Craig Shirley | December 11, 1941: A Date Which Should Live in Infamy

Clearly, FDR’s war counsel had discussed on the evening of December 7 declaring war on all three Axis countries and being done with it. The United States certainly had justification to declare war on Germany as Adolf Hitler had issued a personal order to German U-boats to shoot on sight any American ship on the North Atlantic, military or civilian, the same barbaric tactic that had pushed Woodrow Wilson into war.

Hitler hated the United States — he often ranted about supposed Jewish control of the country — and was particularly obsessed with Roosevelt, whom he crudely slandered in public and private. The Fuhrer sometimes called FDR “Frau Roosevelt,” and made fun of his confinement to a wheelchair. On December 8, however, FDR had only asked for a declaration of war against Japan.

The Anti-Comintern Pact (and, later, the Tripartite Pact) were mutual defense treaties between the three Axis powers. But by 1941 no one expected Hitler to feel bound by a piece of paper. Just ask Neville Chamberlain or Josef Stalin. Hitler had broken agreements with both men, invading Poland and thus pulling Britain into the war, and invading the Soviet Union. (Speaking of papers, on December 9, German diplomats at their Washington, D.C., embassy were observed burning documents. Within a short time, they would be transferred to a remote resort south of Washington, where they had nothing to do but get drunk all day. The Japanese envoys were already deep into their own stash of hooch.)

Drunk with power, Hitler allowed his hatred for America and FDR, his arrogance, and anti-Semitism to spill out in a speech to the Nazi Party at the Reichstag where he called for a general mobilization against the Unites States of America. Hours later, diplomatic representatives of Germany and Italy delivered their countries’ war declarations to Cordell Hull, the secretary of state. Hull thought so little of the Italian legation — which was late in arriving at the State Department — that he sent an aide out to receive the message.

In response, FDR sent a message to Capitol Hill, asking for a declaration of war against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. This time it was approved unanimously, as Rep. Rankin abstained. The congressional galleries were only half-filled. The drama of just four days earlier was, by and large, gone, replaced by a resolute government, military and citizenry.


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