William Safire, the inimitable wordsmith and pundit, died yesterday at the age of seventy-nine. To younger generations, Safire is most well-known for the three decades’ worth of columns he wrote for the New York Times. But before he was a columnist, he was a speechwriter for the Nixon Administration. He set up the famous Nixon-Khrushchev “kitchen debate” in Moscow and coined the terms “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.” However, one of the most intriguing speeches he ever wrote was one that—providentially—never had to be delivered by the President.
In 1999, a thirty year old speech was released that Safire had written in the event that Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the first men to walk on the lunar surface, became stranded on the moon:
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.
If there is ever a collection of speeches for an alternative history, this will surely rank among the most concise and beautiful of eulogies for deaths that never had to be.
(Via: Clive Thompson)