American history is littered with inspiring and comforting speeches. Some of the best writers, thinkers and speakers in history have studied language so that, in times of crisis, they can eloquently reassure the American people that they "have a dream" and are prepared to ask "what they can do for their country" and "did not have sexual relations with that woman." They calm the nation down with their confidence and soothing warmth. Everything's going to be OK.
But just because we didn't hear speeches for when the whole country was going to shit doesn't mean they were never written ...
6Kennedy's "Second Speech" During the Cuban Missile Crisis
During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis and about halfway into X-Men: First Class, President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised address to the nation disclosing the presence of offensive Soviet missiles in Cuba. Also, they were nuclear, and could strike at just about anywhere in North America. And that shit was about to get very real for the planet unless the Soviets acted like gentlemen and pulled out when they were told to. Kennedy's administration had two basic options: full-on attack Cuba, or "quarantine" Cuba by creating a much less violent naval blockade.
Kennedy's Joint Chiefs of Staff were very pro airstrike, but Kennedy and his speechwriter were not. They went with the option that didn't end up killing everybody, a point Kennedy illustrated in his speech. It wasn't a comforting speech (still brought up the whole "Cuba has missiles" thing), but it was still much better than his other option.
"So yeah. In about four seconds, everyone is going to die."
As it turns out, an alternate speech was drafted, one that presented the "Let's bomb the shit out of Cuba" plan. Kennedy's speechwriter Ted Sorensen doesn't know who wrote this second draft and, judging from his take on it, sure as hell did not like what it would have led to.
Was this speech written by JFK himself, or worse ... someone from within the Joint Chiefs of Staff? That question remains one of the many unresolved mysteries surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Most Chilling Part:
"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," which was dandy, since at the time Cuba had essentially been converted into one giant Doomsday Machine.
American Military and Naval History
Just the surface of an atomic submarine about the size of the Caribbean.
What Hearing It Would Have Meant:
Well, for one thing, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had effectively conquered the U.S. presidency. Khrushchev himself later commented that the USSR feared a coup was imminent within the White House between the president and the Joint Chiefs during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it looks like President Kennedy himself shared this sentiment.
As for what this would have meant following the airstrike, Robert L. O'Connell discussed such a scenario in an essay appropriated called The Cuban Missile Crisis: Second Holocaust. We encourage you to read the whole essay, because it's haunting and terrifying, but here's the short version: The U.S. destroys most, but not all, of the completed missiles in Cuba, Cuba retaliates with its remaining missiles, which land in D.C., killing JFK and LBJ, and the U.S. responds by firing nuclear warhead after nuclear warhead until "Cuba is completely destroyed, with 95 percent of its population being killed," and the resultant radiation spreads through the Caribbean and southern Florida. Oh, and the Soviet Union is virtually exterminated. Lots of people are dead, and the ones who aren't are really, really sad.
Luckily, that didn't happen though.
(Hopefully you knew that without us telling you.)
"Hmm. I don't remember everyone dying. But most of June was a blur."
5The Apollo 11 Disaster
In 1969, the United States of America pulled off one of the most impressive come-from-behind successes in stellar history since the Battle of Endor: It put two men on the moon and successfully brought them back to Earth. No Ewoks were harmed, and none of the crew were transformed into members of the Fantastic Four -- so they say.
Still, since the eyes of the world were watching America's every single move during the Apollo 11 mission right down to the smallest crap-up, Nixon's then-speechwriter William Safire prepared the following remarks in the event that Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were condemned to a fate straight out of a horror movie: death on the moon.
University of Illinois
"They will most likely hold rudimentary elections for 'Moon King' and set up a series of 'Space Laws' and 'Moon Holidays' before slowly dying of Moon Madness, the noblest of all Moon Brain sicknesses."
The speech went on to praise the men who laid down their lives in "mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding," and brought up a touching, albeit on-the-nose and kind of creepy comparison:
"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."
It's kind of sweet, but also kind of weird. "Hey, you know how people used to see Orion and other warriors when they looked up at night? Well you can, too, except instead of a series of stars, it will be the bones of Neil Armstrong! Always, haunting you from his moon tomb. Goodnight!"
"The moon represents our spirit of innovation. And also the inevitability of gruesome death. Happy Moon Day, kids!"
The Most Chilling Part:
"These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery."
What Hearing It Would Have Meant:
A pretty down ending to one of the most hopeful moments in human history. Be it from death by starvation or suicide or being swallowed by the mighty Moon Worm, the single brightest object in the night sky nearly became a gigantic graveyard: a floating symbol of death for all humankind.
And of all people, Richard Nixon was the person who would have broken the news to us.
"It will comfort you to know that thing they heard was my comforting voice. Nixon's comforting voice. Hsssssssss!"