America Goes to War

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11165

The enemy is at your door, thousands killed, and 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
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.

Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

You have been asked to address the world. It would help if you found some way to encourage and sympathize with your people and simultaneously intimidate your enemies.

  • What would you say?
  • What tone would you use?

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?

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 everyone involved, including his speechwriters and advisors.

President Roosevelt would have to come off as sympathetic toward his 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 worldwide, 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 long, but it has become one of the most famous presidential speeches in American history. Many historians agree that President Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech set a standard of what a wartime president should look and sound like.

  • What does the word infamy mean?
  • How does this term relate to the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Infamy refers to a state of being widely known for a negative or disgraceful action, event, or reputation.

It relates to the attack on Pearl Harbor because it is often used to describe the notoriety and shame associated with the surprise attack by Japan on the United States, which led to the U.S. entering World War II.

Watch and listen to Roosevelt's speech in the video below.

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Answer the following questions on separate paper.

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

Review your answers against the ones below.

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  • Why do you think President Roosevelt's speech has remained so famous?
  • What part(s) of his speech were notable to you?

Move to the Got It? section to continue learning about Roosevelt's speech and the impact it had.

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