We are at war with Japan, 1941

Prime Minister John Curtin declares that Australia is at war with Japan, 1941. (Duration 12:49)

NAA: C102, PO(L)18

Announcer: 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 in peril, and because the rights of free people in the whole Pacific are assail.

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 Government, 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. Japan has now made war.

I point out that the hands of the democracies are clean. The discussions and negotiations which have taken place between Japan and the democracies were not merely empty bandying of words on the democracies' part. Since last February it has been the constant aim and endeavour of the democracies to keep peace in the Pacific. It has been a problem fraught with great difficulty but in the view of the democracies it was a problem that was capable of being overcome. Accordingly the best brains of the democracies were brought-to-bare on the problem. It will stand on record that the president of the United States himself, the American Secretary of State Mr Cordell Hull, the British and the Dominion Governments worked untiringly and unceasingly. Yet, when the President of the United States had decided to communicate direct to the Japanese Emperor a personal appeal for Imperial intervention on the side of peace, the War Government of Japan struck. That War Government set on aggression and lusting for power in the same fashion as its axis partner anticipated the undoubted wait of the president's plea and shattered the century old friendship between the two countries.

For the first time in the history of the Pacific armed conflict stalks abroad. No other country but Japan desired war in the Pacific. The guilt for plunging this hemisphere into actual warfare is therefore upon Japan. The recapitulation of events I have given you is necessary so that we in Australia may correctly assess the issues involved. The stern truth is that war has been forced upon us. Not because of stubborn resistance on the part of the democracies to every demand that Japan made. But because Japan chose the method of armed might to settle differences which every other country involved was ready and willing to settle by negotiation and arbitration. By so doing Japan chose the Hitler method while its diplomatic representatives were actually at the White House. While all the democratic powers regarded the conversations as continuing Japan ignored the convention of a formal declaration of war and struck like an assassin on the night. For, as the dawn broke this morning at places as far apart as Honolulu, Nauru, Ocean Island, Guam, Singapore, and British Malaya, guns from Japanese warships, bombs from Japanese aircraft, shots from Japanese military forces struck death to United States citizens and members of its defence forces. To the peaceful subjects of Great Britain and to her men on ships and on the land, the Pacific Ocean was reddened with the blood of Japanese victims. These wanton killings will be followed by attacks on the Netherlands East Indies, on the Commonwealth of Australia, on the Dominion of New Zealand if Japan can get its brutal way.

Australia therefore being a nation that believes in a way of life which is freedom and liberty as its cornerstones goes to the battle station in defence of the free way of living. Our course is clear. Our cause is just – as has been the case ever since September nineteen hundred and thirty nine when we stood in the path of Hitlerism, and declared that we would stand out til the end against ruthless and wanton aggression. I say then to the people of Australia, give of your best in the service of the nation. There is a place and path for all of us. Each must take his or her place in the service of the nation for the nation itself is in peril. This is our darkest hour. Let that be fully realised. Our efforts in the past two years must be as nothing compared with the efforts we must now put forward.

I can give you the assurance that the Australian government is fully prepared. It has been in readiness for whatever eventuality that might arise. And last Friday the initial steps were taken and fully carried out. From early this morning the service ministers of the cabinet and the chiefs of the fighting services have done everything that has to be done by them. The War Cabinet met and put into effect the plan devised for our protection. This afternoon the full cabinet met and I am able to announce to you the prompt decisions on a wide variety of matters – all of them vital to the new war organisation that confronts us.

All leave for members of the fighting forces has been cancelled. An extension of the present partial mobilisation of Navy, Army and Air Forces is being prepared. The Minister for Home Security will tomorrow confer with army authorities on air-raid precautions. Regulations will be issued to prohibit the consumption of petrol for purposes of pleasure. A conference will be held by the Minister for Supply with oil companies on the storage of fuel and the security of that storage. Arrangements will be made for all work on services that are essential nationally to be continued on public holidays in future. While in this connection, all transport services will be concentrated upon necessary purposes. The Minister for Labour will leave for Darwin immediately to organise the labour supply there. An examination will be made to ascertain what retail establishments should continue to trade after 6pm so that we may conserve light, coal, transport services.

These are some of the things decided upon quickly but in no atmosphere of panic. There are other things that the government has done. These by their nature are secret. But in total what has been done today adds up to complete provision for the safety of the nation.

Tomorrow the War Cabinet will meet again. As will the Australian Advisory War Council when the leader of the opposition and his colleagues will be fully appraised of every phase of the position. The Parliament of the Commonwealth will assemble on Tuesday of next week.

One thing remains and on it depend our very lives. That thing is the cooperation, the strength and the will-power of you, the people of the Commonwealth. Without it we are indeed lost. Men and women of Australia the call is to you for your courage, your physical and mental ability, your inflexible determination that we as a nation of free people shall survive. My appeal to you is in the name of Australia, for Australia is the stake in this conflict. The thread of peace has snapped. Only the valour of our fighting forces, that be the very uttermost that we are capable of in factory and workshops can knit that thread again into security. Let there be no idle hands. The road of service is ahead. Let us all tread it firmly, victoriously.

We here in this spacious land where for more than 150 years peace and security have prevailed are now called upon to meet the external aggressor. The enemy presses from without. I have said that our forces are at their battle stations. They are not alone. It is true also that Japan is not alone but as I speak to you tonight, the United States, Great Britain and her colonies and Dominions which include the Commonwealth of Australia and the Dominion of New Zealand. The Great Federation of Russian Republics, the Netherlands East Indies and China are associated in the common cause of preserving for free men and free women, not only their inheritance but every hope they have of decency and dignity and liberty.

We Australians have imperishable traditions. We shall maintain them. We shall vindicate them. We shall hold this country and keep it as a citadel for the British speaking race and as a place where civilisation will persist.

Men and women of the Commonwealth of Australia it is my solemn duty tonight to sound a tocsin! I proclaim a call unto you. I do it in the words of Swinburne:

Come forth, be born and live,
thou that hast helped to give
And light to make mans' day of manhood fair:
With flight outflying the sphered sun,
Hasten thine hour and halt not, till thy work be done.

God bless you all.