The American Response
The Japanese believed that by striking first, they could effectively disable the American military presence in the Pacific and thus prevent any formidable intervention as Japan continued its conquest of smaller nations in the pursuit of land and resources.
However, rather than destroying the U.S. military and demoralizing the nation as planned, the attack only strengthened the country's resolve. Previously, a neutral and politically divided United States might have been content to let Japan continue its warlike ways as long as it didn't touch American interests or harm American citizens.
But with a single blow, Japan managed to unleash the fury of the entire nation.
FDR's Radio Address
On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt made the following address, asking Congress to declare war on Japan. Its opening line remains one of the most famous quotes regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor:
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.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack. It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace....
Figure 3-3 President Franklin D. Roosevelt addresses the nation following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Photo courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum (ARC 196055)
As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces — with the unbounded determination of our people — we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God. I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
A Nation Reeling
On December 8, Congress declared war on Japan by a nearly unanimous vote. Within a day of the declaration of war, long lines formed at every draft board as men clamored to join the service. Most isolationists suddenly changed their beliefs, fully aware that the United States could no longer sit out a war that was threatening to engulf the world.
Most people hoped the conflict would be short but knew in their hearts that it would take everything at the nation's disposal to eliminate fascism's threat to the world. As men lined up to enlist in the service, women replaced them in the workplace, giving birth to role models like Rosie the Riveter.
On the afternoon of the attack, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt addressed the nation by radio. “For months now,” she said, “the knowledge that something of this kind might happen has been hanging over our heads.... That is all over now, and there is no more uncertainty. We know now what we have to face, and we know we are ready to face it. Whatever is asked of us, I am sure we can accomplish it; we are the free and unconquerable people of the United States of America.”
The automotive industry became the primary arms maker in the war. An estimated 35 percent of the nation's ordnance was produced in or around Detroit. General Motors Corporation became the nation's largest producer of war materials by developing specialties for its divisions. The company's Cadillac plant, for example, produced tanks and howitzer carriers, while its Chevrolet plant manufactured gears for aircraft engines and axles for army vehicles.
The Chrysler Corporation, Packard, and other large manufacturers also did their share of war production, turning out machinery and weapons at an astounding rate. At Ford's huge River Rouge plant, the largest industrial facility in the world, raw materials arrived by ship, and finished jeeps and trucks moved out from the same docks.