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President Roosevelt’s Speech On Pearl Harbor

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Rhetorical Analysis FDR

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor address to the nation was one of the most impactful speeches of the 1940s. On December 8th, 1941 President Roosevelt delivered the address to Congress in Washington D.C. The purpose of the speech was to persuade Congress to declare war against Japan due to the devastating surprise attack in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii the previous day. President Roosevelt wanted to make Congress and the American people aware of the Japanese aggression in the Pacific and that the attack on Pearl Harbor was an act of war. This paper will analyze President Roosevelt’s speech through the rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos.

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Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, tensions between the United States and Japan were high. The outbreak of a war officially began in Europe in September of 1939 and the United States was trying to avoid conflict. However, as history has shown, conflicts are sometimes inevitable. Roosevelt is said to have stated, “At least as early as October 8, 1940, affairs had reached such a state that the United States would become involved in a war with Japan.” (506) Roosevelt was aware that the United States was approaching the brink of war but, he was not aware how the United States would enter the war or what actions would result in war. Roosevelt was proved correct on December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

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Ethos is a rhetorical strategy that is used by writers to project an authoritative stance. The writer’s goal when using ethos is to seem trust worthy and reliable throughout a writing piece or speech. At the time of the speech Franklin D. Roosevelt was in his fourth term as president, so he was already trusted and had a good reputation. He incorporated his reputation into the speech by reminding the people of his position. He reminds the people of his position by stating, “As commander in Chief of the Army and Navy”(paragraph 8). Although he reiterates his position, Franklin D. Roosevelt also uses ethos in a way of keeping himself included with the American people rather focusing on himself. He does so by using worlds like we and us rather than saying I. Another aspect of ethos is evident towards the beginning of the speech. “The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very man American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu”(paragraph 5). This excerpt from the speech is to the point and brings reality to the situation. The formality of this excerpt gives Franklin Roosevelt credibility due to the formality of the issue. He is straight to the point, giving the people the straight news of the atrocity. Throughout the speech, Roosevelt builds up his credibility because he is confident and knows what he is talking about. He states, “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”(paragraph 2). Roosevelt clarifies the situation in the following paragraph. “Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack”(paragraph 3). Roosevelt is able to clarify the situation by stating those two points. He makes the audience aware that the United States was at peace with Japan and although in talks with their government about maintaining peace. However, Roosevelt makes it known that Japan decided to discontinue diplomatic negotiation without any mention or war or an attack. The examples provided validate and express the use and need of ethos; a reliable speaker is more persuasive than an unconvincing speaker.

Techniques used to appeal to an audience’s emotions are referred to as pathos. Throughout the speech Roosevelt uses pathos to achieve an emotional response from the American people and most importantly Congress. Roosevelt states, ”Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Wake Island. And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island”(paragraph 6). This excerpt from the speech is one of the most important entry of the speech. The repetition of the words last night, Japanese, and attacked are effective and tap into the audience’s emotion of fear. This creates a much more emotional affect because without the repetition, the excerpt would not be as effective. The repetition creates fear and makes it evident to Congress and the American people that the whole empire of Japan has started a war and that Pearl Harbor was not just one military strike. Another example where Roosevelt taps into the emotion of the audience comes towards the end of his speech. “Hostilities exits. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger”(paragraph 11). Again, Roosevelt uses the emotion of fear and worry to express the desire of a declaration of war. When one is in danger, they try to find a solution to be safe again. By drawing out the emotion of fear in his audience, Roosevelt was able to pursued Congress and the people that a declaration of war was the solution to preventing this danger

Techniques used to appeal an audience’s rationality are known as logos. Towards the beginning of the speech Roosevelt targets the rationality of the viewers. “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 out to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace”(paragraph 4). This statement is rational because it justifies just how much of a surprise attack it was and why there should be a response towards Japan. Roosevelt uses a logical strategy towards the end of his speech. “The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation”(paragraph 7). Roosevelt acknowledges the rationality of the people and believes the people want a response to the attack. By doing so he re assures Congress that the people will do what it takes to protect the safety of the nation and are expecting a response to the devastating attack. Logos was not the technique most used by Roosevelt during his speech, but logos did play a big role by rationalizing the situation.

The rhetorical techniques ethos, pathos, and logos were successfully used by Roosevelt to pursued Congress to draft a declaration of war against Japan. Roosevelt’s speech would not have been as effective if the strategies were not incorporated into the speech. He was able to successful pursued the audience at a trust worthy, emotional, and rational way. Rhetorical strategies are the underlying framework for persuasive writing. Being able to tap into a reader’s emotion, logic, or trust is the difference between good persuasive writing and bad. Rhetorical strategies allow the writer to personalize an issue and by doing so writers successfully connect with the audience in order to pursued them. Rhetorical strategies are necessary in persuasive writing and without them; persuasive writing would be dull and impersonalized. The importance of rhetorical strategies is immense and these strategies should be incorporated into writing more often.

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