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Who Was President During Pearl Harbor?

Franklin D Roosevelt was president of the United States on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese conducted an attack on Pearl Harbor. This attack caused America’s entry into World War 2.

Roosevelt Expected an Attack

Roosevelt expected an attack by the Japanese, but conspiracy theories claiming that he knew that they were going to strike Pearl Harbor have been rejected by most scholars. The Government rather expected Japan to attack American targets in Thailand or the Dutch East Indies than a target this close to home. The Chicago Tribune published a top-secret war plan, “Rainbow Five” on December 4, 1941, in which the War Department made preparation arrangements for war with Japan.


When the news about Pearl Harbor reached Washington, President Roosevelt was thunderstruck—not because he was surprised by the attack itself, but because the attack had been far more dreadful than anything the administration had expected.

Pearl Harbor had been an obvious target—so obvious, in fact, that John Huston was at work at the time on a movie about a fictional Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack, Huston scurried to change the target in the film from Pearl Harbor to the Panama Canal. The film kept its original title, Across the Pacific, perhaps because it was almost completed when the Japanese struck. Had the film been released before the attack, Roosevelt’s embarrassment might have been even deeper than it was.

Infamy Speech

On December 8, 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt, delivered his “Infamy Speech” in which he called for war. He referred to the attack on Pearl Harbor as a “date that will live in infamy.”

Faced with losses and humiliations they had not anticipated when they dictated unacceptable conditions to a proud but threatened nation—now enraged and filled with ferocious self-confidence—Roosevelt and the men around him began a frantic search for scapegoats.


This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Pearl Harbor attack. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Pearl Harbor.

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