On December 7, 1941, Japan unleashed an unprovoked attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor. 2,402 American service personnel were killed, as were 57 civilians. 18 ships, including 5 battleships were lost. At the time the attack was launched from Japan, the United States was engaged with representatives of the Japanese government in negotiations designed to guarantee peace between the two nations.The next day, December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a joint session of the United States Congress.

Following the Japanese invasion, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was thrust into a position where he needed to lead. Whether or not he succeeded probably depended largely on what he did in the 24 hours following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Success is often determined by what you do first and how you do it. In a previous post on this site, I explained that I believe Colin Kapaernick fumbled an opportunity to lead because of what he did first and how he did it. He failed to communicate a focused agenda and failed to take or recommend focused action toward a focused solution.  But Roosevelt had to be focused. He could not afford to fumble. True, the situations are vastly different in scope and importance, but the operating principles are the same, so for comparison’s sake, let us take a look at how FDR did it.

The President’s speech is concise and there is meaning in every word. In it, FDR  exhibits the traits of a focused leader. He clearly communicates the issue, the required action, the reasons for his recommendation, and the expected result.

First, the President clearly and simply communicated the issue. He began, “Yesterday, Dec. 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.” Roosevelt left no doubt or confusion about the problem.

The President then began detailing the problem, providing the reasons that a clear response was needed. He explained that even while planning the attack, the Japanese were in peace negotiations with the United States, negotiation Japan had initiated. He added that one hour after the 90 minute attack had begun, the Japanese delegation informed the Secretary of State that there was no future in further discussions, but they did not indicate any  “threat or hint of war or armed attack.” He explained that great damage to military resources had occurred, and American lives had been lost. He clearly added that Japan had attacked six other locations throughout the Pacific Ocean, including United States’ possessions.

Roosevelt then clearly communicated what he correctly believed to be the thoughts of the American people. “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.” And then he reminded Congress of the devious and ruthless nature of the Japanese government. “Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.”

Roosevelt not only focused the attention of the Congress and the nation on the problem, He took focused action, the first action. He informed Congress that ,”As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.”

Then he told Congress the expected outcome. In this, the President was clearly focused. There was only one viable solution and it would be easy to know when it was achieved.  He stated, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory…I believe I interpret 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 very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.”

FDR had focused the attention of the nation on the attack on its people and the threat at hand, but before asking for action, he made certain that it was clear that action had to be taken, telling Congress,  “Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.” How could Congress not act after the President had so clearly communicated the threat to the nation?

Then, in the clear and focused style of this speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a simple, powerful request for a single focused action. That request changed the lives of all Americans, and the nature of the world, forever.He simply said, “I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.”

From that point on, the people of the United States focused their energies on achieving the victory that the President envisioned. Every resource, every person was dedicated to the war effort. Men went to war. Women went to the factories. Pleats were taken out of pants and inseams were shortened to save material to make uniforms. Gas was rationed. Victory gardens appeared. The list of sacrifices and responses goes on and on.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a clear vision of what the nation needed to do, and what he needed to do. We were going to war. No if’s, ands, or buts. No delays. No more conversation. It was time to act. He communicated the problem, his vision, and the solution. His thought was focused. He took focused action. He challenged and  inspired others to do the same.

Returning to Colin Kapernick, let me first assure you that I understand that leading a football team, or even a movement to solve a social issue, pales in the face of the challenges facing a nation’s leaders during a war. And that is the point. What Roosevelt and the nation did was a monumental task, but it was built on a simple concept… Focus. Focused thought, focused communication, focused action. Big goals or little problems, it does not matter.

But I am glad that FDR did not fumble. Thank you, Mr. President.


Citation for FDR’s speech:  http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/franklin-delano-roosevelt/pearl-harbor-speech-december-8-1941.php


An audio/video clip of the speech can be viewed at: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=audio+of+fdr%3bs+speech+after+pearl+harbor+attack&view=detail&mid=076C171475C50FD1F2D1076C171475C50FD1F2D1&FORM=VIRE

Recommended reading:  The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, 1997, by Studs Terkel. This Pulitzer prize winning book  presents a revealing look at the impact of war on individual people, as told by the people themselves. It gives an insight as to just how  intensely the nation and its people were focused .