The year that saw the U.S. enter World War II was bookended by two momentous speeches by President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt. The first took place on January 6, and is now known as the “Four Freedoms” speech. The full transcript (with mp3 file) is here, and the relevant excerpt is below:
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.”
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, affirmed the law that set the first minimum wage and maximum hours worked, which was passed in response to the economic imbalances that led to the Great Depression. According to PBS,
“The Court unanimously upholds the Fair Labor Standards Act. The act, which is the last major piece of the New Deal legislation, establishes minimum wage and maximum hour labor standards in all industries producing goods to be shipped in interstate commerce. The decision in Darby Lumber Co. v. United States reverses several prior decisions, most notably the 1918 case Hammer v. Dagenhart.”
1941 was also the year that Duke Ellington recorded “Take the A Train,” written by Billy Strayhorn a few years before – listen here and look at original documents here.
In another momentous cultural event, one of the greatest movies ever made, the Orson Welles film Citizen Kane, premiered in 1941.
In major league baseball, Ted Williams set a record that has yet to be matched again by finishing the 1941 season with a .406 batting average. In 2011, Bill Pennington wrote for the New York Times:
“Williams, concluding his third season with the Boston Red Sox, went 6 for 8 in the two games to finish at .406, and no one has since hit .400 or better for a season. No one, in fact, has hit higher than .390, and that was 31 years ago.
As another regular season winds toward a close — with no batter above .350 — it may be time to more fully appreciate Williams’s profound, singular achievement. For 70 years, Williams’s .406 season has often been a baseball accomplishment positioned just to the edge of the brightest spotlight.
It was insufficiently acknowledged in 1941 largely because five players had hit better than 400 seven times in the previous 20 years. Only 10,268 fans attended the doubleheader in Philadelphia, and out-of-town newspapers like The New York Times published only brief wire-service accounts.”
Finally, of course, came December 7, 1941, and the Pearl Harbor attack. A letter from December 1 notifying President Roosevelt of unexplained Japanese troop movements can be viewed here, and more information about the attack can be found here.
The next day, on December 8, President Roosevelt gave another speech:
“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.
The United States was at peace with that Nation 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 Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State of form reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.
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 unbounded determination of our people — we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”
And with those words ended the pre-war years. America was again at war.
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