5 Undelivered Speeches That Would Have Changed the Course of History
1. “In Event of Moon Disaster”
As the world nervously waited for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to land on the moon, Nixon speechwriter William Safire penned a speech in case the astronauts were stranded in space. The memo was addressed to H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, and includes chilling directions for the president, NASA, and clergy in case something went awry.
Here's the text:
IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:
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.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
2. Eisenhower’s “In Case of Failure” Message
General Dwight D. Eisenhower sounded confident before the Normandy Invasion. “This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success,” he said.
Operation Overlord was a massive campaign—an invasion of 4000 ships, 11,000 planes, and nearly three million men. Despite a year of strategizing and a boatload of confidence, Eisenhower had a quiet plan in case his mission failed. If the armada couldn’t cross the English Channel, he’d order a full retreat. One day before the invasion, he prepared a brief speech just in case:
"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."
Although the allies suffered about 12,000 casualties—with an estimated 4900 U.S. troops killed—155,000 successfully made it ashore, with thousands more on the way. Within a year, Germany would surrender.
3. “I Don’t Feel Like Resigning”
With swaths of damning evidence around him and no support behind him, Richard Nixon stared into a television camera August 8, 1974, and announced his resignation. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. That was Plan B.
A few days earlier, Nixon’s speechwriter, Raymond Price, prepared two drafts for that address. In one—titled “Option B”—Nixon announced his resignation. In the other speech, he vowed to fight for his job. Here’s an excerpt:
“Whatever the mistakes that have been made—and there are many—and whatever the measure of my own responsibility for those mistakes, I firmly believe that I have not committed any act of commission or omission that justifies removing a duly elected official from office. If I did believe that I had committed such an act, I would have resigned long ago. . .”
“If I were to resign, it would spare the country additional months consumed with the ordeal of a Presidential impeachment and trial. But it would leave unresolved the questions that have already cost the country so much in anguish, division and uncertainty. More important, it would leave a permanent crack in our Constitutional structure: it would establish the principle that under pressure, a President could be removed from office by means short of those provided by the Constitution.”
Shortly after the speech was written, the “smoking gun” was released—a tape-recording of Nixon’s plan to halt the FBI’s Watergate investigation. His political support evaporated overnight. Impeachment became a certainty: “Option B” was the only option left.
4. JFK’s Other Cuban Missile Crisis Speech
America soiled its collective pants October 22, 1962. The country’s eyes were glued to the television as President Kennedy said what everyone feared: Cuba had missiles, and they were “capable of hitting any city in the western hemisphere.” The United States was a giant bullseye.
Kennedy announced a Cuban “quarantine,” a military blockade that restricted weapons and other materials to the island. Other options, however, were on the table—a second, more aggressive, address announced plans for an airstrike. Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, didn’t write the second speech, but he did read it, and he was disturbed by its opening:
“I have ordered—and the United States Air Force has now carried out—military operations with conventional weapons to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba.”
The alternate speech said that America would use nuclear weapons if necessary—a bold statement that never appeared in Kennedy’s televised address. It’s unknown who wrote the speech and if Kennedy ever saw it. “There is still a minor mystery as to who, if anyone, was asked to draft an alternative speech announcing and justifying an air strike on the missiles,” Sorensen later wrote.
5. JFK’s Dallas Trade Mart Speech
It was late November 1963, and President Kennedy had begun a two-day, five-city tour of Texas. After a speedy 13-minute flight from Fort Worth, a motorcade picked up JFK at the Dallas airport and took him on a ten-mile tour through downtown. The president was bound for the Trade Mart, where he was scheduled to speak at a luncheon. He never made it.
Here’s a short excerpt of Kennedy’s undelivered Trade Mart speech.
“There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding faults but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable.
But today other voices are heard in the land—voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. . .
We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will ‘talk sense to the American people.’ But we can hope that few people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this Nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is not but just plain nonsense.
That day, Americans sorely needed to hear Kennedy’s unread closing:
“[Our] strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions—it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations—it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.”
A second undelivered Dallas speech, for the Texas Democratic Committee in Austin, can be found here.