"Yesterday, 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."
- Franklin Roosevelt, Address to Congress, December 8, 1941
On December 7, 1941 - a date that still lives in American memory - America entered World War II.
In the early morning hours of that December Sunday, Japan unleashed a devastating surprise attack on American and British military outposts in the Pacific. The worst blow came at Hawaii, site of the giant Pearl Harbor naval base and other military installations. Japanese bombers destroyed or damaged 21 American naval vessels and over 300 aircraft. The attacks killed 2403 military personnel and civilians and shattered the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
President Roosevelt was having lunch at the White House when he got the news. Throughout the afternoon he met with aides and monitored the crisis. Shortly before 5 p.m., he began preparing a war message for Congress. Though drafted in haste, FDR's words galvanized the nation.
Japan's surprise attack at Pearl Harbor stunned the American public and severely damaged America's Pacific fleet. The attack was the largest element in a coordinated series of assaults on American installations from Wake Island to the Philippines.
The December 7 offensive was part of a bigger Japanese plan to seize oil-rich territories in Southeast Asia. To prevent American interference, Japan's leaders decided to first strike a crippling blow against U.S. military power in the Pacific.
America Enters the War
"We are now in this war. We are all in it - all the way. Every single man, woman, and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history. We must share together the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories - the changing fortunes of war."
- Franklin Roosevelt, Fireside Chat, December 9, 1941
On December 7, 1941, debate over American involvement in World War II ended abruptly. Isolationist sentiment disappeared and the nation emerged united and determined, in FDR's words, to "win through to absolute victory."
Four days after Pearl Harbor, Germany and Italy - allied with Japan under the 1940 Tripartite Pact - declared war on the United States. The Tripartite Pact did not require them to do this. It was mandatory only if one of the three nations was attacked. But, in one stroke, Hitler and Mussolini solved a strategic dilemma for FDR, who had long believed Germany posed the greatest long-term threat to America. Now Roosevelt's biggest immediate challenge was to convince Americans that although it was Japan that had attacked the United States, the nation's strategy must be to defeat "Germany First."