The March of Time presents the beginning of the war with a run-down of the week's events, but laces even this most serious report with humor, indicating that the entrance into the war was seen to some extent as a mere matter of time, and that the start of armed conflict was met with energy from Americans and the media.
It is almost dawn on the Pacific; "There is a distant booming, but it is not boom of the sea." [planes buzz] In the Western half of the United States it is mid-morning, church-time for many, the narrator says. A preacher prays that he hopes to "always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will....Save us from violence, discord and confusion, from pride and arrogancy [sic], and from every evil way. Defend our liberty, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought here out of many kingdoms and countries." While this prayer is supposed to take place before the war officially begins, it acts as a prayer for the audience a week later as they listen to the broadcast.
In Honolulu, it is not even breakfast. A man warms up his private plane's engine for his morning flight. Once he takes off, he finds Japanese planes flying directly toward him. It is Sunday, December 7, 1941. The scene changes again as the Japanese ambassador is late for a meeting with Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Japanese envoys finally arrive, 15 minutes late, and Hull reads their response to a U.S. proposal for peace with increasing fury and surprise in his voice; it is "impossible to reach an agreement" with the United States, the response states. Hull exclaims, "In all my 50 years of public service, I have never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions...on a scale so huge that I never imagined until this day that any government on this planet was capable of uttering them."
In the meantime, a reporter calls San Francisco from Honolulu and gives details over the phone of what has happened in Pearl Harbor. Bombs can still be heard in the background as the call disconnects. The United States has entered into its seventh major conflict. At Pearl Harbor, 1,500 are killed and 1,500 wounded. As news reaches the "peace-loving, peace-making " American people, different reactions are portrayed. A motorist drives into a filling station and finds out the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On the way to the station, "just now down the street, I almost hit a Jap on a motorcycle—guess I should have run over him," he says. [Music blares at the zinger]. Outright prejudice against the Japanese is shown as an acceptable reaction.
In attacking Hawaii, the Japanese aimed their "copperhead punch" to divide the U.S. fleet; several more American-held Pacific islands are attacked. In Portland, Maine, the afternoon movies are beginning. "Up to today I wondered whether we were another France—too soft. But now we'll see if American can fight in the old way—I know Maine people can," a man comments. The narrator explains that "this war will have to be won the hard way."
[March of Time makes a pitch for Life magazine.]
On December 8, members of the House and Senate hold a joint session. Every important official is present as Roosevelt delivers his historic message. FDR asks Congress to declare a state of war between the United States and Japanese empire. Cheers are heard. Only one congressmen dissented, and never "has the United States been so united." FDR could do anything he thought necessary "with perfect assurance that the country was solidly behind him," the narrator explains. Roosevelt takes a well-earned nap in the office once used by Woodrow Wilson. The March of Time re-enacts Wilson's infamous speech declaring war during World War I.
In Tokyo, on December 10, at the shrine of a sun goddess, a "little man wearing thick spectacles" comes in—Emperor Hirohito. He bows low, claps his hands, and whispers his news to the goddess before walking out of the shrine backwards. Hirohito tells the sun goddess that Japan has declared war on the United States and the British empire. Attacks soon commence on the Philippines.
From Monday through Wednesday, one story was the same—young men stormed military recruiting offices. Scenes such as those in New York City are typical—there are enough volunteers for three destroyers. A reporter questions men in the recruiting line while they wait. One man says, "we got a tough job on our hands, I know the Japs are good." A Chinese man waits in line. "Hey, you aren't Japanese are you?" the reporter asks, clearly uncomfortable, and his uneasiness continues even after he learns the man is ready to avenge China and America against the Japanese. The reporter interviews an Italian man and asks whether he knows he may fight Italians. "Sure, and the Germans too, that's all right with me. I'm an American." The scene is supposed to show how all kinds of Americans are ready to fight together, but the inclusion really only includes white Americans.
As the scene shifts to Germany, Hitler declares war on the United States, complaining that Roosevelt deceived Germany, and failed to recognize the new order. "No one can destroy German unity!" he shouts.
"At the same time in Rome, another stooge of Adolf Hitler's, Benito Mussolini" addresses his people. The crowd chants "Duce," as he declares war on the United States as well. "We shall win!" he proclaims.
Roosevelt drafts his second war message, asking Congress to extend the theater to the two remaining Axis aggressors. Without debate or dissenting votes, they "obey" his request. The narrator announces that today [December 11] the U.S. Army bombers ran through a Manila air field with orders to engage. They spot a Japanese battleship and set their bombs loose. "That's one for the boys who got it in the barracks back at Hickham field," a pilot proclaims vengefully. The narrator announces that the war now is "truly a world war," with fronts on every continent save one, with more than six nations at war. The war had "got off to a bad start" this week, but the United States is embarking on a mission "to make the world really safe for democracy." The segment returns to the prayer, mentioning Jesus Christ by name (leaving out Jewish Americans).
[Pitch for Time magazine. The story of the war "is a story our children's children will remember forever." NBC announcement. Beer ad on Pittsburgh station. United Press reports follow with "late news."]