A Bad News Speech, With Footnotes | "Day of Infamy"

Use this as a model for your own

A great speech from the past can provide a framework for new speeches today. Almost any great speech will do, so long as it served a similar function.

This one (below) addressed an entire nation under attack. The speaker, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, spoke to the United States Congress on 8 December 1941.


As on many such occasions, the purpose of the speaker was to give an account of just how bad things are, while steering the audience away from despair to a shared sense of purpose. Which is to say that this speech, heralding America’s entry into World War Two, could be adapted for use by (say) a manager whose department is failing to reach its targets.

I have added footnotes. You can jump to them by clicking on the numbers beside the yellow highlighted text, and jump back to carry on reading.


Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked1 by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation2 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 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 hint3 of war or of 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 deceive4 the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost5. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning6, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications7 to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might8 will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret9 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 it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.10

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 unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph11 — so help us God.

I ask12 that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed13 between the United States and the Japanese empire.

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How To Use The Speech

I hope it’s obvious that I don’t mean you should copy the words, or the structure, exactly as you find them: take what you like, and leave the rest.

Having read the speech you may find it helpful to set aside Roosevelt’s words and use the footnotes below as a framework, because my paraphrases are more generic, and may be more easily tweaked to fit the subject of your own talk.

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1 suddenly and deliberately attacked. This was awful, unexpected, and somebody else is responsible.

2 at peace with that nation. We are good people, we don’t deserve this.

3 no threat or hint. We couldn’t have expected this.

4 deliberately sought to deceive. We’re up against people who (can you believe it) cheat.

5 very many American lives have been lost. This is how bad things are. And in the next few lines I’ll tell you how it got even worse.

6 And this morning. My list of recent terrible events brings us right up to the present day.

7 well understand the implications. You’re smart. I don’t need to spell this out.

8 the American people in their righteous might. We’re good people, truly good, and we are capable of so much.

9 I believe that I interpret. I’m not just making this up. I’m taking care to understand the wider view.

10 never again endanger us. Let’s be sure we never have to experience this horrible feeling again.

11 inevitable triumph. We can do it! We’re that good!

12 I ask. I don’t want to force anything, but to get consensus from the wisest among us.

13 has existed. I’d like you to backdate your decision to when things went bad.

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Text of FDR’s speech courtesy of Project Gutenberg.