President John F. Kennedy in 1962 prepared a speech that would have announced a punitive bombing of Cuba, which could have led to nuclear war. General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote an apology speech in case the 1944 D-Day operation failed.
Driving the news: Jeff Nussbaum, a veteran Democratic speechwriter who left the White House last month, unearths these historical gems in a new book, “Undelivered,” due out next week.
- A former aide to Vice President Al Gore, Nussbaum has long been obsessed with the “what ifs” of history.
Why is this important: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has refocused the world’s attention on geopolitics, democracy and the dangers of nuclear weapons. Nussbaum’s book puts the moment into context.
- It’s a reminder of the ever-present high stakes in political and military decisions – and how uncertain history always was until it happened.
Details: Through 20 speeches that were never delivered, Nussbaum invites her readers to ponder alternative stories – some heartwarming, some downright terrifying.
- There is the English translation of Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s undelivered apology after World War II. And a version of former President Richard Nixon’s speech in which he allegedly refused to resign.
- In August 1963John Lewis, 23, was about to dismiss what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as ‘too little too late’ moments before Dr Martin Luther King delivered his ‘J I have a dream”.
- Washington Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle threatened to suspend his invocation if Lewis used his more aggressive language. MLK also weighed in. Lewis cut out offensive passages and toned down his rhetoric.
If Hillary Clinton had won in 2016, she planned to end her victory speech with an imaginary conversation with her late mother, writes Nussbaum.
- “As hard as it is to imagine, your daughter will grow up to be President of the United States,” Clinton was ready to say.
Between the lines: Nussbaum combines a speechwriter’s attention to detail with the amateur sleuth that lurks inside every history buff. Along the way, he solves historical whodunits and lands Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorensen., a committed pacifist, as the author of JFK’s undelivered airstrike speech.
- What if Kennedy had sided with the “warhawks” and authorized 800 sorties to bombard Soviet nuclear missile installations in Cuba, instead of the naval blockade he had announced?
- The airstrike plan included an ominous blank space for “(Continued a description of early action reports).”
- “This parenthesis would be filled with a description of the battle, the extent of the destruction, the USSR’s response, the death toll, and sympathy for those lost,” Nussbaum writes. It could have served as a draft of “mankind’s suicide note.”