The List

The Greatest Doomsday Speeches Never Made

Before Queen Elizabeth almost announced World War III, Nixon nearly read astronauts their eulogy and Eisenhower all but declared D-Day a failure.


On Thursday, the British National Archives released the script for a hypothetical 1983 speech that would have been delivered by Queen Elizabeth II in the event of a global nuclear war. The speech, written as if broadcast at midday on Friday, March 4, 1983, was drawn up as part of a war-gaming exercise conducted at a time of high tensions following Ronald Reagan's "evil empire" speech and NATO's "Able Archer" excercise.

In the speech, the queen refers to her childhood during World War II and to the famous 1939 speech by her father, King George VI, announcing the outbreak of war with Germany:

Now this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.

I have never forgotten the sorrow and the pride I felt as my sister and I huddled around the nursery wireless set listening to my father's inspiring words on that fateful day in 1939. Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me.

We all know that the dangers facing us today are greater by far than at any time in our long history. The enemy is not the soldier with his rifle nor even the airman prowling the skies above our cities and towns but the deadly power of abused technology.

But whatever terrors lie in wait for us all the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength.

Elizabeth would also have referred to her "beloved son Andrew," who was at that time serving in the Navy.

Neither this speech, nor any like it, was ever given. But it joins the ranks of famous doomsday speeches and dramatic statements on war and peace that were prepared but -- thankfully for all of us -- never delivered.

JFK: The U.S.-Soviet War Begins

Last year, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library released the speech that had been prepared in the event that the United States launched airstrikes against Cuba during the high-stakes missile crisis of October 1962.

"My fellow Americans, with a heavy heart, and in necessary fulfillment of my oath of office, I have ordered -- and the United States Air Force has now carried out -- military operations with conventional weapons only, to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba," Kennedy begins.

He continues:

The United States of America need not and cannot tolerate defiance, decaption and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. Nuclear weapons are so destructive, and ballistic missiles are so swift, that a sudden shift in the nature of their threat can be deeply dangerous -- especially when the trigger appears to be in the hands of a violent and unstable revolutionary leader. [...]

If the 1930's taught us any lesson at all, it was that aggressive conduct, if allowed to grow unchecked and unchallenged, will ultimately lead to war. This nation is opposed to war -- but it is true to its word.

According to some accounts, Kennedy's normal speechwriter Ted Sorensen, who was staunchly opposed to airstrikes, refused to write the speech, so it was drafted by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy.

While Kennedy appeals for U.S. citizens to remain calm and calls for talks with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to discuss the situation, it's quite possible that this speech, if delivered, would have marked the beginning of a nuclear war.


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 D. 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.

Richard Nixon Foundation via Getty Images

Rice: The Missile Threat

On Sept. 11, 2001, then-National Security Advisor 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. [But] 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 defence, 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.

AFP/Getty Images

The List

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Campaign Donors Closer

Caroline Kennedy is hardly the first campaign bundler to be rewarded with a plum diplomatic position.

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What does it take to be a diplomat? For many, it just takes deep pockets and thick Rolodexes flush with the right numbers. President Barack Obama has certainly followed the White House tradition of favoring many of his "bundlers," fundraisers who collect large sums, frequently in the neighborhood of $500,000, with political appointments, including ambassadorships. High-profile backer Caroline Kennedy, who was just named ambassador to Japan, is just one of the better-known examples.

During his first term, the ratio of career diplomats to political donors appointed to ambassadorships was about 65:35, according to Bloomberg, roughly the going average over the past 30 years. In Obama's second term, though, political appointees have jumped up to 56 percent. It's not hard to understand why these fundraisers would want the gigs: Their new abodes include digs like the 12+ acre Winfield House estate that comes with a posting in London, or the 5,000-bottle wine cellar at the ambassador's Villa Taverna residence in Rome. But using important diplomatic positions as rewards for campaign cash may not exactly inspire confidence in the countries where these well-heeled globe trotters are stationed.

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John Roos: If approved for the Tokyo posting, Kennedy will replace John Roos, a Silicon Valley lawyer and the co-chair of Obama's California fundraising committee in 2008. While some critics have voiced concerns that Kennedy will be uncomfortable in the very public role of ambassador, that was never a problem for Roos. In 2010, he was the first U.S. ambassador to attend a memorial service for the victims of the Hiroshima bombing, and he was active in promoting U.S. aid after Japan's severe earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. He recently tweeted from his eclectic, bilingual Twitter page:

Cynthia Stroum: It may be the second wealthiest country in Europe, but the diplomatic stakes don't get much lower than the ambassadorship to Luxembourg. The combination of luxury and limited international clout make it an ideal posting for a political appointee, and according to DiploPundit, only three U.S. ambassadors to Luxembourg have had diplomatic credentials to speak of over the past 50 years. It seemed like a good place to send Stroum, who raised at least $500,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign, despite her previous work having been almost exclusively in venture capital and philanthropic pursuits. She resigned from the post in 2011 in advance of a devastating report by the State Department inspector general which detailed Stroum's management style as "aggressive, bullying, hostile, and intimidating." And though she was particularly demanding of her staff, her own attention was frequently focused on the remodeling of the ambassador's residence. Stroum also insisted on being reimbursed for a new bed after she didn't like the king-size bed the residence came with -- despite being turned down by the State Department for the funds twice. No wonder some of her top deputies at the mission eagerly applied for and accepted transfers to hardship posts in Baghdad and Kabul.

Robert Mandell: After Stroum's disastrous stint in Luxembourg, Obama went back to his donor base to replace her. He settled on Robert Mandell, a residential and commercial property developer from Florida who donated at least $80,000 to Obama's 2008 campaign and inauguration. He served on a number of state and local commissions, and worked on the President's Export Council, a White House advisory group focusing on increasing U.S. international trade. Mandell has begun an outreach program, visiting students at Luxembourg high schools, and has developed a more cordial reputation than his predecessor. "He is interested in listening and speaking to people like me and exchanging ideas," the French ambassador to Luxembourg was quoted telling Orlando Magazine. "He is my favorite colleague."


Bruce Oreck: A tax attorney who raised $500,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign and an additional $75,000 for his inauguration and worked on Obama's finance committee, Oreck -- yes, he's the son of the vacuum magnate -- parlayed his noblesse into the ambassadorship to Finland in 2009. His most headline-grabbing achievement has been a joke Christmas card Oreck shared with friends in 2012 after being featured on the cover of Finland's ProBody magazine. The card, which showcases some serious muscles, a throwback to the ambassador's bodybuilding days, got some laughs, but outspoken State Department critic Peter Van Buren didn't see the humor -- he named Oreck his "State Department Douche of the Week." The reviews haven't been all bad, though; DiploPundit praised Oreck's determination to forge ahead with a new embassy facility and his willingness to forebear the inconvenience of the construction, even celebrating Independence Day at the embassy in hard hats.

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Jeff Bleich: President Obama first met Bleich as president of the Harvard Law Review -- Bleich contacted Obama to try to recruit him for a clerkship for a D.C. Circuit Court judge. Obama declined but they kept in touch as Bleich rose to prominence practicing law in California. In 2008, Bleich joined Obama's finance committee and co-chaired his California campaign, and got the nod for the Australia post in 2009. Bleich has taken to life in Canberra well -- a profile by the Sydney Morning Herald describes him as affable and says that his family has "gone 'completely native'" -- and his only notable misstep may have been when Bleich took to the embassy's Facebook page to entreat Aussies not to pirate episodes of Game of Thrones.

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Nicole Avant: As the daughter of music executive Clarence Avant, Nicole Avant grew up as Hollywood royalty, and became vice president of Interior Music Publishing at 30 years old. She helped pull together $500,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign, prompting her nomination to be ambassador to the Bahamas. By the 2012 campaign, she was back to bundle funds again, having resigned in November 2011. "I want to start by thanking my dear friend, Ambassador Avant -- love, love saying that," Michelle Obama remarked at a fundraiser at Avant's Beverly Hills home (as described by the Hollywood Reporter) in May 2012. The State Department, though, wasn't impressed by Avant's tenure. A January 2012 report by the State's inspector general describes Avant as an absentee ambassador: Between September 2009 and November 2011, Avant spent 276 days away from the embassy; despite the Hollywood Reporter's account of her enduring a "long-distance marriage" as a result of her post and noted that she frequently stayed at her home in Los Angeles, or worked from the ambassador's residence in Nassau rather than from the embassy. Her travel "contributed to a perception of indifference" and "poor mission management," according to the report.

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Matthew Barzun: He got his start by helping develop CNET in the mid-'90s, but since 2008, Barzun has been in a fundraising-and-diplomacy cycle. He developed low-cost, high-payoff fundraisers for Obama's 2008 campaign and was rewarded with the ambassadorship to Sweden from 2009-2011. During his time in Stockholm, Barzun brought the embassy into the digital age and started an "Embassy Road Show" to get U.S. diplomats out of the capital. "I had to learn the Swedish word for bittersweet, bitterljuv, because that's the feeling I have," he told Swedish news site the Local upon his departure. Barzun came back to be Obama's chief fundraiser in 2012 and will soon be heading to the U.S. embassy in London. The Brits seem cautiously optimistic about his new appointment: "He may not be as colourful as US Vogue editor Anna Wintour -- long rumoured to be his rival for the post -- would have been," Alex Spillius writes in the Telegraph, "but Mr Barzun, 42, possesses impeccable credentials as a modern American ambassador and is very much the president's man."