Getty Images
Getty Images

What Was FDR Doing On the 'Date Which Will Live in Infamy'?

Getty Images
Getty Images

December 7, 1941 was, famously, “a date which will live in infamy.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed it so at a Joint Session of Congress the following day, referring to the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. Through official records, diary entries, and conversation transcriptions, we can piece together what the president was doing on the day that would bring the United States into WWII.

Tensions had been running high between the U.S. and Japan for at least a decade prior to the attacks. Upset by Japanese military expansion into China throughout the 1930s, the United States froze Japanese assets at home and refused to sell oil to the empire, actions that went into effect in July 1941.

Thanks to U.S cryptanalysts who cracked Japanese diplomatic code, American officials learned of Japanese troop buildup in November 1941. Roosevelt even sent a memo on December 1, one week prior to the attacks on Pearl Harbor, asking for more intel on the Japanese government's intentions, writing that “these increased forces in Indo-China would seem to imply the utilization of these forces by Japan for purposes of further aggression.” [PDF

On December 7, Japanese planes began air strikes on Pearl Harbor at 7:48 AM Hawaiian time, which was 12:48 PM in Washington, DC. According to his stenographer’s diary, Roosevelt was meeting with Chinese Ambassador Dr. Hu Shih at the White House then. Immediately after this meeting, FDR had lunch in the Oval Study with aide Harry L. Hopkins. During this lunch, at 1:40 PM ET, Roosevelt took a telephone call from the Secretary of the Navy, who alerted him that Pearl Harbor was under attack (and that it was definitely “no drill”).

The subsequent meetings held by and for the president can be seen in this copy of his stenographer’s diary, via the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library:

At 6:40 PM ET, FDR spoke on the phone with Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who had their conversation transcribed  [PDF]. During their talk, Morgenthau, who was in control of the Secret Service, said, “We are not going to let any Japanese leave the country or to carry on any communications,” to which the president replied, “I see.” Morgenthau also requested to put a “detail of soldiers on the White House grounds,” a suggestion at which Roosevelt balked. “You’ve doubled the guard,” he said, “That’s all you need. As long as you have one about every hundred feet around the fence, it’s all right.”

During his emergency cabinet meeting at 9:45 PM ET, Roosevelt presented, in broad strokes, what he was going to say to Congress the next day. A confrontation occurred when Secretary of State Cordell Hull disagreed with FDR’s plan to deliver such a brief speech. According to a diary entry from Agriculture Secretary Claude R. Wickard, Hull had said that “the most important war in 500 years deserved more than a short statement.” FDR ignored Hull, and he gave his heralded, barely seven-minute “Infamy” speech the next day anyway:

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
What Happens When You Flush an Airplane Toilet?
iStock
iStock

For millions of people, summer means an opportunity to hop on a plane and experience new and exciting sights, cultures, and food. It also means getting packed into a giant commercial aircraft and then wondering if you can make it to your next layover without submitting to the anxiety of using the onboard bathroom.

Roughly the size of an apartment pantry, these narrow facilities barely accommodate your outstretched knees; turbulence can make expelling waste a harrowing nightmare. Once you’ve successfully managed to complete the task and flush, what happens next?

Unlike our home toilets, planes can’t rely on water tanks to create passive suction to draw waste from the bowl. In addition to the expense of hauling hundreds of gallons of water, it’s impractical to leave standing water in an environment that shakes its contents like a snow globe. Originally, planes used an electronic pump system that moved waste along with a deodorizing liquid called Anotec. That method worked, but carrying the Anotec was undesirable for the same reasons as storing water: It raised fuel costs and added weight to the aircraft that could have been allocated for passengers. (Not surprisingly, airlines prefer to transport paying customers over blobs of poop.)

Beginning in the 1980s, planes used a pneumatic vacuum to suck liquids and solids down and away from the fixture. Once you hit the flush button, a valve at the bottom of the toilet opens, allowing the vacuum to siphon the contents out. (A nonstick coating similar to Teflon reduces the odds of any residue.) It travels to a storage tank near the back of the plane at high speeds, ready for ground crews to drain it once the airplane lands. The tank is then flushed out using a disinfectant.

If you’re also curious about timing your bathroom visit to avoid people waiting in line while you void, flight attendants say the best time to go is right after the captain turns off the seat belt sign and before drink service begins.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?
iStock
iStock

Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia, a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki.

According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.

WHY FRIDAY?

Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Some street addresses also skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios