FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, “ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES BROADCAST FROM THE CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.” (8 DECEMBER 1941)
- Visit the FDR Library site and access the different versions of the speech. What changes were made? Do these changes matter?
- Read the speech, then listen to it, then watch it. What changes for you as a member of the audience as you experience the speech in these different ways?
- Discuss why the president referred to “the Empire of Japan” and not just “Japan.” What difference might this have made to the audience? Does it matter that Great Britain and France were also imperial countries?
- Why did FDR refer to “the American island of Oahu”? What does this tell you about the U.S. in 1941?
- Why did he give each place that was attacked its own paragraph instead of piling them all into one sentence?
- Why did the president emphasize “the character of the onslaught against us” instead of just the fact of the attacks?
- In the second draft of the speech, Roosevelt aide Harry Hopkins penciled in the word “Deity.” What got added as a result of this notation? Did it make the speech better?
- See also the list of activities at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library site: https://fdrlibrary.org/ph-classroom-activities and their curriculum hub: https://fdrlibrary.org/pearl-harbor
- Visit the FDR Library and review the documents and speeches circulating prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Did the American public have any reason to think war was imminent? Did this affect the president’s ability to prosecute the war?
- What do we know about the genre of war rhetoric? Is this a good example? Why or why not?
- The president made several charges against the Japanese. Is this a fair accounting of the situation prior to Pearl Harbor? Why would these attacks have seemed justifiable to the Japanese?
- Roosevelt referred to himself as the Commander-in-Chief. What difference might that have made to his audience? What does that role offer him that other aspects of being president do not?
- Why might the president have claimed the ability “to interpret the will of Congress and the American people”? Is this grounded in the Constitution? Is it a good idea to give the president this power to speak for the nation?
- Roosevelt gave his famous “Four Freedoms Address” almost a year before Pearl Harbor. Why would he outline the intentions and aims of the war so long before engaging in military action?
- Read the congressional debates concerning legislation like Lend Lease, “shoot on sight,” or the arming of the Merchant Marine. Why did some members of Congress and the public think that the U.S. should stay out of the war? Were their opinions reasonable, especially in a context that did not include an attack on U.S. soil?
- Charles Lindbergh was one of the most prominent opponents of American intervention. What were his reasons? Did the president treat him and his allies fairly? In thinking about this question, think about the ways in which presidents might consider certain rights (like free speech) to be in tension with other important things (like national security). How are these tensions best resolved?
- Visit the website for the United Nations (org). Read and discuss the founding documents (the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Statute of the International Court of Justice). How well or badly have we lived up to the promise of these documents?
- Visit the Pearl Harbor Historic site on line: http://www.pearlharborhistoricsites.org/pearl-harbor/. How does the memorial treat the attacks? Is it a fair accounting of events?
- Think about the role public opinion plays in the decision to commit troops overseas. How might citizens influence that decision, one way or the other? For example, the presence of strong lobbying efforts on the part of German and Irish citizens may have affected the politics around the American entry into World War I, and similar efforts were made by Italian Americans, German Americans, and Irish Americans in the prologue to WWII. How might such efforts be conducted and received today? How would you encourage or discourage military action?
- The American people often trust a president’s decision to engage in armed force because citizens believe that he has better sources of information than those available to the people. Is this an accurate assumption in the internet age? How might citizens improve their access to information and to governmental decision-making?
- Roosevelt often invoked the will of God as a reason for his actions, and justified many of those actions with references to the Bible. Why was he able to do this? Could a president do it now without getting criticism? Could a president fail to refer to the Christian God and avoid criticism? Discuss the role of Christianity in our national politics.
- Pearl Harbor is often referenced when people talk about the attacks on 9/11. Why would this comparison be made? Is it a fair comparison? How does thinking about one of these events in the context of the other change our understanding of them?