The speech Safire wrote for Nixon if Apollo 11 astronauts were stranded on the moon.


Columnist and conservative speechwriter William Safire died yesterday at age 79. Here is the speech he drafted for president Nixon to read in the event that Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong found themselves stranded to die on the moon. I am happy to note that Messrs. Aldrin and Armstrong are all still alive (as is Michael Collins, who orbited the moon while his colleagues walked on her surface). William Safire's Finest Speech. (Gawker, via Scott Beale)


  1. OK, Xeni, next project: A collection of alternate political and historical speeches. This really makes the gears in your head turn.

  2. @DSAC86

    Collins wasn’t on the moon, and it was assumed he would have been able to return.

    But you’re right, Collins is often forgotten. He definitely got the short straw.

  3. If you believe in the many-universes interpretation of quantum mechanics… then this speech was actually delivered. And that reality is just as real as ours.

  4. Collins probably content to be left out of this particular scenario.

    Although it does make me wonder … assuming all hardware working properly, could one man pilot the command module back to a successful reentry and splashdown on Earth?

  5. Ah, Danlalan, you are very much correct. That was a silly mistake on my part – probably due partly because of fatigue and partly because of Xeni’s original post.

  6. Actually, didn’t I see something in the last couple of months about a collection of speeches-written-but-never-given? It also included Ike assuming all responsibility for a failure at Normandy, and the speech JFK was going to make at the end of the car ride in Dallas.

    By the way…

    I am happy to note that Messrs. Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins are all still alive.

    Which, if the “moon landing is fake” people had any logic, would be sort of embarrassing…you know if any of them had died in any fashion within 20 years of Apollo 11, it would have been a “mysterious” death that proved he was SILENCED!

  7. That was back when ‘the brotherhood of man’ and ‘the search for truth and understanding’ were national values.

  8. Check out this interview with Michael Collins:

    He didn’t seem too uptight about being “forgotten”. In fact his biggest worry was about leaving his comrades behind. The part about Lindbergh telling Collins that he will be the loneliest man in the history of humanity is especially touching. While his fellow astronauts traveled to the moon, his journey was also significant.

  9. Could you imagine if they had died on the Moon? We probably would have stopped going into space forever. Remember the shutdowns after Challenger and Columbia blew up, it would be that times 100.

    Also, ironic that Nixon would act like this was an exploration in peace or meant for the brotherhood of man when it was a muscle flex to the Soviets.

    And yes, alternate speeches would be nice.

  10. That was back when ‘the brotherhood of man’ and ‘the search for truth and understanding’ were national values.

    If that were only true. The moon landing was far more about beating the USSR and proving US superiority than it was about the “brotherhood of man” and the “search for truth and understanding”.

  11. I’ve been wondering why I felt so sad on Safire’s passing. Now I see: say what you want about his politics, but he understood language, and he could write. This little speech puts most of our collective skillz to shame.

  12. Ewwww.

    Apollo was phenomenal and exciting and I’m glad I was there to watch it happen. Anyone who dismisses it as a political foil is missing… well, a lot.

    Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. We came in peace for all mankind. July, 1969 A.D.

  13. @Ackpht

    I’m sorry if it sounds like I was demeaning the moon landings, I’m not. I too watched them with awe. The significance of the landings most certainly transcended any political motivation.

    But if there hadn’t been a perceived “missile gap” in 1961, Kennedy probably wouldn’t have made his famous speech, and we might still be waiting for the first moon landing.

  14. @Tekna2007:
    Yes, absolutely. While it was reportedly nice to have help, return to earth is (was) as simple as making the correct burn for the correct amount of time on the far side. If all systems were working, this was a computer controlled burn that took only a finger to command the countdown. All your math being checked by MIT guys the whole way. After that, wait three days with minor course corrections, another burn to enter the atmosphere and you’re home.

    Of course, that would be the longest, loneliest, worst ride knowing your crewmates were probably still alive on the surface of the moon.

    That said, if anyone gets the chance to read it, Carrying the Fire by Collins is a heck of a read, especially the part where he’s alone on the back side of the moon and the furthest out human. “I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life, I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God only knows what on this side.”

  15. De mortuis nil nisi bonum and all that, but that opening paragraph strikes me as tacky as all get out.

    I mean, did he really have to open with a pun FFS? (ie to explore in peace/to rest in peace). And then there’s the broken parallelism of that ‘to’ — to explore vs to rest, one being intentional the other being neutrally predictive. After an opening like that, I’m expecting a punchline — Because on the moon, no-one can hear you scream.

    Far better imo would have been the simple and dignified:

    Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will not be coming home.

    And as long as I’m making myself unpopular… that last paragraph is wonky as well. The categories don’t match up. Compare:

    There is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

    with Rupert Brooke’s original —

    If I should die, think only this of me:
    That there’s some corner of a foreign field
    That is forever England.

    Poor old Safire. He will be missed.

  16. C’mon, this little speech wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman college English course. From the very first word it is riddled with cliches that are as old as we have sacrificed young lives in the name of the various wars man has waged. This speech sounded as if it was written for a tight jawed John Wayne movie set somewhere in Texas or the South Pacific. And don’t get me started on the “Nattering nabobs of nagativism” illiteration.

  17. @19 misterfricative

    I’m not a fan of the text either. My criticisms aren’t as well thought out or cerebral as yours, reading it just wants me to vomit a little bit in my mouth.

  18. You are all blind sheep!

    OBVIOUSLY this is all part of the massive conspiracy to convince us men actually landed on the moon.

    If you analyze the writing style you can tell it was written by the same saboteur who planted those Obama birth announcements!

    Very clever, but not surprising when you remember Nixon was not a man, but a trans-dimensional lizard invader.

  19. Um, the “brotherhood of man” stuff was good PR to sell the militarism and technological mandates of the Cold War and the space race. Shorter Safire:

    We did it to beat the Soviets. With those missile-looking things: send one to the moon, or send them all to obliterate the USSR. We chose the more sustainable, more photo-oppy alternative. Don’t even think about how many people my speechwriter’s salary could feed, let alone how many the space program could: “brotherhood of man,” “excelsior,” “nobility,” thanks, don’t forget to pay your taxes. O, and thanks, Dr. von Braun!

    Or something like that. Good speech, but it’s rhetoric, not fact, folks.

  20. “siblinghood of people” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

    Is there a gender-neutral word in the same vein as sorority/fraternity?

    None that I can think of…shall we make one up?

  21. Who else thinks that if the ascent engine had failed, the smart thing, the ONLY thing to do would have been to get back out of the LM and just take off running in any direction, all the while screaming into your helmet ” I’m on the MOON, ma!! The MOON!! Hahahaaaaaaaaaaaaa..”

    Top o’ tha’ Moon, Ma! Top o’ tha’ Moon!

    And, yes, Teller, the male-centered gendering should tip us off, too, to the time’s nastiness and phallic aggression…. that is, if you’d somehow first missed the big flying penis rocket and its significations.

  22. Did they have suicide pills with them in case the shit really hit the fan ? I’m sure popping open the airlock without your suit on would take care of the problem nicely though.

  23. Is there a gender-neutral word in the same vein as sorority/fraternity?

    Sodality can be used irrespective of its original religious senses, as simply a group of people engaged in a common pursuit. Kinda sounds crappy, though: “the sodality of humankind,” ugh.

  24. Did they have suicide pills with them in case the shit really hit the fan?

    This question came up a lot after Apollo 13, and both NASA and the astronauts categorically denied it.

  25. I recall reading somewhere that Collins was offered a spot on the next moon landing (so he would have been the third man to walk on the moon) but he turned it down. He said that the Apollo program had taken too much out of him and kept him from his family.

  26. @6: The CM could be (and was designed to be) handled by the Command Module Pilot if need be. Indeed, the CMP had a number of things to do while the other guys were on the moon.

    @31: There were, IIRC, enough consumables to allow one contingency EVA, so if something didn’t work with the ascent stage, presumably these guys would go back outside and hammer on stuff in the odd hope it worked, until they ran out of air.

  27. Also, speaking of alternate history addresses, here’s the draft of Eisenhower’s statement had our troops been repelled from Normandy:

    “Our landings have failed 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 could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

  28. I believe that this speech is trite and cliche-ridden.
    Reads like a high school memorial dedication service.

    Forgive insensitivity.

    It would have been a terrible day if it had needed to be used.

  29. @Arkizzle


    I could live with “The peerenity of mankind”

    Makes it sound like we’re all equal, and we’ll also go on forever.

  30. Quite apart from anything Safire wrote, a number of the comments in this thread make a compelling case against universal literacy.

  31. If you were seriously going to “fix” it, you would probably rewrite the whole sentence, rather than just switching in some dumber-sounding synonyms.

  32. The amazing point isn’t that they used male terms like ‘Brotherhood of Man’ but that they engaged in any kind of inclusive, collective, societal thinking at all.

  33. @ #1

    The last paragraph seen in the post is not actually the last paragraph. If you follow the link, there is actually second page with two more paragraphs and some notes.

  34. Click through on the link. There’s a second page to the speech. (“Epic last paragraph” is in fact just “epic middle of the speech”. Sorry guys.)

  35. If it’s a crummy speech, then what would you have written? Seriously, I don’t know much about writing eulogies, but I’d be curious to hear what challengers might have said better or different.

  36. I suppose “Fellowship of Man” sounds right to us because of it’s long traditional use. Any phrase we use will eventually start to feel right with repetiion. The trick is to get people commonly using the same phrase.

  37. Did you know Nixon actually read this and it was filmed and ready? You can see it on the video “in the shadow of the moon”
    The astronauts said it was chilling to see it.

  38. I wonder if we’d have given up on the moon so easily had this been the speech to herald our release from Earth?

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