Skip To Content

    These Chilling, Undelivered Speeches Were Written About Catastrophes That Humanity Only Narrowly Avoided

    Humanity: Getting hauntingly close to nuclear war for almost a century.

    One of the things humanity is great at is constantly teetering at the brink of disaster. And when we narrowly avoid catastrophe, there's no real way of knowing what life would've been like if we hadn't.

    A man holding a sign reading "THE END IS NIGH" looks at an advertisement for vacations
    NCJ - The Sunday People / Mirrorpix / Getty Images

    But there's at least one creepy exception to this rule: speeches that leaders and their aides prepared in case the worst-case scenario became a reality. In these artifacts from a scarier version of history, presidents and monarchs reach out to their people to offer comfort and strength in the face of really, really bad news.

    An asteroid hits the surface of the Earth
    Andrzej Wojcicki / Getty Images / Science Photo Library RF

    Here are the undelivered doomsday speeches that we should all be very glad stayed in the drafts folder.

    1. "In Event of Moon Disaster"

    Buzz Aldrin standing next to the American flag on the moon
    Nasa / AFP via Getty Images

    What Actually Happened: Apollo 11, which launched in 1969 with a primary objective to "perform a crewed lunar landing and return to Earth," did just that. Commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin safely made it to the moon and back again, and around 650 million people watched as Armstrong made his "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." (Aldrin walked on the moon, too, but he didn't have as good of a line prepared.) The mission lasted from launch on July 16, 1969, until the astronauts landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.

    Naturally, being the first people to land on the moon was a perilous endeavor, and President Richard Nixon's administration was prepared for the worst. The "worst" in this case was Armstrong and Aldrin being stranded on the lunar surface, unable to reach the space capsule that could bring them home. If such a catastrophe had struck, there would've been no possibility of rescue, and they would've died "either by slow asphyxiation or perhaps by suicide."

    the three astronauts posing in their spacesuits
    Nasa / Getty Images

    White House speechwriter William Safire was told to prepare remarks for Nixon to deliver in case such a disaster ensued. The "Safire Memo" was a little over a page long and included instructions that Nixon ought to "telephone each of the widows-to-be" before addressing the public.

    The astronauts talking to their wives from inside the lunar capsule
    Space Frontiers / Getty Images

    The instructions specified that after Nixon called the astronauts' wives and delivered the speech, NASA would end communication with the doomed men. Safire wrote that at that point, "A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to 'the deepest of the deep,' concluding with the Lord's Prayer."

    a book with the text of the lord's prayer
    Matthewmaude / Getty Images  / iStockphoto

    "In Event of Moon Disaster" begins, "Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace." It eulogizes Armstrong and Aldrin as heroes who "stirred the people of the world to feel as one." It also promises that their loss, while tragic, will not mark the end of humanity's efforts to explore space.

    The first footprint left on the moon
    Nasa / Getty Images

    Luckily for the astronauts (and the endeavor of space travel as a whole), Nixon never had cause to deliver Safire's devastating, poetic ode to a lost mission.

    Nixon posing with the returned astronauts
    Historical / Corbis via Getty Images

    Here's the full text of Safire's memo:


    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. 

    In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man. 

    In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

    Others will follow and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts. 

    For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.


    The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be. 


    A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to "the deepest of the deep," concluding with the Lord's Prayer. 

    2. Queen Elizabeth II's Nuclear War Address

    The Queen gives her first Christmas day broadcast
    Fox Photos / Getty Images

    What Actually Happened: The Cold War didn't result in any nuclear attacks, in Great Britain or anywhere else, and Queen Elizabeth II never addressed her people about the dawn of World War III. 

    This speech was written in 1983 as a part of a "war-gaming exercise" through which the government of the United Kingdom could prepare for nuclear war. It's unlikely the Queen ever saw the speech, though it was written for her.

    Children hide under school desks during a nuclear attack drill
    Graphica Artis / Getty Images

    The draft references the "strength and struggles of the first two World Wars," and has the Queen reflect on listening to her father, King George VI, take on the "solemn and awful duty" of speaking to a nation newly at war (in that case, World War II).

    Princess Elizabeth and King George VI looking over papers in the King's study
    Lisa Sheridan / Getty Images

    The speech was written for a scenario in which the Soviet Union attacked Great Britain with chemical weapons, prompting a nuclear retaliation from the country and its allies.

    A drawing of a fallout shelter from the 1960s
    Pictorial Parade / Getty Images

    The practice speech was declassified in 2013 — 30 years after it was written.

    Queen Elizabeth during her Christmas address in 2016
    Wpa Pool / Getty Images

    Here's its full text: 

    When I spoke to you less than three months ago we were all enjoying the warmth and fellowship of a family Christmas.

    Our thoughts were concentrated on the strong links that bind each generation to the ones that came before and those that will follow.

    The horrors of war could not have seemed more remote as my family and I shared our Christmas joy with the growing family of the Commonwealth.

    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.

    My husband and I share with families up and down the land the fear we feel for sons and daughters, husbands and brothers who have left our side to serve their country.

    My beloved son Andrew is at this moment in action with his unit and we pray continually for his safety and for the safety of all servicemen and women at home and overseas.

    It is this close bond of family life that must be our greatest defense against the unknown.

    If families remain united and resolute, giving shelter to those living alone and unprotected, our country's will to survive cannot be broken.

    My message to you therefore is simple. Help those who cannot help themselves, give comfort to the lonely and the homeless and let your family become the focus of hope and life to those who need it.

    As we strive together to fight off the new evil let us pray for our country and men of goodwill wherever they may be.

    God bless you all.

    3. General Dwight D. Eisenhower's Remarks on the Failure of D-Day

    A portrait of Eisenhower as a general
    Science & Society Picture Librar / SSPL via Getty Images

    What Actually Happened: The June 1944 "Allied invasion of Normandy," otherwise known as D-Day, succeeded. It ultimately resulted in the "Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control." The success of the invasion marked a turning point in the war; its failure would've been catastrophic for the Allies. 

    Eisenhower was understandably nervous about such a high-stakes mission, and in the face of terrible weather, he told his generals, "I don't like it, but we have to go." After meeting with troops, he told his driver Kay Summersby, "I hope to God I'm right."

    Troops land on D-Day
    Hulton Archive / Getty Images

    But just in case he wasn't, the night before the invasion, Eisenhower prepared a short speech that he would give to take total responsibility for its failure. He edited the remarks to make it clear that any fault lay solely with him; Eisenhower even underlined the words "mine alone" in the sentence "If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

    troops land from the water on D-Day
    Roger Viollet / Roger Viollet via Getty Images

    He put the speech in his wallet and never had cause to take it out again.

    A soldier holds up a newspaper announcing Victory in Europe
    Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / via Getty

    Here's the full text: 

    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.

    4. John F. Kennedy Announces War Against the Soviet Union

    JFK gives a speech
    Ted Streshinsky Photographic Arc / Corbis via Getty Images

    What Actually Happened: While the world has perhaps "never been closer to nuclear conflict" than it was during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War was narrowly prevented from heating up. Kennedy's administration established "a naval blockade" that prevented Soviet ships from "sneaking nuclear-tipped missiles" into Cuba. (The US learning that the Soviet Union was trying to do just that was what kicked off the crisis in the first place.) The Soviet Union "pledged to withdraw its weapons," and in return the US "stay[ed] out" of Cuba, an American attack on which would've been the first step toward World War III. 

    Kennedy's administration drafted an address for the president in case he had to announce to the US that the Cuban Missile Conflict had escalated to the point of war.

    Kennedy addresses the press during the Cuban Missile Crisis
    Keystone / Getty Images

    Kennedy's usual speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, allegedly turned down the job. According to what Thomas Putman, the president of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Sorensen "couldn't even come up with words that would perhaps support an invasion that would lead to a nuclear exchange."

    Ted Sorenson holds a book he wrote about Kennedy
    Keystone / Getty Images

    Putman believes that National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy wrote the speech in Sorensen's place.

    Bundy gives a speech
    Bettmann Archive / via Getty

    The speech was released in an archive that included "nearly 3,000 pages of notes, transcripts, and other documents kept by Robert Kennedy."

    Robert Kennedy speaking at a rally
    Harry Benson / Getty Images

    Also included in the archive were notes Robert Kennedy made about the possibility of nuclear war. Graham Allison, the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that he believed that when RFK wrote down the numbers "42 million" and "90 million," he was referring to the estimated death toll for a scenario in which the US attacked the Soviet Union first, versus one where the Soviet Union launched the initial attack.

    This newspaper map from the era shows the distance from Cuba to major American and Mexican cities
    Bettmann Archive / Getty

    Allison said, "Who in the world could imagine trying to make a choice about something that has such momentous consequences?"

    a 1950s atom bomb explosion
    H. Armstrong Roberts / Classic Stock / via Getty

    Here's the first page of the speech: 

    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. This action has been taken under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations and in fulfillment of the requirements of the national safety. Further military action has been authorized to ensure that this threat is fully removed and not restored.

    Let me first tell you what has been going on. What it is that we have had to attack? [Those two sentences are crossed out.] 

    There have been rumors of offensive installations in Cuba for some weeks, but it is only within the last week that we have had unmistakable and certain evidence of the character and magnitude of the Communist offensive deployment. What this evidence established beyond doubt is that in a rapid, secret, frequently denied military operation, the Communists were attempting to establish a series of offensive nuclear...

    5. President Richard Nixon Tells The Nation He Won't Resign

    Nixon resigns as his family looks on
    Keystone / Getty Images

    What Actually Happened: On August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first (and so far, only) president to resign. The impeachment proceedings for his role in the Watergate scandal, along with "pressure from the public and Congress," led Nixon to walk away from the presidency. In his resignation speech, he said, "I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America." The next day, Nixon and his family left the White House, and Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th president.  

    But resigning wasn't Plan A. Literally: His speechwriter Raymond Price labelled the resignation speech as "Option B." But Nixon never saw the speech Price wrote for him in case he wanted to continue to fight for his presidency.

    Bettmann Archive / via Getty

    It became clear to Nixon that he couldn't remain in office after he released a written statement revealing the "smoking gun" tape, on which he is heard "urging aides to use the CIA to halt the FBI investigation into the June 17, 1972, break-in at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate."

    The Watergate Hotel in 2005
    Joe Raedle / Getty Images

    This indisputable evidence of corruption outraged the nation, and Nixon soon "saw that his presidency was doomed and gave up the fight."

    Protestors outside the White House demanding that Nixon resign
    Mpi / Getty Images

    When Gerald Ford first addressed the nation as president, he said, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over." While Nixon refusing to resign wouldn't have been on the level of outright nuclear war, suffice to say that it wouldn't have brought about a swift end to that "national nightmare."

    Ford is sworn in as president
    Bettmann Archive / via Getty

    Ford ultimately pardoned Nixon for "any crimes he had committed while in office."

    Nixon waves as he leaves the White House in a helicopter
    David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images

    Here's the final section of Nixon's refusal to resign: 

    If I were to resign, it would spare the country additional months consumed with the ordeal of a Presidential impeachment and trial.

    But it would leave unresolved the questions that have already cost the country so much in anguish, division and uncertainty. More important, it would leave a permanent crack in our Constitutional structure: 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...

    Whatever the mistakes that have been made — and they are many — and whatever the measure of my own responsibility for those mistakes, I firmly believe that I have not committed any act of commission or omission that justifies removing a duly elected President from office. If I did believe that I had committed such an act, I would have resigned long ago...

    For me to see this through will have costs for the country in the short run. The months ahead will not be easy for any of us. But in the long run — whatever the outcome  — the results will be a more stable form of government. Far more damaging than the ordeal of a Senate trial, far more damaging that even the conviction and removal of a President, would be the descent toward chaos if Presidents could be removed short of impeachment and trial.

    Throughout the Western world, governmental instability has reached almost epidemic proportions... In the United States, within the last dozen years one President was assassinated; the next was in effect driven from office when he did not even seek re-election; and now the third stands on the verge of impeachment by the House of Representatives, confronted with calls for his resignation in order to make the process of removal easy.

    This country bears enormous responsibilities to itself and to the world. If we are to meet those responsibilities in this and future Presidencies, we must not let this office be destroyed — or let it fall such easy prey to those who would exult in the breaking of the President that the game becomes a national habit.

    Therefore, I shall see the Constitutional process through — whatever its outcome.

    I shall appear before the Senate, and answer under oath before the Senate any and all questions put to me there.

    6. And finally: CNN's Doomsday Video

    a nuclear wasteland
    Viaframe / Getty Images

    What Actually Happened: Not doomsday! 


    OK, so this one isn't a speech, but it's just too creepy not to include. Here's the story: In 2009, writer Michael Ballaban was an intern at CNN. While working there, he uncovered something labeled the "Turner Doomsday Video."

    A CNN anchor broadcasting circa 1980
    Allan Tannenbaum / Getty Images

    Ted Turner, who founded CNN in 1980, once reportedly said, "We'll be on, and we will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event...when the end of the world comes, we'll play 'Nearer My God to Thee' before we sign off."

    Ted Turner in the CNN newsroom
    Cynthia Johnson / Getty Images

    "Nearer My God to Thee" is a hymn that you may recognize as the song that the band in Titanic plays as the ship sinks. (Apparently, it was the real band's final song too.)

    A violinist in Titanic (the movie) playing the hymn
    Paramount Pictures

    When Ballaban found the video, it was marked, "HFR [Hold For Release] till end of the world confirmed."

    The screenshot of the doomsday video
    HBO /

    So that's what you'll see if you learn that the end is nigh (for real this time) and decide to turn on CNN one last time: a low-quality video of "the combined Armed Forces marching band" playing Turner's hymn of choice.

    a screenshot of the video in question
    HBO /

    Maybe just turn the news off at that point, though. 

    BuzzFeed Daily

    Keep up with the latest daily buzz with the BuzzFeed Daily newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form