Study Guide

Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation Main Idea

By President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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  • Main Idea

    FDR's Gonna Bring the Pain to Japan's Astral Plane

    It's a bird! It's a plane! It's hundreds of Japanese aircraft dropping in for a sneak-attack on America's military bases on Oahu!

    Wait. What?

    Sounds unbelievable, right? But that's exactly what happened on December 7th, 1941, while U.S. military personnel at Pearl Harbor were just finishing up their Sunday breakfast.

    Without warning, warm, mostly-sunny Oahu found itself under attack. By the time the ambuscade was over, 2,400 Americans were dead, 188 U.S. planes were destroyed, and sixteen really big U.S. ships were damaged or destroyed.

    Guess who was quite displeased about this turn of events? That's right: then-POTUS Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his presidential campaign, he'd promised to avoid sending Americans to war, since a lot of the country was still smarting from being involved in World War I. He also felt like there was enough going on at home, what with Great Depressions and bajillions of new government programs and whatnot.

    Basically, the attack on Pearl Harbor was not only a huge and tragic shock, but it also threw a ginormous wrench in all of FDR's big POTUS-y plans.

    This speech is FDR's reaction to Japan's attack, and it's everything a person could hope for and more in a post-unprovoked-ambush speech: it's shocked, it's angry, it's articulate, and it's got a nice vengeance-y aftertaste that really brings out its distinctly American bouquet.

    It's the perfect pre-war aperitif, and FDR recommends serving it with no chill.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Why did President Roosevelt change his stance on getting the U.S. involved in World War II? Was this a wise move?
    2. What was the Lend-Lease Act, and how does it play into the whole FDR-World War II-American isolationism thing that was going on?
    3. President Roosevelt had recently moved the American Pacific fleet from San Diego to Hawaii; what do you think might have been different about December 7, 1941 if he hadn't made that move?
    4. What is required for the United States to officially declare war on another nation? Like, what are the prerequisites? What's the process? How often has it happened, and why?

    Chew on This

    FDR should've stuck to his guns and kept America out of World War II; politicians always make campaign promises they don't keep.

    FDR was right to bring the U.S. into World War II even though he'd said he wouldn't; being flexible in the face of adversity is a good quality for a leader to have.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    Japan throws a deadly surprise party for the American military personnel at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt is not amused. The day after said party, he delivers a twenty-six-sentence-long thank-you speech, promising to return the favor in kind…but with less "surprise" and more "deadly."

    The Text

    Everything about this speech screams shock, disbelief, anger, and vengeance.

    Which is pretty impressive, considering none of those words are used even once.

    But we don't need 'em to get the gist of this bad boy. In twenty-six short sentences, President Roosevelt manages to accomplish four fairly major things:

    1. He tells everyone what the heck happened on December 7th 1941 out there in Hawaii and around the rest of the Pacific region, and who's responsible for it all.
    2. He conveys, super-clearly, how not happy he is with Japan's crummy behavior.
    3. He asks Congress for a formal declaration of war against Japan.
    4. He expresses his confidence in America's ability to not only take Japan on, but take them down.

    As far as Presidential speeches go, there are shorter ones, and there are longer ones. But there are few that do so much so well in such a brief amount of time.

    And who doesn't love a good multitasker?


    President Roosevelt explains why Japan and America's theme song, "Why Can't We Be Friends," has been changed to "What Goes Around… Comes Around."

  • Questions

    1. When did the U.S. set up military installations on Oahu, and why?
    2. Why did the United States have such an isolationist perspective about goings-on in the world, and why did it change (beyond the attack on Pearl Harbor)?
    3. Describe Hawaii's path from U.S. Territory before WWII to U.S. State in 1959. Do you think the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war going on around it influenced Hawaii's impending statehood? Why or why not?
    4. How have Japan's political, economic, and social systems changed since the end of World War II?
    5. What is the current status of the relationship between the United States and Japan? How do you see the future of this relationship? Why?
    6. In your opinion, what are the three biggest changes to the world order brought about by World War II? Why?
    7. How has warfare in general changed since World War II? What are your thoughts on these changes?
    8. Was the United States justified in its use of atomic bombs against the Japanese? Why or why not?

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