Fate has ordained...
August 9, 2005 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Now that Discovery is home safe and well, let's take a moment to remember some anxious moments 36 years ago, when President Nixon had a contingency memo prepared to read in case that Neil Armstrong et al. were somehow unable to return to Earth. The forgotten memo, written by William Saffire, is from the National Archives.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"explore in peace" ... "rest in peace"
"no hope for recovery" ... " hope for mankind"
"they will be mourned" ... "they will be mourned" ... "they will be mourned"
"in their exploration" ... "in their sacrifice"
"in ancient days" ... "in modern days"

What would you call that writing technique, where you repeat phrases or constructions in successive sentences? Safire went a little nuts with it.
posted by smackfu at 7:11 AM on August 9, 2005

I think it's known as anaphora. Churchill was another master of this sort of rhetorical device, and many others.

Good in small doses I think, but can be very powerful in the right context.
posted by djn1976 at 7:24 AM on August 9, 2005

Oh yeah, and on language, Safire's name is written with one f.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:25 AM on August 9, 2005

An eloquent speech, but isn't calling the astronauts' wives "widows-to-be" a little ... sick?
posted by aparrish at 7:29 AM on August 9, 2005

Anaphora! Thank you, djn1976; I've been trying to remember what that device was called for months now. Martin Luther King was also fond of it; look for it in "I Have a Dream."
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:30 AM on August 9, 2005

No problem - actually, that page is a great read (As you might hope it would be!)...might have to incorporate some of those devices into my postings...
posted by djn1976 at 7:41 AM on August 9, 2005

Thanks for that interesting page. From it, I'd say there's also some parallelism mixed in.
posted by smackfu at 7:47 AM on August 9, 2005

Isn't it nice to remember that there were times -- whole decades -- when our politicians tried not to sound like some guy sitting in a bar looking at the TV?
posted by Hogshead at 8:13 AM on August 9, 2005

And I owe mosch $1.
posted by wakko at 8:23 AM on August 9, 2005

Nicely written. I sure am glad it did not have to be used.
posted by caddis at 8:30 AM on August 9, 2005

Your first is epistrophe (repetition of the same words at the end of the phrase).

Your second could be a variety but doesn't really fit into a single rhetorical rule. Your third is mesodiplosis (repetition of the same words in the middle of sentences - although usually successive ones).

Your fourth again doesn't really fit with any single rhetorical rule; it could be repotia (repeating a phrase with slight differences in style) or exergasia (repeating the same thought in different ways); and your fifth is symploce.
posted by paperpete at 9:19 AM on August 9, 2005

If you guys are interested in classical rhetorical devices, you will love Silva Rhetoricae, an encyclopedia of rhetorical terms, with usage examples!
posted by growli at 10:02 AM on August 9, 2005

I've seen this before, and it's chilling in its own "what if" way. It's easy for me to hear Richard Nixon's voice reading the words.

But I have to say that Ronald Reagan really nailed this when the Challenger astronauts were killed and he read the words of John McGee's "High Flight":

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

posted by briank at 10:04 AM on August 9, 2005

(er, John Gillespie Magee, Jr.)
posted by briank at 10:05 AM on August 9, 2005

Thank you, briank. I remembered Reagan reading some poem, but I had forgotten how touching it was in context. Odd that Safire couldn't find a poem for this purpose... poetry is about the only thing that would work for such a mixed emotional moment. Though for the life of me I can't imagine Nixon reading poetry.

Strange to think what would have happened if those guys had never made it back. Would we have stalled the program and done extensive safety reviews, like we did in the wake of Columbia? Would we have aborted the entire Apollo program and never gone back to the moon, or abandoned space altogether? Would the tragedy have humbled America in the eyes of the Russians? Maybe such a tragedy, combined with the humiliations of Vietnam and Watergate, would have led to the U.S. taking fewer risks in international affairs, losing power on the world stage, never winning the cold war?

It was just a space mission, but the loss of Apollo could have had a tremendous psychological effect on the American people for years afterward.
posted by purple_frogs at 12:27 PM on August 9, 2005

As much as I hate that bastard Safire, He sure had some rhetorical game back then.
posted by Megafly at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2005

Would we have stalled the program and done extensive safety reviews, like we did in the wake of Columbia?

Don't forget that just 30 months before we landed on the moon, Apollo 1 burned up with three astronauts inside. The program was stalled (in certain respects; others continued apace), an accident review board looked at everything from vehicle design to launch gantry procedures, and many things were fixed -- among them, a hatch that opened outward with a simple manual lever.

Accident review boards aren't a recent invention.

Would we have aborted the entire Apollo program and never gone back to the moon, or abandoned space altogether?

Depending on the type of failure, somewhat, I doubt there would have been public support for abandoning space. Just 9 months later, Apollo 13 took the ad astra per aspera philosophy and ran with it; not only did the accident focus public attention on the space program just as it began to wane, it strengthened the sense of resolve and heroism associated with the program. We returned to the moon four times.

You're making an interesting cultural hypothesis, but you've overlooked a couple of key events.

Odd that Safire couldn't find a poem for this purpose.

I believe that Safire, who indeed had rhetorical game, would view Noonan's approach (she penned the "High Flight" speech) as the supply of a crutch. Reagan was not one for whom complex devices would work; though at times he could rise to the occasion, he was best with his own words, and his speechwriters were more guides than ghostwriters.
posted by dhartung at 9:22 PM on August 9, 2005

The allusion to Rupert Brooke's poem The Soldier in the last line struck me as being a slightly jarring note in an otherwise excellent speech. 'Mankind' is a much more varied and amorphous concept than 'England' which is tied to a specific geography and culture, and so it seems like he's forcing the allusion in despite the mismatch.

Of cource had I never heard the poem, I probably wouldn't notice this.
posted by Grimgrin at 12:42 AM on August 10, 2005

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