FDR's Pearl Harbor speech could have been very different

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy...”

The powerful and memorable words from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s message to Congress which, 75 years later, remains one of the most important speeches ever given by a U.S. president.

Within hours of the attack, he called in his secretary, Grace Tully, and dictated his call to arms. Mrs. Tully typed it up and gave it back to President Roosevelt shortly after. He made some edits, but one in particular set the tone for the entire speech.


Initially the speech read, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history...”.





Secretary of State Cordell Hull initially urged President Roosevelt to read a 17-page speech drafted by the State Department on the history of U.S.-Japanese relations and the transgressions of the past decade. Instead, FDR trusted his gut and chose brevity for the nation’s battlecry, which ran approximately 5 minutes and is under 500 words long.

It wasn’t that he was close-minded. Instead, he simply knew what needed to be said and what needed to be done after an attack on the country. A line suggested by Vice President Henry Wallace made it into the speech, and summed it up perfectly:

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people will in their righteous might win through to absolute victory.”

The United States’ entry into World War II may have been inevitable, but the feelings of a nation echoed by their president may have been forgotten over time if not for one tiny edit small change.

Watch the video to see how survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor are honoring their comrades.