The other week I stumbled across a job as a script writer online. You can imagine how delighted I was… until I opened the job description and discovered that it was a job to write political speeches. Although I’ve listened to a few political speeches I don’t think I’ve ever read one but in a strange way, a political speech is an art form in itself. They certainly contain memorable phrases such as:
“Brexit means Brexit.”
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds… “
Although I didn’t apply for the job I did some research into their work. A political speech writer creates a speech for every outcome meaning that the politician in question will always have something to say and that the general public only hears half of their written work.
Here are five political speeches that you’re glad you haven’t heard of.
1) The Apollo Eleven Disaster.
The years between 1955 and 1969 were known as the space race as the US and the USSR raced to put a man on the moon. Although the most famous of these flights was Apollo Eleven launched by NASA in the US, for a long time it looked as though the USSR would win the race. They were the first to send a missile into space (a scary thought) followed by a dog and then a human, both of which returned to Earth safely. In retaliation for this, President Nixon founded NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and ordered them to achieve the goal set by President Robert F Kennedy.
“Before this decade is out,… of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
In 1969 Apollo Eleven was launched and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong’s iconic moment of first stepping foot on the moon and saying “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” was broadcast live across the world.
The speech you didn’t hear.
Shortly before Apollo Eleven was launched Frank Borman, an astronaut from Apollo Eight and a liaison to the Whitehouse, phoned Nixon’s script writer William Safire and told him to write two speeches. One was for the event that the Apollo Eleven crew were able to return to Earth and the second incase they weren’t. An extract of the second speech is below:
“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.”
Should something have gone wrong live on air, NASA planned to cut communications with the crew and a clergyman in NASA would commend the astronaut’s souls to the deepest of the deep, a ritual more akin to a burial at sea rather than being lost in space.
NASA judged that the most dangerous part of the programme was firing up the luna module after landing on the Moon. If the luna module failed then the astronauts would be stranded with only two options, kill themselves or starve to death. As it happened, Buzz Aldrin accidentally damaged a circuit breaker inside the luna model that was a key component to arming the main engine. Thankfully this was able to be fixed with a felt tip pen.
2) The D Day Failure.
Operation OverLord was the code name for the combined invasion of Northern France by joint British and American forces. The plan was to surprise the German troops, establish a foothold in Europe and then push in towards Berlin from the west while Russia approached Berlin from the east.
Secrecy was paramount during the planning of the invasion. A force of four thousand Canadian soldiers had been massacred when they had attempted to land at Dieppe because the German’s knew of their arrival. The allies were keen not to repeat that mistake.
American General George Patton took up residence on England’s south coast (the same area I had my writing retreat in) to command the American First Army. The British Fourth Army was moved to Scotland to give the impression they were going to attack Norway. In reality however, both armies were non exsistent. When the German spy planes took photos they saw thousands of men and hundred of tanks but in reality they were looking at tanks made from balloons and soldiers made from card board cut-outs. The headquarters at both bases radioed out random drivel to make it seem there were more soldiers than they were and King George IV visited the British Fourth Army to inspect the troops to add an extra layer of authenticity.
Having tricked the German’s with their numbers, Britain then tried to fool Germany with the date of the invasion. The double cross committee were a group of spies in England who originally had been tasked by Germany to relay any sensitive information. These spies had been converted into double agents by MI5 and fed German intelligence false information or real information that was delivered just too late to be of use. They were tasked with persuading the German command that the real invasion was coming later than the anticipated date and that any attacks on Normandy were feints. When the British captured a German submarine shortly before the invasion, they read the vessel’s communication log and discovered that their spies had been successful. The Germans were completely fooled.
The speech you didn’t hear.
In 1942 there was a crossword clue in the newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, to which the answer was Dieppe. This newspaper was published one day before the disastrous attack by Canadian forces on Dieppe. On May 2nd another answer was Utah which was a code name for one of the beaches the American forces would land on. On May 22nd there was the answer Omaha which was another beach the Americans had targeted. These crossword clues were followed by more phrases linked to the invasion. Mulberry (the name given to a portable harbour), Overlord (the codename for the invasion) and Neptune (the plan to send allied ships across the English Channel). The man who was writing these crosswords in the Daily Telegraph was Leonard Dawe, a school master. According to MI5 he was not a German spy. It was just a really strange coincidence. Regardless of if this is true or not, it only heightened the allies paranoia that the German’s would hear of the real invasion plan.
When the invasion finally happened several elements went drastically wrong. Before the American forces departed for France they received a letter from General Eisenhower.
“You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you… we will accept nothing less than full victory! Good Luck!”
As the paratroopers descended into occupied France the wind separated soldiers from their units. When the paratroopers landed, many sustained injuries such as broken legs and ankles and almost all soldiers were miles away from their intended objectives. The allied forces on the coast became pinned down by the Germans manning the Atlantic wall, a vast defensive barrier that stretched from France’s border with Spain up to Scandinavia. Although the RAF had destroyed most of France’s roads, slowing the arrival of German reinforcements, this destruction also slowed the allies advance. The invasion schedule that had been painstakingly created over several years had been made redundant within thirty minutes.
When news of these setbacks reached the allies, General Eisenhower wrote a second speech:
“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 upon 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.”
Thankfully Eisenhower didn’t have to perform this speech. The allied forces in France were able to adapt to these setbacks and by the end of the first day, a foothold in Europe had been established.
3) The alternative Cuban Missile Crisis speech.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a stand off between American and Russian forces over nuclear weapons being shipped to Cuba. The crisis lasted just under two weeks in which Washington and Moscow communicated through unreliable backchannels in an attempt to prevent war. After several miscommunications, a compromise was reached, America would withdraw its missiles from Turkey (which were due to be removed anyway) and Russia would withdraw their missiles from Cuba.
At the start of the crisis and shortly after discovering the missiles, on October 16th, John F Kennedy created EXCOM (Executive Community of the National Security Council) to debate what action should be taken. EXCOM decided that there were three options.
- Bombard the island, thus destroying the missiles, and then launch an invasion. This would have had the extra benefit of allowing the military of either capturing or killing Fidel Casto.
- Doing nothing. The missiles didn’t change the pendulum of power in the Cold War. Even if America was to be nuked would it make any difference if the missile came from Cuba or Russia?
- A naval blockade. This would stop the USSR from shipping in any more weapons and allow Kennedy time to negotiate the missiles removal.
EXCOM debated back and forth for three days with Kennedy secretly recording all of the group’s conversations. The second idea was dismissed outright as it would be seen as a sign of weakness to the USSR who could then freely send their missiles around the globe.
The chief of staffs in EXCOM wanted to launch the airstrike. Kennedy argued that the airstrike may not destroy all the missiles, allowing Cuba to launch a counter attack on Florida. He also pointed out killing any Russian or Cuban soldiers would lead to war. Despite this, the chief of staffs continue to push for the airstrike telling Kennedy they were able to launch an attack within two days if ordered and should war break out they would be able to secure victory.
After a particularly heated conversation Kennedy was heard saying:
“These brass hats have one advantage… if we listen to them none of us will be alive later to tell them they were wrong.”
Kennedy and his brother Bobbie eventually persuaded EXCOM to launch the naval blockade. On October 22nd 19:00 Kennedy was broadcast live on air to America and explained the situation. His infamous broadcast is below:
The speech you didn’t hear
Despite EXCOM eventually agreeing to option three, years after the event an alternative speech was discovered. This speech would have been given to Kennedy to read live on air shortly after the proposed airstrike on Cuba would have taken place.
“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 fact that this speech exists has many implications for Kennedy’s presidency and to a much wider extent, the world. Kennedy’s script writer Ted Sorensen did not write the alternative speech which raises the question of who did and more importantly why? If EXCOM had agreed on option three why was this speech written?
Years after the event Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union at the time, said he feared that Kennedy would be the victim of a coup at the Whitehouse and that his chief of staffs would seize power and launch an unauthorised airstrike. Oddly enough during the ending days of the crisis, after receiving two different messages from Khrushchev, Kennedy wondered if a similar event had befallen the Russian leader. This alternative speech implies that it was someone’s aim in EXCOM to conquer the President but the author or authors still remain unknown.
4) Nixon’s refusal to resign speech.
Although President Richard Nixon pulled America out of the Vietnam War, eased tensions in the Cold War and opened trade with China he is most well known for his involvement of the Watergate Scandal.
When he came to power President Nixon established the The Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP) whose objective was to ensure the president stayed in power by any means necessary. One task the CREEPS performed was hiring burglers to break into the Watergate Hotel to install wiretaps on Nixon’s opponents, in order to collect blackmail material. The burglars were caught and arrested and although Nixon had no prior knowledge about the burglary, when he learnt about it, he did everything in his power to stop the crime being linked back to him.
Two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, investigated the Watergate story despite pressure from the Whitehouse and from the CREEPS to cease. The reporters relied on the second in charge of the FBI, Mark Felt, to guide them in the right direction and once their findings had gone public, one of the burglars admitted he had been hired by FBI. The burglar in question, James McCord was linked to a member of CREEP and soon everyone who had been involved in burglary started to leave the Whitehouse under different pretexts.
When the Presidential Appointments Secretary Alexander Butterfield was questioned over the burglary he revealed that Nixon recorded all conversations that happened in his office. Nixon refused to hand over these tapes citing presidential privilege but this was also an admission of his guilt. Nixon then gave a famous speech outside Disneyland in Florida, an extract of which is seen below:
The scandal escalated and soon reached the US Supreme Courts who demand that Nixon hand over the tapes. Nixon eventually obliged but the section on the tape about Watergate had been “accidentally” deleted by his secretary. Shortly following this, the tapes were leaked to the public. This audio footage is referred to as “The smoking gun” and can be found below:
Following this leak Nixon resigned.
The speech you didn’t hear
As the US Congress started preparations to impeach Nixon, the President met with his few remaining advisors and decided what to do. Nixon wanted to cling on to his presidency, at least until his term was up and decided that resigning was his “back up plan.”
What would this have meant when he told the world he refused to resign? It is likely that there would have been conflict and perhaps Nixon would have been forcibly removed from the Whitehouse by the military? Nixon had the support of some states of America, would the country have entered a second civil war?
A speech was written but it never reached Nixon’s desk. Juding from the extract below, the fact Nixon never read the speech was a relief.
“it would establish the principle that under pressure, a President could be removed from office by means short of those provided by the Constitution. By establishing that principle, it would invite such pressures on every future President who might, for whatever reason, fall into a period of unpopularity. . . .”
If you wish to read the whole speech please click anywhere in the above extract. It’s important to note that impeaching a president doesn’t mean forcibly removing them from office, impeachment is the process that starts the trial that may or may not result in them being convicted or acquitted. Nixon decided to resign, still protesting that he hadn’t done anything wrong and was replaced by Gerald Ford… who immediately pardoned Nixon.
5) The Doomsday announcements.
Everyone has fantasised about Doomsday but nobody actually wants to experience it. You will see Doomsday countless times in literature portrayed in many different interpretations such as in The Bible or The Walking Dead and the causes for Doomsday equally vary. In the Bible, Doomsday is when God will destroy the world and save all those who believe in him. In The Walking Dead, there has been zombie apocalypse or a zombie outbreak. In the 1960’s the biggest cause of Doomsday was thought to be a nuclear attack.
To understand what the Doomsday announcements are you need to understand two other things, MAD and the Doomsday Clock. MAD stands for Mutually Assured Destruction and acts as a deterrent against one country launching a nuclear missile at another. MAD means that if an attacker fires a nuclear missile then the defender will have time to fire a nuclear weapon of their own, ensuring that both the attacker and defender are completely destroyed. Therefore the attacker would be “mad” to launch their own nuclear weapon in the first place.
The Doomsday Clock isn’t a physical clock but a metaphorical one that measure how close the world is to man made destruction. The closer the minute hand is to zero the closer the population of Earth is to death. We are currently at two minutes to midnight, the last time we were at this threat level was in 1953.
The speech you (hopefully) won’t hear
President Eisenhower was very aware of the threat nuclear weapons were and created a group known as the Eisenhower Ten, ten individuals that would complete critical government roles in the event of an nuclear attack. He arranged for Operation Outpost, an extraction mission from the Whitehouse to Olmsted Air Force Base in Pennsylvania for himself and these ten individuals in the event of a nuclear attack. From the Olmsted Air Base the group would then be transported to a secure location where they would be safe from nuclear fallout. Once at this location, the President would then send a transmission over the Emergency Broadcast System to any survivors announcing that the Doomsday Clock had reached zero and although America had been attacked, the government would continue to function.
Thankfully for Eisenhower he never had to action Operation Outpost, nor has any of his successors. The location of this bunker has never been publicly revealed but it was confirmed in 2004 by Frank Stanton, the former CBS president, that celebrities active at the time of Eisenhower’s presidency, had recorded messages to be played to the nation. Two confirmed celebrities include Arthur Godfrey and Edward R. Murrow.
It’s unclear who else has recorded messages to the American public on the Doomsday tapes or what the updated plan is for Operation Outpost but it has been confirmed by the Whitehouse that the plans still exist.
So if you live in America and survive the nuclear attack, you will finally be able to hear these secret tapes. That’s nice… right?
These have been five very interesting glimpses into “What if” universes but I’m glad none of them came to be. Which political speech are you most glad you didn’t hear? Is there a famous political speech that I missed? Let me know in the comments or on social media and I’ll see you next time for what is hopefully a much more cheery subject.
Take care and have a good one.