Mark S. Ryan
Professor John Minbiole
5 October 2012
A Speech to Rally the Country
There have been few times, since the United States has became its own country, that America has been attacked on its own soil. The United States was a country born out of a rebellion, and a country whose citizens have felt as though their nation is one with a dominant military and a strong sense of nationalism. As can be expected, any event that challenges the United States military might or national pride has been, and always will be, met with a strong retaliation from the American public. This was certainly true when the United States was attacked on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was decimated by Japanese military forces. It had been a long time since the United States had been directly attacked and the people of America were certainly less than happy. They looked to their leader, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to restore the American valor. Roosevelt was charged with the duty the next day of speaking to Congress about a declaration of war on Japan. In a very simple, effective, and rhetorically driven speech, Roosevelt was able to convince Congress to declare war, while providing a sense of hope to a mourning American public
Roosevelt establishes his credibility and ethos as a speaker at the onset of his speech, which is common for most effective speeches. He begins by simply stating facts about the incident of the preceding day of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Statements like, “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan” along with his statements about how they were in contact with the Japanese ambassador who showed no signs that the Japanese would attack show to the listener of this speech that Roosevelt knows all of the details of the attack and the U.S. relations with Japan. This establishes his credibility on the topic of the attacks and leads the listener to believe that Roosevelt knows what he is talking about when it comes to the attack.
These facts in the beginning not only build his ethos, but also appeal to the audience emotionally through is use of loaded phrases and diction. The most obvious example of this in his introduction is when he refers to the day of the attacks as “a date which will live in infamy”. He inserts this phrase as a type of side note, almost as if it has no purpose, when in reality it was very purposeful. The addition of this phrase in the speech sets the emotional tone of the speech and immediately allows the listener to identify with the words and mood of the speech as a whole. By adding this phrase that every single American agrees with on an emotional level, Roosevelt is able to lay down a foundation to construct a very effective argument. Other words in his introduction such as “suddenly and deliberately” reflect the feeling that this attack came without warning and struck the United States where it hurt. Roosevelt is mirroring the current feelings of listeners in the beginning so he can later manipulate them.
Roosevelt briefly takes a break from the emotional manipulation and primarily pathos driven argument to bolster his argument with a logos appeal. He states “It will be recorded that the distance from Hawaii to Japan makes it obvious that the attack was planned many days or even weeks ago”. He uses this deductive logical argument to prove to the listeners that it was beyond doubt that the attack from the Japanese was deliberate and meant to hurt the country. The breakdown of the his logic is sound; it takes a long time to plan an attack far away. Japan is far away, therefore Japan planned the attack a long time ago. This logic-based statement, along with the assumption that premeditated attacks are worse than spontaneous, is effective in persuading the listener that it was impossible for this attack to be spontaneous, and therefore makes Japan’s infringement on the American national pride even worse.
Roosevelt reinforces his argument that Congress need declare war on Japan with a variety of pathetic strategies throughout the rest of his speech. The most prominent of these appeals is his very obvious repetition of the words “Last night”. He repeats these words for every single country Japan had attacked the previous day in sentences that had parallel structure. The “barrage” of the words “last night” mimic how the Japanese empire destroyed Pearl Harbor with constant hit after hit. Its almost as if his speaking style mirrors the bombs dropping on the harbor and very effectively appeal to the deep sorrow and strong vengeful emotions of the audience thus leaving it to his audience to make the easy decision that we should enter the war against Japan. This appeal really sums up Roosevelt’s argument in favor of declaring war, but this is not the only argument he is trying to make at the end of his speech.
Roosevelt’s second argument, is less obvious and explicit, but is just as important and effective. The shift in the final sentences of his speech contain, again, mostly pathetic appeals, but for the argument that the United States should not give up hope because it will win the war. He uses inclusive phrases that build a sense of national pride within his audience and the country. “But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us”. By saying “whole nation” and “against us”, Roosevelt is appealing to his audience’s patriotism and make the listener feel proud to be part of the country, even though it may have just been attacked.
Immediately after unlocking the door by appealing to American nationalism, Roosevelt is able to bust open the door of hope with just a single sentence. “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” This goose-bump inducing sentence leaves no room to allow the listener to doubt their national pride, might, and ability to succeed in the war. Roosevelt is so certain in this statement that America is dominant enough to win an “absolute victory” through its “righteous might” that the listener is unable to doubt him. By dissecting this sentence further, it is apparent that Roosevelt is strongly appealing to the emotions of his audience through his word choice, specifically through “righteous” and “absolute”. “Righteous” implies that America was destined by and given power by some almighty entity, whether it be God or some other divine power. It implies that there is no possibility to have a might stronger than the United States’. “Absolute” implies there are no other outcomes in a war with Japan than a victory. (This mindset is also reflected on the fact that we dropped two atomic bombs on Japan to win the war.) Two simple words illicit a wide range of emotions within his listeners that solidify his argument that there is concrete hope for the United States and that the future of the country is certainly positive.
In a time of crisis in the United States, the leader of our country was able to eloquently deliver a short and punctual speech that is considered one of the greatest in American history. In a speech under 500 words, Roosevelt was able to include logos and ethos rhetorical appeals while knocking his pathetic arguments out of the park. His assumptions about his audience were correct and he was able to manipulate feelings of distain and sorrow throughout the country into feelings of urgency and hope. He convinced Congress to declare war on the Japanese Empire. He convinced the American public that their country was still strong and mighty without a doubt. He convinced everyone that the future of our country was a future filled with hope, happiness, and above all, victory.
“Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation.” American Rhetoric. Ed. Michael E. Eidenmuller. 2001-2007. 1 October 2012