A date which will live in…world history?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a great communicator. In what was probably his most well known speech he ever delivered – the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor that announced the United States entrance into World War II – he kicked off his speech with the line, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy…”

The date which will live in infamy is the one line that Americans remember 74 years later. But, the line almost didn’t make the speech.

According to a document published on Monday by Paul Sparrow, the director of the FDR Library, the original Pearl Harbor message to Congress looked like this:

FDR original Pearl Harbor speech with edits

“A date which will live in world history” didn’t have the impact FDR was looking for. As Sparrow notes in his blog post, the speech was not written by speechwriters and consultants. There was no poll of the American public that attempted to wordsmith the right message. FDR dictated the speech to his assistant Grace Tully three hours after he learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

After the dictation President FDR reviewed the dictation and made a few edits that truly showed his mastery in communication.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history, the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

“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.”

This is the one sentence everyone remembers. Without this one change, who knows what Americans would have remembered.

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