Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation

In the early afternoon of December 7, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt was just finishing lunch in his oval study on the second floor of the White House, preparing to work on his stamp album, when his telephone rang.

The White House operator announced that Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox was on the line and insisted on talking with him. Roosevelt took the call.

The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time, Secretary Knox told the President. Harry Hopkins, a top aide who was with Roosevelt at the time, could not believe the report. But Roosevelt did. "It was just the kind of unexpected thing the Japanese would do. At the very time they were discussing peace in the Pacific, they were plotting to overthrow it," he said.

For the rest of that afternoon, sixty years ago, Roosevelt and his advisers were busy at the White House receiving fragmentary reports about the damage to U.S. installations, ships, and planes in Hawaii. Security was increased around the White House, and plans for a bomb shelter for the President underneath the nearby Treasury Department building were under way. Across the nation, news of the attack spread by radio and word of mouth, and Americans began thinking about what life in a nation at war was going to be like.