Study Guide

Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation Themes

By President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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  • Warfare

    Nothing beats a nice, hot, delicious Sunday brunch. And nothing complements the awesomeness of a great Sunday brunch like eating it on warm, beautiful, tranquil Oahu.

    That's probably similar to what everyone stationed near Pearl Harbor was thinking on Sunday, December 7, 1941…that is, until they and their breakfast were unexpectedly bombed by Japanese war planes.

    But the breakfast barrage was just the starting point for Japan's attack on U.S. military installations and equipment in Hawaii. Six major airfields were hit in a coordinated, staged attack that barely lasted three hours. By the time all was said and done, 2,400 Americans were dead, planes and ships everywhere were in flames, and breakfast was totally off the menu.

    Know what was on the menu instead? War.

    That's right: up until this point, the United States had done its best to stay out of the whole war thing brewing in Europe. But after this, after an unprovoked attack on its own soil, FDR used the Pearl Harbor Address to let everyone know that America was ready to get its hands dirty.

    And get its hands dirty it did, committing unprecedented resources toward fighting and eventually winning what would become known as the Good War.

    Lesson learned: don't mess with breakfast.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. Why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?
    2. What happened to the economy of the United States during and after the war?
    3. Why did Japan ally itself with the Axis Powers?
    4. How has the isolationism-versus-interventionism debate in America changed since World War II? What are your feelings on the subject, and why?

    Chew on This

    It was inevitable that the United States would become a major player in World War II; the attack on Pearl Harbor just sped up what everyone already knew was going to happen.

    If Pearl Harbor hadn't been attacked, the United States might have been able to avoid getting militarily involved in World War II; our allies had it under control.

  • Betrayal

    According to FDR's Pearl Harbor Address, "betrayal" is exactly what Japan had just done to its good friend, the United States, with this whole attack.

    Wait…were Japan and the U.S. friends? Or were they frenemies?

    Well, on paper, Japan and America were friends. But just like those supposed "best friends" who can't wait to talk trash behind each other's backs, the relationship between the two had some issues.

    Japan was trying to get its expansion on, taking over new land by conquest and making folks in the West pretty nervous. It just wanted to do something to combat the economic stagnation that had taken it over (and Japan really wanted its own natural resources).

    The U.S. responded to Japan's land grabs with increasingly severe sanctions that it thought would slow Japan's roll, but all they did was push the small country's struggling economy even further down the drain.

    Both sides were tense. But they were trying to work it out…or so the United States thought.

    Until it became quite clear that Japan wasn't trying at all…and hadn't been for some time.

    It had all been lip service, and the U.S. had fallen for it. Feelings were hurt. The circle of trust had been broken.

    But it didn't take long for President Roosevelt to bury his pain under a thick, roiling layer of righteous anger, stand up in front of a bunch of his countrymen (and some cameras), and tell Japan in no uncertain terms that their double-crossing was gonna be double-dealt with.

    And World War II welcomed its newest player.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. Were Japan and the United States friends, enemies, or frenemies? Why?
    2. How did Japan justify its conquest and seizure of land?
    3. Which countries declared war on Japan in December of 1941, and why?
    4. What sorts of embargoes had the United States placed on Japan, and what were the effects of those embargoes?

    Chew on This

    Japan's actions—turning around and going against its own word like that, bombing its friend's island and killing all those people—were shameful and unexpected.

    No one should have been shocked by Japan's behavior; they had a history of attacking countries all unannounced, and it's not like Japan and the U.S. were really as buddy-buddy as they made out.

  • Indignation

    The power of positive thinking: it's one of the things that FDR's wife Eleanor credits with his many successes.

    But there's a time for positive thinking and there's a time for righteous anger, and on December 7th, 1941, the time for upbeat energy and happy self-affirmations had passed.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Charismatic-Flexible-Confident-Gregarious Guy, was angry. No, scratch that. He wasn't angry, he was infuriated. (And this fury is well telegraphed in the Pearl Harbor Address.)

    His beloved country had been attacked, without provocation and without warning, while he was just hanging out in the White House thinking that the Japanese aggressors and the U.S. had been on the road to improving relations. Boy, was he wrong.

    According to experts, anger is usually a byproduct of at least one other emotion. It's not hard to figure out what those emotions might have been in this instance: fear, shock, disbelief, betrayal…

    The list goes on.

    Roosevelt may have been right that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," but on that fateful day in December, Americans had plenty of things to be mad about.

    Questions About Indignation

    1. Why did Roosevelt wait until December 8th to deliver this speech when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened on December 7th?
    2. How did America's allies respond to the attack? How did its non-allies respond?
    3. How does this speech compare to President George W. Bush's speech after 9/11?
    4. If you were POTUS when Pearl Harbor was attacked, what would you have said and done? Why?

    Chew on This

    FDR's outrage was totally justified; Japan had no call to be bombing the U.S. like that.

    FDR should have been a little more compassionate and understanding of Japan's position; maybe if the U.S. had tried that from the beginning, Japan wouldn't have felt compelled to attack Pearl Harbor.

  • American Exceptionalism and Patriotism

    National pride and patriotism are a big deal all around the world, and the United States is no exception. America is, after all, the land of the free and the home of the brave. It's got spacious skies, fruited plains, amber waves of grain, NASCAR, majestic purple mountains, and oh so much more.

    It's not shocking that most Americans are super proud of their homeland.

    But as patriotic as Americans are during times of peace and tranquility, that nation-love swells like tonsils with strep when the United States is threatened.

    The days and months following the 9/11 attacks were a great example of this.

    The days and months following the attack on Pearl Harbor were as well.

    And though POTUS Roosevelt probably wasn't the first dude to be all, "USA! USA! USA!" in his Pearl Harbor Address, he was surely one of the most eloquent about it.

    For him, especially in this speech, patriotism was less about putting a flag in the yard and more about understanding and eliminating the Japanese threat to America's whole "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" thing.

    Because Step One of hanging the Stars and Stripes from the front porch is making sure that America continues to be…America.

    From sea to shining sea.

    Questions About American Exceptionalism and Patriotism

    1. American patriotism: Is it founded or unfounded? Good or bad? Helpful or detrimental? Why?
    2. How has patriotism in America changed since 1941? What caused those changes?
    3. Compare a largely unpatriotic country with a very patriotic one (like the U.S.). What are their similarities? What are their differences? Which factors do you believe contribute most to different levels of patriotism?
    4. How were Japan's patriotism levels before, during, and after World War II? Why?

    Chew on This

    America is the greatest country in the world, as evidenced by its behavior leading up to, during, and following World War II.

    American patriots totally overrate the United States; it's not that great, as evidenced by its behavior leading up to, during, and after World War II.

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