December 7 is perhaps the single most solemn date on each and every American citizen’s calender. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt so eloquently stated, it is a date that will truly live in infamy. Seventy one years ago, on December 7, 1941, the nation of Japan launched a surprise attack on the American military base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and killed 2402 Americans. All eight of the US Navy’s battleships were sunk or heavily damaged, three cruisers went to the bottom, three destroyers disappeared beneath the waves, and 188 aircraft were destroyed.
As great as the impact of the attack on Pearl Harbor was on the United States Armed Forces, the impact on the American people was far greater. The nation was still in the throes of the isolationist mood that prevailed after World War One, and the long suffering citizens of our great country were still trying to recover fully from the nightmare of the Great Depression.
The last thing Americans wanted or expected was to become involved in World War Two. Before the guns were finally silenced in 1945, 16,596,639 Americans served in the military to defeat the Nazis in Europe and Hirohito’s Japanese Imperial Forces in the Pacific. 416,837 loyal Americans were killed, 683,846 Americans were maimed or wounded, and 130,000 of our brave citizens, including many civilians, became prisoners of war.
When the surrender document was signed on September 2, 1945 by humiliated Japanese foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, acting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan and General Yoshijirō Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff, acting on behalf of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, two atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and our beautiful planet was changed forever.
Today, there is a new generation and sadly, many of them have no idea what happened in Pearl Harbor on that quiet December morning. Kids will be happy to tell you the name of their favorite rapper or recite the lyrics of every song by Lady Gaga, but, if you show them a picture of the Arizona Memorial, it will probably have no significance what so ever. If you tell most youngsters that 353 Japanese fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes launched from six aircraft carriers and attacked Pearl Harbor, they might even think you are talking about a new video game.
While many of the youngest generation are yet to learn of the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, many of the Greatest Generation have gone on to meet their maker, resting in lonely graves dotted across our country. The last veterans of World War Two still with us are in their 80s and 90s now. For the few who return to Pearl Harbor to commemorate this day, the spring is gone from their step. Where once they ran like the wind to avoid the falling bombs or strained mighty sinews against steel in the fight to save their ship and their mates, they walk slowly on unsteady legs or sit in a wheel chair pushed by another aging comrade from days gone by.
Yes, time is a cruel master, and soon the brave men of Pearl Harbor will all be gone. We owe it to them and to ourselves to teach our children the meaning of that terrible morning of December 7, 1941 when the cry of Tora ! Tora! Tora! rang out, wave after wave of Japanese Zeros dove from the sun, and the mighty American fleet erupted into a burning fireball of death and destruction.
To commemorate this day and help our younger readers discover the speech that became America’s Declaration of War, we share with you the full text of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s immortal address to the American people:
Yesterday, December 7, 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, that 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 unbounding 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 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt