America Goes to War

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11165

The enemy is at your doorstep, thousands killed, your people in shock. How do you comfort the nation while staring down the enemy? Reenact and critique FDR's speech and the decision to fight Japan!


United States, World

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Pretend you are the president of the United States, and the attack on Pearl Harbor has just occurred. You have been asked to address the world. You must find some way to encourage and sympathize with your people and be intimidating to your enemies, all at the same time. What would you say? What tone would you use? Discuss your thoughts with a teacher or parent.

In this lesson, you will learn how the United States responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Before you begin, review what you have already learned about Pearl Harbor. Discuss the following questions with a teacher or parent:

  • Where is Pearl Harbor located?
  • Why was there tension between the United States and Japan before the attack?
  • Why did the Japanese choose to bomb Pearl Harbor?
  • What was the outcome of the attack (casualities and damage)?

If you are having difficulty answering any of the questions, be sure to go back and review the previous Related Lessons about Pearl Harbor, found in the right-hand sidebar.

Think about a speech you have heard someone give that has stuck with you.

  • What about it was memorable?
  • Did the speaker capture your attention?
  • Did the message move you?
  • Discuss your responses with a teacher or parent.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was tasked with addressing the American people. Ultimately, his address was viewed by the world, because everyone was interested to see how the United States would respond to the attack. Putting together and presenting his speech would have been a challenge for all those involved, including his speechwriters and advisors. President Roosevelt would have to come off as both sympathetic towards his own people, and a threat to Japan and others who wished the United States harm.

On December 8, just one day after the attack, President Roosevelt addressed Congress in a speech that was broadcast around the world, using radio. It had the largest audience in the history of U.S. radio, with more than 80% of American families gathering around their radios to hear the president speak. This speech was only a few minutes in length, but it has become one of the most famous presidential speeches in all of American history. Many historians agree that President Roosevelt's speech set a standard of what a wartime president should look and sound like.

You are soon going to watch what is now known as the "Day of Infamy" speech. Before you watch the video, look up the word "infamy" in the dictionary. You can use Merriam-Webster's online Dictionary. What does the word "infamy" mean? How does this term relate to the attack on Pearl Harbor? Discuss your response with a teacher or parent.

Next, write the following questions on a separate piece of paper. You will write the response to each question as you watch the video:

  • How does President Roosevelt describe the United States' relationship with Japan before the attack?
  • What evidence does President Roosevelt use to prove the attack was planned out?
  • What did Japan do after they attacked Pearl Harbor?
  • What does President Roosevelt ask Congress to do?
  • Why doesn't President Roosevelt declare war while he is giving the speech?

Watch the famous speech, FDR DECLARES WAR (12/8/41) - Franklin Delano Roosevelt, WWII, Infamy Speech, 24400 (PeriscopeFilm):

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When the video is over, review your responses with a teacher or parent.

Why do you think President Roosevelt's speech has remained so famous throughout the years? What part(s) of his speech were notable to you? Discuss your observations with a teacher or parent. Then, move on to the next section to continue learning about Roosevelt's speech and the impact it had.

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