Sunday came and went almost unnoticed by most Americans. But it was 67 years ago, on Dec. 7, 1941 - also a Sunday - that the United States naval base in Pearl Harbor was attacked by a massive Japanese air strike that plunged the U.S. into the Second World War. It remains the most audacious aerial assault by a seaborne force in history. And the scars and vengeance from that fateful day did much to alter modern world history.
American reaction to the attack was fierce because it was considered a "sneak attack," for the Japanese had failed to deliver a declaration of war on the United States prior to the sinking of the battleships in Pearl Harbor. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt similarly reacted with strong rhetoric, imploring Americans to end decades of isolationism in order to defend their nation and freedom.
FDR used ferocious language - "day of infamy," "treachery," and "dastardly" among the expressions - to drive his point home to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. His speech was also broadcast on radio for all Americans to hear. By then, FDR's stellar oratorical skills were well known by the average U.S. citizen, for he had become a regular presence with his famous weekly fireside chats.
Oratorical flourishes were often needed to galvanize a nation in times of despair or war. Throughout the turbulent 20th century, major speeches were often given by heads of states engaged in conflicts. With the advent of radio, and later television, some of these speeches were immortalized and filed away for history's posterity.
Into the 21st Century, with grave new threats and challenges, major wartime speeches certainly will return to our radios, television sets and now computers and smart phones. This one took place on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001:
And here are our choices for RCW's Most Influential Wartime Speeches of the 20th Century:
No. 5 Ronald Reagan 1987