Host: Ladies and gentlemen, the Prime Minister.
John Curtin: Men and women of Australia, we are at war with Japan. That has happened because, in the first instance, Japanese naval and air forces launched an unprovoked attack on British and United States territory; because our vital interests are imperilled and because the rights of free people in the whole Pacific are assailed. As a result, the Australian Government this afternoon took the necessary steps which will mean that a state of war exists between Australia and Japan. Tomorrow, in common with the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the Netherlands East Indies governments, the Australian Government will formally and solemnly declare the state of war it has striven so sincerely and strenuously to avoid.
Throughout the whole affair, and despite discouragement, the Australian Government and its representatives abroad struggled hard to prevent a breakdown of discussions. Australia encouraged the United States to retain the diplomatic initiative on behalf of the democratic powers. We did not want war in the Pacific. The Australian Government has repeatedly made it clear – as have the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands East Indies – that if war came to the Pacific it would be of Japan's making.
About this record
This sound recording is an excerpt of a public address given by Australian Prime Minister John Curtin (1885–1945) on 8 December 1941 announcing Australia’s declaration of war on Japan. The complete speech outlines the government’s reasons for going to war; the threat posed by Japan to Australian interests; the diplomatic efforts by the United States and its allies to secure peace; an appeal for public support; and an assurance that the Australian Government will provide for the safety of the nation. The speech was originally broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
- The Curtin government’s declaration of war on Japan marked a dramatic chapter in Australia’s wartime history during which armed conflict spread to the Asia-Pacific region and Australians increasingly believed that the country's sovereignty was under threat. As opposition leader in 1939 Curtin had believed that the war could reach Australian soil, and by 1941 the newly formed Curtin government along with the War Cabinet held a genuine fear of Japanese invasion.
- Australia’s declaration of war on Japan was a response to the coordinated attacks by the Japanese on United States and British territories across the Asia-Pacific region. As the speech indicates, diplomatic negotiations with Japan in Washington were terminated by the Japanese bombing of the United States naval base at Pearl Harbour as well as attacks on Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines and British Malaya.
- The speech signalled a more independent attitude by Australia to its own defence (against the wishes of Britain) and the beginning of a closer relationship with the United States. The new attitude stood in clear contrast to Australia's entry into the war against Germany in 1939, when Prime Minister Menzies had announced that because Britain was at war Australia was too. Curtin also made clear to Australians that the war against Japan was a new war.
- Later in the speech, Curtin outlined some of the government’s attempts to address the threat to Australia during what he referred to as its ‘darkest hour’. Although Curtin listed such measures as the cancellation of leave for servicemen, the extension of the armed forces and securing domestic energy resources, the government had not been prepared for war in the Pacific and was swiftly forced to develop further strategies to address the sudden advance of the Japanese.
- Curtin’s passionate delivery and use of emotive language in this speech combined to reassure the Australian people and garner their support for the preparations decided on by the War Cabinet. By clearly establishing Japan as the enemy and announcing ‘Australia is in peril’, Curtin positioned Australia’s declaration of war, and the resulting measures to maintain its sovereignty, as both morally defensible and politically strong.
- Curtin, Australia’s fourteenth prime minister (1941–45), had taken office only two months before this declaration, and he directed the country’s war effort against Japan until he died in office shortly before the end of the war in the Pacific and Japan’s defeat. He also served as Chair of the Advisory War Council, member of the War Cabinet, Minister for Defence Coordination (previously titled Minister for Defence) and acting Minister for External Affairs.
- For a complete transcript of Joseph Curtin's declaration of war on Japan see the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.
Reproduced with the permission of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – Library Sales.
Learning resource text © Education Services Australia Limited and the National Archives of Australia 2010.