Before FDR Gave His Pearl Harbor Speech, Eleanor Gave HersHistorians/History
tags: FDR, Pearl Harbor, Eleanor
Greg Sumner is a Professor of History at the University of Detroit Mercy and the author of "Detroit in World War II" (The History Press).
Everyone knows about Franklin Roosevelt's defiant speech to Congress the day after Pearl Harbor, in which he declared that Japan's attack marked “a date which will live in infamy.” But FDR was not the first in his inner circle to address the American people as the shock waves set in.
His wife Eleanor, a formidable figure in her own right, decided to go ahead with her weekly Sunday evening radio broadcast just hours after the terrible news broke. In her familiar patrician voice, firmer and more resolute than usual, the First Lady set the tone for the nation, reassuring listeners of her faith in “the free and unconquerable people of the United States.” It was a masterly two-and-a-half minutes, spoken from the heart and filled with the words “we” and “our”:
For months now the knowledge that something of this kind might happen has been hanging over our heads. And yet it seemed impossible to believe, impossible to drop the every-day things of life and [undertake the] one thing which was important: preparation to meet an enemy, no matter where he struck. That is all over now, and there is no more uncertainty. We know what we have to face and we know that we are ready to face it.
Before signing off, Mrs. Roosevelt took time to speak directly to the wives and mothers in the audience. With her own sons in the service, she understood the burdens they were now being asked to bear. And she reminded her fellow citizens on the home front of their heightened responsibilities.
“We must go about our daily business more determined than ever to do the ordinary as well as we can.”
As our country moves forward into the uncertain world of 2017, seventy-five years after Pearl Harbor, we can take solace and inspiration from E.R.'s small, dignified demonstration of leadership that dark day of infamy. Her language of teamwork and solidarity, her spirit of optimism about the arc of history, her challenge to “get your hands dirty and do your part” for the greater good—the credo that defined her entire public life--paid off in that moment of maxium crisis, and can help us today as we interact with each other and go about the most ordinary tasks of our lives.
comments powered by Disqus
- The ‘nation’s report card’ says it assesses critical thinking in history
- A ‘Quest for Justice’ for Murdered Civil Rights Pioneer, 52 Years Later
- Under Trump, Most Americans Lack Basic Knowledge to Understand Current Events, Study Finds
- Trump wants a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on July 4th
- What Happens When an Entire Campus Is Rooted in the Confederacy?
- Male historian tapped to lead Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas
- Decline in History Majors Continues, Departments Respond
- He’s 75 now. When he started teaching at the University of New Orleans students walked out on his class.
- ‘Fake news’ from 1738 offers lessons for modern historians, says Missouri scholar
- Peter Dreier calls on Americans to build monuments to liberal heroes