Congressman Recalls ‘Date of Infamy’

POLITICS

Seventy-two years ago, Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, heard the news of the Pearl Harbor bombing on a Washington, D.C. street. The following day, Dingell, then a 15-year-old senior House page, was assigned to help record President Franklin Roosevelt’s now-iconic “date which will live in infamy” speech. (National Journal)

Use our  resources to better understand Roosevelt’s speech and the debate that followed.

Discussion Ideas

  • The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Rep. John Dingell recalls hearing “an extraordinary speech by the president which he had written himself.” Listen to that speech and read the president’s handwritten draft in our media spotlight, “Roosevelt’s ‘Date of Infamy’ Speech.” The speech’s most famous phrase is often misquoted, even in the title of the National Journal article. Why do you think President Roosevelt chose “a date which will live in infamy” instead of “a day that will live in infamy”? (The very brief introduction in the media spotlight might offer some help.)
    • “Date” is much more specific than “day.” Roosevelt insisted on keeping the focus of his speech on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (a specific event on a specific date)—not the expanding wars in Europe or the Pacific (a series of events that lasted years). In fact, the draft of the speech clearly shows that Roosevelt changed his original phrase from “a date which will live in world history” to “a date which will live in infamy,” wording that further removed it from global events. (U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill disagreed with Roosevelt, by the way, wanting to place individual conflicts in a larger historical context.)
  • Read Rep. Dingell’s first paragraph in the National Journal article. How does Roosevelt’s choice of “date of infamy” and its specific associations with Pearl Harbor relate to the debate in Congress that followed the speech?
    • FDR was a canny politician. Roosevelt, a Democrat, used language to offer a subtle appeal to Republicans who did not want the United States to get involved in the affairs of other nations. By keeping the focus of his appeal firmly on the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt conflated domestic and foreign policies.
    • As Dingell recalls, the appeal worked. “[A]ll of the right-wing conservatives who had been isolationists, and who had been strongly opposing any involvement of the United States in the war, all of a sudden decided they were going to become visibly patriotic Americans.”

One response to “Congressman Recalls ‘Date of Infamy’

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