against Japan.

One of the most important parts of any speech is how the speaker structures it. The ingenious way that Roosevelt structured his speech held a major part in how it, as Braj Mohan reflects, “proved a turning point in the course of the Second World War” (68). Roosevelt used various methods in structuring his speech in order to form a better argument. A method that Roosevelt utilized when structuring his speech was repetition. For example, when reporting the various places that had been attacked by Japan on December 7th, he says:

“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” (Roosevelt).

The use of repetition in this paragraph of Roosevelt’s speech proved to be very clever and useful, as it provides a much greater emphasis for the point being made. Throughout Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech, he structures his argument by first stating that what happened at Pearl Harbor was evil and unpredicted. Then he goes on to state how the United States of America needs to secure itself and provide defense. Finally, he completes his argument with a call to action in response.

Another, and probably just as important, part of a speech is word choice. The speaker has the ability to portray many different emotions and meanings to the audience, if the words are chosen in a clever way. When analyzing his speech, it is evident from the beginning that Roosevelt was careful when choosing his words. Roosevelt opens his speech by immediately delivering the devastating news about Pearl Harbor:

“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” (Roosevelt).

In this opening phrase, there are multiple strong words that were chosen to describe what had taken place. Roosevelt used the word “infamy” very wisely in the beginning of speech when he describes December 7th as “a date which will live in infamy”. The word “infamy” literally means ‘being well known for some bad quality or evil deed’, and Roosevelt picked it precisely to portray how evil the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor was. Continuing on in his opening, Roosevelt couples the words “suddenly” and “deliberately” to describe how Pearl Harbor was attacked. These words were used by Roosevelt to portray that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was definitely no accident, and that the United States of America was in no way prepared for it.

Throughout the speech, Roosevelt utilizes two rhetorical modes of ethos and pathos, in order to further complete his argument as a whole. Looking at the speech in a larger context, it is evident how Roosevelt uses these appeals when writing his speech to the intended audience. Since he is speaking mainly to the citizens of the United States of America, one of the main appeals Roosevelt uses is Pathos which is the appeal or evocation of emotion. For example, Roosevelt mentions in his speech that “the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace” (Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation). By stating that the United States, which implies the nation as a whole, was deceived by Japan into thinking that the Japanese had similar goals of peace in mind, Roosevelt awakens the feeling of betrayal by Japan in the hearts of the American citizens. Roosevelt also backs up his argument with the use of ethos, the appeal to ethics or morals. Towards the ending of his speech, Roosevelt assert that, in regards to Japan, “the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory” (Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation). In this phrase, Roosevelt incorporates religion into the argument which further inspires the audience, and assures them that it is morally right to wage war against Japan.

In Summary, the impact of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation” was enormous. At the time that the speech was given, the USA had been recuperating from the first world war. Since the United States of America was trying to uphold a stance of neutrality in the second world war, it was hesitant to engage in any warfare. Because of this, Franklin D. Roosevelt formulated his speech in such a way, with particular word choice, design, and appeal, to not only reveal the evil of Japan’s deeds but also to persuade the nation to declare war. The USA was at its tipping point, and after the shocking news broke out that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, the United States of America finally entered the second world war.

Works Cited

“A Pearl Harbor Fact Sheet.” National WWII Museum. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

Mohan, Braj. “A Demonstration of the Discourse Dissection Model (DDM) with an analysis of FD Roosevelt’s ‘Pearl Harbour address to the nation’.” SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics, vol. 13, no. 1, 2016, p. 62+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation.” American Rhetoric. Web. 23 Mar. 2017. .

Related Post