Earlier this week, the British Government released a draft of a speech Queen Elizabeth was to give at the commencement of World War Three. Echoing the words of Winston Churchill during the darkest days of World War Two, the proposed speech calls upon British resolve and urges “families [to] remain united and resolute” so that “our country’s will to survive cannot be broken.”
The speech that Queen Elizabeth never had to give continues a long tradition of Western leaders preparing for the worst. During World War Two, General Dwight Eisenhower led Allied soldiers as Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe. In this roll, he was tasked with planning the Normandy landings that eventually saw 175,000 Allied troops scratching out a beach head against determined Nazi resistance.
While the largest amphibious landing in history gained a toehold in Nazi controlled France, its success was by no means certain. Just as Queen Elizabeth had a predrafted speech ready to deliver should the Cold War ever turn hot, so to did General Eisenhower.
His speech was short and accepted responsibility in the greatest traditions of General Robert E. Lee:
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Harve area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon followed a similar path as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin blazed mankind’s path to the moon. Prepared for the possibility of complications on the moon’s surface that prevented the lunar explorers from returning to Earth, the President’s words were designed to comfort a mourning nation while inspiring hope in the progress represented by their sacrifice. Among President Nixon’s words:
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.
Perhaps the most chilling portion of Nixon’s speech is the procedure outlined at the conclusion of his words. Noting that NASA would end communications with the astronauts, the Navy’s burial at sea procedures would be invoked and their souls would be offered to the “deepest of the deep.”