Why Did FDR Use the Word ‘Infamy’ in His Famous Pearl Harbor Speech?

“We were no longer Democrats, Republicans or internationalists or isolationists. We were Americans.”

By Laura RiceDecember 6, 2016 11:51 am| ,

Wednesday marks 75 years since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The attack killed thousands of military personnel and civilians. The attack immediately propelled America’s entry into World War II – although not immediately against Germany. President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress in an 8-minute speech the day after the attack, delivering a speech in which he swore America would never forget Dec. 7, 1941. A date which he said “would live in infamy.”

Douglas Brinkley, with the Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy, says Roosevelt responded to the attack appropriately, keeping the speech brief yet powerful.

“He was utterly stunned and shocked by the bombing at Pearl Harbor,” Brinkley says. “He got ahold of his head of intelligence and just started screaming ‘Why are we there like sitting ducks in Hawaii? How could this have happened?’ But he immediately then composed himself and, very calmly and coolly smoking cigarettes, started writing what would be the famous ‘Day of Infamy’ address to Congress because he knew he had to pull the country together.

“We were no longer Democrats, Republicans or internationalists or isolationists. We were Americans.”

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– Parts of Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech

– Why Roosevelt replaced the word “history” in his speech with “infamy”

– Why he didn’t use the attack to address the war in Europe

– What other speechwriters can learn from Roosevelt’s speech