December 7th, 1941 is a day that will forever be etched in U.S. history. It was on that day that the Japanese Empire launched a surprise attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing 2,403 Americans and wounding another 1,000. The attack sent shockwaves across the nation and brought it into the Second World War. It also mobilized the country around a shared belief – democracy and the American way of life are worth defending.
At the time of the attack, the United States was fragile and many were led to believe the country was irrevocably divided, much like today. The country was still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, and many Americans were hesitant to enter another global conflict.
A month after the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his most important – and most famous – speech. A speech whose message still resonates and quickly rallied the country behind the cause of defending freedom and democracy.
Roosevelt made the case for entering the Second World War based upon his belief that Great Britain was in dire need of help and support, and then made his case for unifying under American and humanitarian principles.
In what would come to be known as his “Four Freedoms” speech, Roosevelt outlined four freedoms that ought to be available to all mankind, and not just those within the confines of America’s borders.
The Four Freedoms Roosevelt outlined included two that have long been part of the American tradition — freedom of speech and the freedom to worship. The last two were largely aspirational, but meant to bring a sense of unity and kinship in trying times – freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Roosevelt concluded his speech with a call to unity:
“This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.”
In the days and weeks following Roosevelt’s speech, Americans from all walks of life came together to support the war effort and put their “faith in freedom”. Men and women from coast to coast enlisted in the armed forces, eager to defend their country against the forces of evil. Businesses and factories converted to war production, churning out the weapons and supplies needed to fight the war. And on the home front, Americans joined together in a collective effort to support the troops and to ensure that the nation remained strong and united.
Pearl Harbor Day is a reminder of the importance of standing together in the face of adversity, and of the sacrifices that were made to defend our nation and our way of life. It is also a reminder that, In the face of extreme turmoil, there is always opportunity to unite.