Nixon: Death on the Moon
In July 1969, legendary speechwriter William Safire drafted a speech — considered by some to be among his best — for President Richard Nixon to deliver in the event the Apollo 11 astronauts were unable to return to Earth:
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
What makes the speech particularly macabre reading today is the use of present tense. Nixon says the men “are laying down their lives,” and a supplementary note attached to the remarks specifies that before speaking the president should telephone the “widows-to-be.” Aldrin and Armstrong would have been trapped on the moon listening to their own eulogy.
Eisenhower: The Failure of D-Day
The day before the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, wrote down a statement to be delivered if the Germans were able to repel the attack. It read:
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
Eisenhower carried the handwritten note in the wallet throughout the operation, but fortunately never had to deliver it.
Rice: The Missile Threat
On Sept. 11, 2001, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was due to deliver a speech at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies on “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday.” The speech was never delivered — Rice spent much of the day in a bunker with other members of the Bush administration national security team but it pointedly focused on missile defense, rather than prevention of non-state terrorism — as a priority:
We need to worry about the suitcase bomb, the car bomb and the vial of sarin released in the subway. 1 / 8But 3 / 8 why put deadbolt locks on your doors and stock up on cans of mace and then decide to leave your windows open?
The full text of the speech was never released by the Bush administration, but according to The Washington Post, Rice intended to note disapprovingly that “the United States had spent $11 billion on counterterrorism, about twice as much as it spent on missile defense, during the previous year.”
Rice made good on her promise to SAIS by delivering a speech on Sept. 11, 2002, focusing almost entirely on the threat of international terrorism.
Truman: What the ‘Russkies’ Understand
On June 12, 1948, U.S. President Harry Truman, then deeply unpopular and looking ahead to a grueling re-election fight, gave a national radio address from the University of California, Berkeley, in which he placed the blame for rising Cold War tensions solely with the Russians. “The refusal of the Soviet Union to work with its wartime allies for world recovery and world peace is the most bitter disappointment of our time,” Truman said, concluding, “the only expansion we are interested in is the expansion of human freedom.”
It was a blunt speech, but it was downright genteel compared to the original draft Truman had written, published years later along with his private papers. Discussing his disappointments with the Russian government following the 1945 Potsdam conference between the allied leaders, Truman would have said, “I had the kindliest feelings for Russia and the Russian people and I liked Stalin. But I found after a patient year that Russian agreements are made to be broken.”
Truman says he had come to realize that the United States had demobilized its armed forces too quickly after the war because “mamma and papa and every Congressman wanted every boy discharged at once after Japan folded up.” He argues for the United States to maintain universal military training, concluding, “Our friends the Russkies understand only one language — how many divisions have you — actual or potential . . .”
Probably a good thing he made some revisions.
Joshua Keating writes the War of Ideas blog for FP, where he is associate editor.