President Roosevelt received the decryption of the fourteenth part of the Japanese reply to the last American proposals in his office at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, December 7, 1941. It stat- ed: ”œObviously it is the intention of the American Government to conspire with Great Britain and other countries to obstruct Japan’s efforts toward the estab- lishment of peace through the creation of a New Order in Asia.” (Roosevelt had already famously said, in reference to Hitler’s use of the same hackneyed euphemism for outright conquest: ”œIt is not new and it is not order.”) The response went on to lament the failure of Japan’s good-faith effort ”œto preserve and promote the peace of the Pacific through cooperation with the American Government,” and concluded that there was no point to further negotiations.
The Japanese envoys were instruct- ed to give the reply to the US govern- ment at exactly one o’clock, Eastern Standard Time. This, too, was disquiet- ing, because it implied coordination with other, presumably military, activity. Hopkins was sitting with Roosevelt in the President’s upstairs study, after lunch at 1:40 p.m., when Navy Secretary Knox telephoned that a radio report had been received that Pearl Harbor was under aerial attack and that this was ”œno drill.” Hopkins was incredulous, and thought it must have been a report from the Philippines retransmitted from Hawaii. Roosevelt disagreed at once; he saw the strategic cleverness of an attack at Pearl Harbor, where it would be less expected and there might be a chance to take out a significant part of the US Pacific Fleet. Roosevelt assumed that after all the interceptions of Japanese cable traffic and all the warnings that had been sent all around the Pacific, the fleet’s home base in the theater would be in a high state of preparedness and repulsing the attackers in its air space.
Roosevelt telephoned Hull at a few minutes after two. The Japanese were just arriving in Hull’s anteroom at the State Department, having requested a delay until they received the four- teenth part of the official message. (Their decoding facilities in the embassy were not as efficient as the US Naval and Army cryptanalysts.) Roosevelt instructed the secretary of state to give no indication that he had any idea what was happening at Pearl Harbor. There was no evidence that the emissaries themselves did, and cer- tainly Admiral Nomura did not. Roosevelt told Hull to ”œreceive their reply formally and coolly and bow them out.” Hull received them as his chief commanded, left the two Japanese standing while he went through the charade of reading their reply, and then icily addressed Nomura: ”œI must say that in all my conversations with you in the last nine months I have never uttered one word of untruth… In all my fifty years of public life I have never seen a docu- ment that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions… on a scale so huge that I never imag- ined until today that any government on this planet was capable of uttering them.” He refused to allow the unhap- py and honorable Nomura any reply and dismissed his visitors.
While this glacial interview was tak- ing place, Admiral Stark telephoned Roosevelt with the first of many calls he would receive that afternoon indicating the extent of Japanese damage to the Pacific Fleet and indicating that the attackers had achieved total surprise, that the core of the navy’s capital ships had been descended upon like sitting ducks.
Despite this shocking news, Roosevelt was relieved that he had effected entry into the war so unam- biguously. There would be a unanimous coalescence of public opinion after such a sneak attack against the United States itself, and it should not be difficult to bring Hitler into his sights as well, even if he did not act in lockstep with his Japanese allies. To Roosevelt the greatest danger had been entry into the war against Japan, and not immediately Germany, with something less than a united public opinion, after provoca- tions directed against secondary targets not clearly related to the United States.
The same confidence instantly uplifted other astute observers, includ- ing Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and even Joseph Stalin, who was now satisfied that the Germans could be held at the gates of Moscow and Leningrad. Hitler and the Japanese had no idea of the overwhelming industrial power of the United States, nor did they apparently grasp that it could put 12 to 15 million men into the field against them, superbly equipped, skillfully led, and, shortly, adequately battle-tested. In an address to senior Nazis on May 23, 1942, Hitler dismissed Roosevelt’s war-production claims, saying that they ”œcould in no way be right.” The targets referred to were those announced by Roosevelt in January 1942 of over five times the combined German and Japanese pro- duction of every relevant sinew of war, and his targets would, in fact, all be exceeded. Roosevelt, Churchill, de Gaulle, and Stalin, to varying degrees, knew differently, and despite the bad news from Pearl Harbor that day, to them the course of the war was clear.
Churchill, while dining with Averell Harriman and Ambassador Winant at Chequers, heard a radio news report about the Japanese attack, which was then confirmed by Churchill’s butler. Churchill had declared at Mansion House on November 11, 1941, that if Japan attacked the United States, the British declaration of war would come ”œwithin the hour.” When Churchill left his American guests and went to the office and communications center in his country residence, Winant was afraid he was going to declare war on Japan. He chased after the prime minis- ter and suggested that they get confir- mation first. In fact, Churchill went to telephone Roosevelt, not to declare war. The President came on the line within a couple of minutes and said: ”œIt’s quite true…We’re all in the same boat now.” Churchill, inexpressibly relieved, said: ”œThis certainly simplifies things. God be with you.” He later wrote: ”œI do not pretend to have measured accurately the martial might of Japan, but now…the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all!”
Charles de Gaulle, whose affections for the Americans, and Anglo-Saxons generally, were notoriously less effusive than Winston Churchill’s, said: ”œThe war is over. Of course there are years of fighting ahead, but the Germans are beaten.” He later wrote: ”œThe attack upon Pearl Harbor hurled America into the war…The colossal war effort [then] mus- tered…rendered victory a certainty.”
Churchill’s telephone call to Roosevelt came in the midst of a hasti- ly convened meeting of his informal war cabinet " Stimson, Knox, Hull, Marshall, and Stark " which had begun at three o’clock. There was dis- cussion about how to ensure that the Latin American republics fell in behind US policy. There was some to-ing and fro-ing about the timing of the British declaration of war, and Roosevelt, in a message received by Churchill after the British declaration of war had been issued in the morning of December 8, and after Britain too had been attacked by Japan in Malaya and Hong Kong, suggested that the British declaration follow immediately upon the American one. Costa Rica had the honor of being the first country to declare war on Japan, in the evening of December 7.
The full cabinet then met and dis- cussed what Roosevelt should say, the President having already requested a special session of the Congress for 12:30 p.m. on Monday, December 8. Hull wanted a lengthy address, giving the tangled history of Japan’s disin- genuous negotiations with the United States. Some called for a request for a declaration of war against Germany and Italy as well. Roosevelt listened to the discussion for a few minutes but was completely unswayed by it. He had already determined to seek a dec- laration against Japan only, to see if Hitler would initiate formal hostilities himself, and he would speak briefly, focusing on the extreme treachery of the Japanese. He would give a lengthi- er message to the country within a few days. As soon as this meeting ended, Roosevelt dictated his brief war address to Grace Tully.
Bulletins continued to arrive all afternoon and evening on the propor- tions of the shambles at Pearl Harbor. The scene in the President’s study was so confused that Grace Tully, when not typing his war message, was on the tele- phone in the President’s bedroom, tak- ing down from Stark and others the details as they came in of the extent of the losses at Pearl Harbor. She then typed them out, with Roosevelt’s mili- tary aide and companion, General Edwin ”œPa” Watson, looking over her shoulder, and Watson handed the mes- sages to the President. Roosevelt’s initial relief gave way to concern at the scale of the setback that had been sustained and anger that Pearl Harbor had been caught unawares. Though tired and somewhat tense, Roosevelt was absolutely calm.
He even thought to order protec- tion for the Japanese Embassy, which he did not want put to sack by angry demonstrators. In mid-afternoon the White House made telephone contact with the governor of Hawaii, Joseph B. Poindexter, who confirmed the reports Stark had received. While he was on the line, the second wave of Japanese planes came in directly overhead and the governor had to shout to be heard. Roosevelt, hearing the roar of the enemy aircraft in the background, said to his companions: ”œMy God, there’s another wave of Jap planes over Hawaii.” Stimson and Knox expressed concern about an attack on California and a Japanese invasion.
Congressional leaders arrived about 8:40 p.m. Roosevelt summarized for them the protracted negotiations and the latest reports on the damage at Pearl Harbor. By this time reports had been received of attacks on Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines. There were unconfirmed reports of landings on Oahu, but Roosevelt did not refer to them. Roosevelt grimly reported ”œthat we have lost the major- ity of the battleships there.”
The aircraft carriers based at Pearl Harbor had been out on patrol during the attack and were undam- aged. The Japanese also failed to blow up the vast oil and aviation fuel tanks that were right under their bomb sites and would have done tremendous damage to the port. Several lesser ships were sunk and damaged, and 188 American aircraft were destroyed and 159 damaged, almost all of them on their runways. They were convenient- ly parked there because Hawaii’s army commander, General Walter Short, was preoccupied with the possibilities of sabotage and never imagined the pos- sibility of a direct attack on the Hawaiian Islands. There was no truth to the reports of an amphibious inva- sion, and the Japanese, concerned that their carriers might be discovered and attacked while their planes were off, retired for home waters after two waves and left many targets unscathed. The Japanese lost only 29 of the 343 aircraft that carried out the attacks, and they lost one submarine and two midget submarines. The United States lost 2,403 men killed, 1,102 of those on U.S.S. Arizona alone.
The last warnings sent out from Washington to Pacific installations had arrived late, but there had been a steady stream of warnings for months, and although Hawaii was not thought to be the most likely target, the insou- ciance of the commanders, General Short and the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, were inexplicable. At the least, there should have been torpedo nets out around the battleships, con- stant air patrolling in daylight hours to a reasonable radius around Oahu, some steam up at all times to facilitate early activation of the fleet, and seri- ous attention to the radar outpost that reported the incoming planes, which were assumed to be new bombers arriving from the United States. (These expected planes arrived a little later, in the midst of the Japanese attack.)
Roosevelt had every right to expect at least these precautions, which would have very sub- stantially mitigated the damage sustained. One aspect of Roosevelt’s well-concealed embarrassment over the debacle was that Kimmel had been appointed by Roosevelt after the President had removed his predecessor, Admiral James O. Richardson. Richardson had objected to Roosevelt’s transfer of the Pacific battle fleet from California to Pearl Harbor, where he thought it could be vulnerable. Yet Richardson had also decided torpedo nets were unnecessary at Pearl Harbor, despite Stark’s having recommended them. Stark had studied the British attack at Taranto. Richardson dissented from Roosevelt’s assertive Japan policy, and had the effrontery to tell the President on July 8, 1940, that ”œthe senior officers of the navy do not have the trust and confidence in the civil- ian leadership of this country that is essen- tial for a successful prosecution of the war in the Pacific.” Roosevelt sacked him on January 5, 1941, and Kimmel was installed as fleet commander on February 1.
On the morning of December 7, the United States had had seven- teen battleships, including two, the North Carolina and Washington, that were new and only just being put into service. Eight more battleships were under construction. Japan had eight battleships, including the just-commis- sioned Yamato and Musashi " at 73,000 tons and with nine eighteen- inch (barrel diameter) guns, the largest battleships that would ever be built " and four battle cruisers (faster than most battleships but less heavily armored). Great Britain had three new battleships and three more under con- struction; ten older battleships, one being extensively refitted; and two bat- tle cruisers " fourteen capital ships in service and three more, two new and one refitted, expected in the next nine months or so. (One modern ship would be completed only at the end of the war.) The Germans were down to one operational battleship (Tirpitz, Bismarck’s sister ship), two battle cruis- ers, and two pocket battleships. The Italians had one modern battleship and two older ones operational, but had been rendered gun-shy by the Royal Navy.
In sum, within a few weeks, the US Navy would be minus five of the battleships at Pearl Harbor, two perma- nently, but would have the two new battleships fully operational, for a full strength of twelve capital ships, the same number as Japan. And four of those under construction would be in service in nine months, bringing the fleet to sixteen battleships. In slightly over two years, the Nevada, California, and West Virginia would be back in service, and the four Iowa class battle- ships, the most powerful in the world except for the Yamato and Musashi, and a better-balanced, faster, and more technologically advanced design, would be in service, bringing the US battleship fleet to twenty-three.
Battleships were now, as was obvious to everyone and as had been fore- seen by Roosevelt, much less important than aircraft carriers, where the Americans retained their nine-to-seven pre-war advantage over Japan. This mar- gin would soon be supplemented by Roosevelt’s immense construction pro- gram, now including twenty-four aircraft carriers against only five Japanese carriers in builders’ yards. Great Britain had nine air- craft carriers, including five large new ships, as well as six under construction, against none in service or projected in the German and Italian navies.
Pearl Harbor produced dreadful and humiliating pho- tographs of grievous damage on Battleship Row, but twenty- year-old, 600-foot-long ships lumbering through the water at twenty knots bristling with naval artillery were not going to deter- mine the outcome of this conflict. Even the splendid Bismarck had been doomed by one rickety biplane that jammed its rudders with a torpedo. Old battleships would be useful for escorting convoys and softening up amphibious landing areas only. The naval war would be won by fleet air- craft carriers escorted by fast modern battleships, and by the antisubmarine forces. Pearl Harbor did not reduce the Allied advantage in the first, and the entry of the United States into the war would greatly strengthen the Allied powers in the Battle of the Atlantic, effective immediately.
Pearl Harbor was as skillfully exe- cuted by the Japanese as it was ineptly prepared for by the American theater commanders. Yet the Allied leaders were relieved " even Roosevelt, who had sus- tained such a serious military reversal that if its full proportions were known, it could have affected his credibility as war leader, at least until the United States had reversed the tide of battle.
The Japanese commander of the expedition, who, like most of the Japanese naval high command, had rec- ommended against war with the United States, was far from jubilant. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had spent four years in the US and knew the temperament and capabilities of the United States well. From 1919 to 1921 Yamamoto was in Boston learning English and study- ing the application of oil to naval affairs, and from 1926 to 1928 he had been naval attaché in Washington. He was unimpressed with the US Navy, which he regarded as a club for golfers and bridge players, but was greatly impressed by the might and scale of the United States itself. Yamamoto was never optimistic about winning the war he had so auspiciously begun.
In the White House, after dealing with his cabinet and congressional leaders and military advisors, and writ- ing his speech for the following day, Roosevelt had little to do but receive the steady cascade of incoming mes- sages recording the extent of the Japanese offensive and the American lack of preparedness for it. The distin- guished American news broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, just back from Britain, and his wife had a longstand- ing invitation to dinner at the White House on that evening. Roosevelt had wished to hear Murrow’s account of life in Britain.
Janet Murrow telephoned in mid- afternoon to confirm that the engage- ment, in light of events in the Pacific, was off. The Roosevelts wouldn’t hear of it. ”œWe still have to eat,” said Eleanor. The dinner of the four was very informal, but it occurred as scheduled, consisting mainly of scrambled eggs. After dinner, Mrs. Murrow departed but the President requested that Murrow remain. Several hours later, Murrow was invit- ed back into the President’s study with Colonel William Donovan, who was about to be head of the new intel- ligence service, the OSS. Sandwiches and beer were served.
It was the shameful destruction of the air force, neatly lined up as if for the convenience of the Japanese intruders, that seemed to upset the Commander in Chief most. ”œOur planes were destroyed on the ground, by God, on the ground!” he exclaimed, pounding the table. Yet Murrow was impressed with Roosevelt’s composure and his ability to look beyond the hor- rible fiasco of the day toward victory and a reconstructed world. Murrow never violated the President’s trust in his discretion. Eleanor, who was often a stern judge of her husband, noted his ”œdeadly calm…like an iceberg,” espe- cially in contrast to some of those scur- rying about him.
As the news came in, large crowds gathered outside the White House fence, illuminated by the floodlights on the façade of the mansion. From time to time, they would burst into ”œGod Bless America,” ”œMy Country ”˜Tis of Thee,” ”œAmerica the Beautiful,” or other patri- otic songs. Roosevelt retired at about half past midnight and got a full night’s sleep, unassisted by medication.
In the late morning of December 8, having revised his manuscript to allow for the latest Japanese landings and air attacks, Roosevelt drove down Pennsylvania Avenue in an open car looking jauntily determined, as if, for all the world, he were coming to remonstrate with the congressional leaders about social legislation or budgetary matters, as he had so often before. When FDR entered the House chamber, moving slowly and as if on stilts in the center of his entourage, applause was prolonged, thunderous, and unanimous. Even his bitterest opponents now saw him as command- er in chief of a wronged, righteous, and vengeful nation. Congressional and public opinion had been galva- nized as never before in the nation’s history. No previous American war had commanded such universal domestic support. Whatever their tactical suc- cess, the Japanese had committed one of the most catastrophic strategic errors in the history of the nation state, surpassing even the Kaiser’s 1917 provocation of the United States.
The President’s brief and simple address, broadcast throughout the world, was one of the most famous and successful of his career, eloquent and powerfully delivered, capturing exactly the mood of his countrymen and their legislators.
”œYesterday, December 7, 1941 " a date which will live in infamy " the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor, looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bomb- ing…the Japanese…delivered…a mes- sage [which] contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack…The Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.”
He referred to ”œsevere damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost.”
Roosevelt recited further acts of war: Japanese attacks on American ships ”œon the high seas between Honolulu and San Francisco,” and attacks the previous day and night on Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines, and Wake and Midway Islands.
”œJapan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area…The people of the United States…well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our Nation…Always will our whole Nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. 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…We will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery never again endangers us.
”œWith confidence in our armed forces " with the unbounding determi- nation of our people " we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.” He asked ”œthat the Congress declare that…since the unprovoked and das- tardly attack by Japan…a state of war has existed between the” two countries.
At points in the last series of sentences the President’s voice rose to express the fury of the nation, and there were tremendous and sustained emotional blasts of applause at appropriate points. The speech was only twenty-five sen- tences " about twice as long as Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg " and even with great and frequent applause took less than ten minutes to deliver.
The most durably important line in it was that the United States would ”œmake it very certain that this form of treachery never again endangers us.” Roosevelt was committing the country to retention of sufficient deterrent force that no country would again dare to attack it directly. That policy, coupled with his warnings from the same place eleven months earlier against ”œthose who would with sounding brass and tin- kling cymbal, preach the ”˜ism’ of appeasement,” would provide the basis for American strategic policy into the next millennium.
The country would not appease any country it considered a threat, and maintained a sufficient deterrent force. Unnoticed in the war fervor of the time, these simple principles upheld by all Roosevelt’s suc- cessors as a fixture of bipartisan American foreign and security policy, would make the Second World War as successful in the achievement of espoused war aims as the First World War had been a failure.
(Toward the end of the twentieth century, terrorist attacks were some- times launched against the United States, reaching a climax in the suicide attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon, September 11, 2001, which killed 20 percent more people than the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But no nation would openly be associated with an attack on the United States after Pearl Harbor and its conse- quences for the Japanese attacker.)
Roosevelt now focused on concen- trating national attention on the swiftest possible reversal of the tide of battle, on Japanese treachery rather than American lack of preparedness. His press confer- ence on December 9 was a rather breezy affair, not discernibly different in ambiance from his 679 preceding, peace- time press conferences. He revealed that the Japanese had attacked Clark Field in the Philippines, destroying most of the planes on the runway, despite what had happened the day before in Hawaii. (This would be one of the great controversies in the career of Douglas MacArthur, who as the commanding general of US forces in the Far East was responsible for the defense of the Philippines.)
That evening he addressed the nation in the first war Fireside Chat. Apart from urging people not to propa- gate or believe unsubstantiated war reports and urging everyone to maxi- mum effort, he was chiefly concerned to associate Germany with Japan. More than forty-eight hours had passed since the attack on Pearl Harbor, and although Berlin radio had congratulated Japan on administering such a humiliat- ing comeuppance to the Americans, there was as yet no indication of Hitler’s intention to alter his official relation- ship with the United States. Roosevelt started to prepare his country for a request for a declaration of war against Germany, which he always represented as the satanic motivator and inspiration for the outrages of the Japanese.
”œThe sudden criminal attacks per- petrated by the Japanese in the Pacific provide the climax of a decade of inter- national immorality,” he began.
”œPowerful and resourceful gangsters have banded together to make war upon the whole human race. Their challenge has now been flung at the United States of America.” He gave a bowdlerized his- tory of US-Japanese relations and recounted the sequence of Axis attacks on unoffending countries, all ”œwithout warning,” from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 through to the immediately preceding days, including all the aggressions of Hitler and Mussolini.
”œIt is all of one pattern,” he con- cluded. ”œRemember always that Germany and Italy, regardless of any formal declaration of war, consider themselves at war with the United States at this moment just as much as they consider themselves at war with Britain or Russia.” (This was probably true, but Roosevelt was largely responsible for it.) ”œAnd Germany puts all the other Republics of the Americas into the same category of enemies. The people of our sister Republics of this hemisphere can be honored by that fact.” (A number of them, if consulted, would happily have done without the honor. Argentina did not declare war until 1945.)
The President dodged the question of the extent of damage to the US Navy: ”œI can tell you frankly that until further surveys are made, I have not sufficient information to state the exact damage which has been done to our naval vessels at Pearl Harbor.” This was anything but frank.
He commended the ”œprecious months that were gained” by his policies of cranking up war production and send- ing all aid short of war to the Allies. ”œOur policy rested on the fundamental truth that the defense of any country resisting Hitler or Japan was in the long run the defense of our own country. That policy has been justified.” So it had, and though he did not go further in this address, now that the isolationists had finally been exposed as the fools (like Nye, Wheeler, Hiram Johnson, and the late William Borah) or knaves (like Lindbergh and even Kennedy) that they were, Roosevelt would derive no small or undeserved pleasure from systematically eviscerating them. The only prominent pre-war isolationist who would exercise as much influence after as before the war would be Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, and he had cooperated with the President in the repeal of the Neutrality Act.
Ironically, in the light of the future course of the Pacific war, Roosevelt prepared his audience for the fall of fur- ther outposts, including Midway Island. He was generally even more elo- quent in war than he had been in peace: ”œThe United States does not con- sider it a sacrifice to do all one can, to give one’s best to our Nation, when the Nation is fighting for its existence…It is not a sacrifice for any man, young or old, to be in the Army or Navy of the United States. Rather it is a privilege.
”œIt is not a sacrifice for the industri- alist or the wage earner, the farmer or the shopkeeper, the trainman or the doctor, to pay more taxes, to buy more bonds, to forego extra profits, to work longer or harder at the task for which he is best fitted. Rather is it a privilege.
”œAnd in the difficult hours of this day " through dark days that may be yet to come " we will know that the vast majority of the members of the human race are on our side. Many of them are fighting with us. All of them are praying for us. For in representing our cause, we represent theirs as well " our hope and their hope for liberty under God.”
It was clear from the avalanche of support that flowed into the White House in succeeding days that the coun- try considered itself at war with the Axis and had entire confidence in Roosevelt’s leadership. The country, its press, and its politicians from right to left felt that the President had been vindicated as coura- geous and farseeing, and he retained the adherence of the entire nation as commander in chief in America’s greatest crisis since the Civil War.
Excerpted from Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, 2003. Reprinted with permission of PublicAffairs Books, New York. All rights reserved. www.publicaffairsbooks.com