Almost History: Close Calls, Plan B's, and Twists of Fate in America's Past

Almost History: Close Calls, Plan B's, and Twists of Fate in America's Past

by Roger Bruns
     
 

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"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay to rest in peace . . . These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, know there is no hope for their recovery."

Fortunately, these stirring words were never spoken by President Richard Nixon. Like many speeches, this one was written in preparation for events that

Overview

"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay to rest in peace . . . These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, know there is no hope for their recovery."

Fortunately, these stirring words were never spoken by President Richard Nixon. Like many speeches, this one was written in preparation for events that might have happened, but never did. Almost History is a fascinating collection of speeches, memos, and other archival material that reveals how our government would have handled historic moments that almost — but didn't — come to be: JFK's prepared address justifying his bombing of Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis; Abraham Lincoln's plans for post-Civil War Reconstruction; the authorization for the use of American nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War; the CIA's memo discussing the use of Americans as guinea pigs in drug tests, the FBI's memo on deporting John Lennon, and much more. Compiled by a Deputy Director of the National Archives, this extraordinary and often provocative material demonstrates, in handwritten notes, telegrams, memos, and photographs, just how close we came to defeat, disaster, and distress — and provides chilling proof that the course of history can change in an instant.

Almost History is not based on supposition. This collection, illustrated with numerous photographs of actual documents, offers a focus and insight into alternative history that is truly unique. Here are more than eighty selections, each introduced with the story of how they came to be and where they fit in the timeline of history. These events were so close to reality that those involved had committed their positions, policies, words, and feelings to paper in a variety of forms. Yet timing, twists of fate, and sudden changes stopped them from becoming our destiny.

Roger Bruns is the Deputy Executive Director for the National Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives. He is the author of fourteen adult and children's titles. He and his family live in Reston, Virginia.

"A lively and scholarly adventure into the world of historical imagination. Bruns amply demonstrates that what "might" have happened can be as fascinating as what actually did." (David F. Rudgers, former senior intelligence analyst and author of Creating the Secret State: The Origins of The Central Intelligence Agency, 1943-1947, University Press of Kansas, 2000)

Editorial Reviews

Booknews
In this collection of original speeches, letters, memos, and archival material, Bruns (Deputy Executive Director, National Publications and Records Commission, National Archives) shows how the American government would have handled historic moments that almost happened, but didn't. These include the speech JFK would have given in Dallas, Richard Nixon's rejected job application at the FBI, the authorization to use nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War, and Nixon's letter to Reagan recommending he stonewall on Iran-Contra. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786866632
Publisher:
Hyperion
Publication date:
10/04/2000
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

If D-Day Had Stood for Disaster — 1944

Personal note of Dwight D. Eisenhower in case of D-Day disaster

Group Capt. James Stagg, chief meteorologist for the Royal Air Force, made what some believe was one of the most important weather predictions in military history: gradual clearing on June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France. Against an entrenched German army, mounds of hedgerows and sunken roads, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, had prepared a massive assault, "the opening phase," he said, "of the campaign in Western Europe." An invasion force called Operation Overlord consisting of 4,000 ships, 11,000 planes, and nearly three million soldiers, airmen, and sailors assembled in England for the assault. But everything depended on a break in the bad weather that was plaguing the English Channel, a window of opportunity for the assault to take the Germans by surprise.

General Eisenhower trusted in Captain Stagg's prediction and went forward with the plans. The dismal, rainy days that preceded June 6 — which did force Eisenhower and the Allies to delay the landing by one day — finally lifted, and more than 150,000 troops stormed the beaches. Their objective: to open a second major European front in the battle against the Germans. Victory was uncertain. The day before the landing, Eisenhower drafted a note in his own hand on a small sheet of paper, a message to be delivered in the event the invasion failed. In the rush of the moment, he wrote July on the bottom, rather than June, and put the note in his wallet.

As the attack began, Allied troops faced not only withering fire on the beaches from artillery and machine guns but a maze of tangled barbed wire and other barriers designed to prevent landing craft from reaching shore. About 4,900 soldiers — American, British, and Canadian — became casualties that momentous day on beaches called Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold, and Sword. But at its end, the Allied troops were firmly ashore and in control of 80 square miles of French coast. The final destruction of Hitler's Third Reich had begun. The value of the message in General Eisenhower's wallet was not in its utility but in its symbolism: the Allies had turned history in their favor.

But what if the break in the rain and fog had not occurred, and the Allies had attempted the invasion in bad weather, thus placing their troops at even greater risk, or instead had delayed the invasion for many days, thus jeopardizing the advantage of surprise that had carefully constructed? The note that Eisenhower carried in his pocket that day was not based on unreasonable fear of failure but on a distinct possibility that Operation Overload could have brought tragic loss

Personal Note of Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 5, 1944

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre 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.

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