The words came Dec. 8, 1941, a day after the terrifying attack on Pearl Harbor that took the lives of 2,335 U.S. servicemen and 68 civilians, while wounding 1,178. The assault crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet — though it did not deter prompt retaliation — and it opened the door to America’s march into World War II, a role the country had sought to avert.
Proclaiming this “infamy,” as a shocked and angered America looked to her popular leader for direction, was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His words came during an epic speech made before a joint session of Congress. It was a “Declaration of War” in which the U.S. commander-in-chief sought an up-close and personal justice against the Empire of Japan for what he described as a “premeditated invasion” of the United States.
And so it set the stage for a bloody, four-year military conflict between the Allied Powers (primarily America, Britain and Soviet Russia) and the Axis Powers (primarily Japan, Germany and Italy).
Historians still dissect the causes of this global war. As is the case with any confrontation of this magnitude, there were many. We will bow to today’s scholars, and those from our yesteryear, to decipher fact from myth.
But for today — Dec. 7, 2012 — now more than seven decades since the surprise attack, we thought it of interest to go beyond “... a date which will live in infamy.” Most know these words by heart. But what else did President Roosevelt say in his emotional appeal to Congress?
Here are just a few excerpts.
On deception ...
“It will be recorded 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.”
On America’s response ...
“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.”
On the nation’s perseverance ...
“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.”
On the great war’s end ...
“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 unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.”
On the angry declaration ...
“I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”
In the years and decades since President Roosevelt’s declaration, more wars have been fought testing nation against nation, people against people, and ideals against ideals. Their merit will be debated for generations to come.
Yet this hard truth remains a cold fact of war.
Soldiers do the fighting. And soldiers do the dying. Responsible leaders understand this inevitability.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was one such leader, yet deep within his heart this great American certainly felt the weight of a nation in asking for a war that he knew would send hundreds of thousands of soldiers — allied and enemy — to their deaths.
It is this first group of warriors, and civilians, who we honor today.
It is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a time of tribute and an hour of mourning.
It also is this wish — that those who threaten war from any nation, any people or any culture will exhaust all measures before resorting to such action.
War is often unavoidable. But when it comes we should learn from its lessons.
Those who forget its pain are those doomed to repeat its tragedy.