Saturday, December 10, 2011

Plan B (1969/Washington, DC)- Lapham's Quarterly

“Plan B (1969/Washington, DC)” is a piece that gives us a look into a potential American disaster. “In the event of a moon disaster” the memo is titled, and the header lets us know it has been sent from Bill Safire, a former presidential speech writer. It’s what our president would have said to the nation had the first manned mission to the moon failed and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were left to die in space. “These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding,” the proposed speech reads. “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.” These lines hold powerful meaning, even though the event the speech was written for never occurred. They humanize the sacrifice made on the parts of the astronauts, while at the same time elevating them to an almost-mythical status in the consciousness of the American people.

I find the piece fascinating because of the sobering look into “what might have been” it provides. After the main part of the speech (which is surprisingly short), Safire goes on to give suggestions of what to do. Prior to the president’s statement the president should telephone each of the widows-to-be personally, and after the statement, “at the point when NASA ends communications with the men,” a clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, “commending their souls to ‘the deepest of the deep.’” One of the things that was also interesting to me was the feelings the statement assumes the tragedy will invoke. They reminded me strongly of 9/11, with Safire writing that the tragedy “stirred the people of the word to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they mind more tightly the brotherhood of men.” This is how I feel America (if not most of the world) reacted to September 11th, which made me wonder how America and the world would have reacted to a lunar mission disaster and the effect that it would have on politics.

-- Kelly M.

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