Cover image for Almost history : close calls, plan B's, and twists of fate in American history
Almost history : close calls, plan B's, and twists of fate in American history
Bruns, Roger.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [2000]

Physical Description:
xviii, 282 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A Stonesong Press book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E179 .B92 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E179 .B92 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E179 .B92 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore peace will stay to rest in peace.... Fortunately, these words were never spoken by Richard Nixon. Like many speeches, this one was written in preparation for events that might have happened, but never did. This collection of speeches and other archival material reveals how things would have been handled.

Author Notes

Douglas Brinkley was born in Atlanta, Georgia on December 14, 1960. He received a B.A. from Ohio State University in 1982 and a Ph.D. from Georgetown University in 1989. He was a professor at Tulane University, Princeton University, the U.S. Naval Academy, Hofstra University, and the University of New Orleans. In 2007, he became a professor at Rice University and the James Baker Institute for Public Policy. He is a commentator for CBS News and a contributing editor to the magazine Vanity Fair.

His first book, Jean Monnet: The Path to European Unity, was published in 1992. His other works include Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years, The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House, Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, Cronkite, and Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America. He also wrote three books with historian Stephen E. Ambrose: The Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938, Witness to History, and The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation: From the Louisiana Purchase to Today. He has won several awards including the Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt Naval History Prize for Driven Patriot and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Playing the historical what-if game is usually an exercise in absurdity and futility, but it can also be fun. We can never know what would have happened if Hitler had invaded Britain, but playing around with the various scenarios is often quite stimulating. As this compilation shows, it is not only scholars and armchair military strategists who indulge in this game. Political and military leaders must consider a variety of outcomes before the fact, and they must prepare for the worst. Bruns, a deputy director of the National Archives, provides readers with some of the documents recording and explaining events that never happened. Some of these documents, such as Eisenhower's acknowledgment of the failure of the Normandy invasion, are already well known. Others, such as Nixon's speech eulogizing the stranded Apollo XI astronauts, are both unsettling and poignant. This consistently fascinating collection of documents, missed opportunities, and possible "might have beens" reminds us how fate rests on slender threads. --Jay Freeman

Table of Contents

Introductionp. xvi
Planning for the Worst
If D-Day Had Stood for Disaster-1944 (Personal note of Dwight D. Eisenhower in case of D-Day disaster)p. 2
Operation Unthinkable and World War III-1945 (Report of British plan to invade Soviet Union with British, American, and German troopsp. 4
When Bomb Shelters Were In: The ABCs of Surviving an A-Bomb Attack-1954, 1962 (A 1954 article on survival and a 1962 Civil Service Commission memorandum on federal employees' response to a nuclear attack)p. 6
Pricing Quemoy and Matsu-1958 (Top-secret memorandum of Gerard C. Smith to Undersecretary of State Christian C. Herter, on defense of Quemoy and Matsu)p. 10
Predelegating Nuclear Terror-1959 (Instructions for expenditure of nuclear weapons in emergency conditions)p. 14
Not an Extraterrestrial-1962 (Message carried by John Glenn on Friendship 7)p. 17
Losing the Astronauts-1969 (Draft of speech of President Richard Nixon on loss of Apollo 11 astronauts)p. 19
Forks in the Road
A Road Not Taken to Harper's Ferry-1859 (A newspaper and Frederick Douglass himself tell why he visited West Virginia)p. 22
Powell's Choice-1869 (Diary entries of John Wesley Powell during Colorado River journey)p. 26
The Ascension of "His Fraudulency": John Reid and the Victory of Rutherford B. Hayes-1876 (Telegram of John Reid to Republican leaders that turned the presidential election)p. 31
A Bombing Order Away from Doomsday: Cuba-1962 (Notes of Robert McNamara on meeting with President Kennedy and advisors on plans to bomb Cuba)p. 34
A Federal-State Showdown in Mississippi-1962 (Conversation of President Kennedy with Solicitor General Archibald Cox on the possibility of arresting Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi and army general Edwin Walker for encouraging insurrection against James Meredith entering the University of Mississippi)p. 38
To Indict a President?-1974 (Memorandum of Watergate prosecution team on whether to indict President Richard Nixon)p. 41
Fortuitous Occurrences
Manifest Destiny or Lucky Circumstance: Jefferson and Louisiana-1802 (Letter of Thomas Jefferson to American minister to Paris, on circumstances leading to the Louisiana Purchase)p. 46
The Five-Spot Would Have Looked Different: The Story of Lincoln's Beard-1860 (Correspondence of Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln)p. 49
How a Cigar Wrapper Smoked the Confederates-1862 (Robert E. Lee's Special Orders 191)p. 52
Saved by a Speech-1912 (Speech of Theodore Roosevelt delivered after the assassination attempt)p. 56
"Don't Forget to Be a Good Boy": A Tennessee Legislator Listens to His Mother and Saves the Vote for Women-1920 (Letter to a Tennessee legislator from his mother persuading him to vote for the 19th Amendment)p. 62
Einstein's Modest Suggestion-1939 (Letter of Albert Einstein to President Franklin Roosevelt, recommending U.S. funding of nuclear research)p. 64
Code Maker's Dream, Enemy's Nightmare-1942 (Letter of Philip Johnston to Commander, U.S. Marine Corps, on using Navajo language as code)p. 68
Informing on the Veep: The Kickback Revelations that Brought Down Agnew-1973 (Deposition of informer to FBI on kickback payments to Vice President Spiro Agnew)p. 71
Close Calls
General Washington Under Fire-1783 (Response of George Washington to the so-called Newburgh Conspiracy)p. 76
The "Firebell in the Night" Nearly Rang Early: The Tallmadge Amendment and the Missouri Compromise-1819 (Congressional deliberations over the admission of Missouri to the Union)p. 81
Declining an Invitation to Ford's Theatre-1865 (Memoirs of U. S. Grant on the invitation from the Lincolns to attend Ford's Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865)p. 85
How a Taxicab Accident Nearly Changed World History-1931 (Winston Churchill's miraculous escape from death)p. 87
Others Didn't Make It-JFK Did-1943 (Action report on the loss of the USS PT-109)p. 90
Wernher von Braun: The Soviet Union's Loss-1945 (Interview with a member of the team that escorted Wernher von Braun out of Germany)p. 93
A Heartbeat Away-1955 (Memorandum on President Eisenhower's heart attack)p. 95
If the Heat Shield Had Blown-1962 (Communication from John Glenn's Friendship 7)p. 98
What the Public Didn't Know About Three Mile Island-1979 (Evidence that the accident at Three Mile Island was far more dangerous than ever admitted to the public)p. 103
Twists of Irony
Revolt Not Revolution: Washington Denies Seeking Independence-1774 (Letter of George Washington to Capt. Robert Mackenzie)p. 108
James Whistler, Failed Soldier and Bureaucrat-1855 (Etching by James Whistler, made while employed as a draftsman in the cartographic section of the U.S. Coast Survey)p. 111
More than Mischief: The Cartoon That Did in Boss Tweed-1875 (Cartoon by Thomas Nast that led to capture of Boss Tweed in Spain)p. 113
But for Metal Mattress Coils--1881 (Invention of Alexander Graham Bell that nearly saved the life of President James Garfield)p. 115
Letter from a Dayton Bicycle Shop-1899 (Letter of Wilbur Wright to the Smithsonian Institution, headed by Samuel Langley, the foremost researcher on air flight, asking about available works on the subject)p. 117
Richard Nixon, FBI Agent-1937 (Job application of Richard M. Nixon for employment at the FBI)p. 120
The DAR Loses a Member-1939 (Letter of Eleanor Roosevelt to the president of the Daughters of the American Revolution, resigning from the organization because of its refusal to allow singer Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall)p. 128
LBJ: Vietnam Dove-1954 (Report of meeting of U.S. Secretary of State and congressional leaders on possible involvement in French Indochina)p. 130
To Assure Nonviolence: King on Trial-1968 (Answer to plaintiff from City of Memphis v. Martin Luther King, Jr.)p. 134
Deporting John Lennon-1972 (FBI memorandum on efforts to deport John Lennon)p. 138
If I Were in Your Shoes ...-1987 (Letter of Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan recommending he stonewall on Iran-Contra)p. 140
Plans Thwarted
Dousing Confederate Fire: A Conspiracy Foiled-1864 (Telegram of William Henry Seward to mayor of New York on plans of Confederates to set fire to principal cities of the North)p. 144
Jefferson Davis, Guerrilla Fighter-1865 (Plans of Jefferson Davis to continue military campaign after Appomattox)p. 146
A Different Path to Reconciliation-1865 (The last public speech of Abraham Lincoln, devoted mainly to his vision of Reconstruction)p. 148
Trashing Diplomacy: Japan Rebuffs a Peace Plan-1941 (Introduction to the proposed agreement between the United States and Japan prior to Pearl Harbor attack)p. 151
Avoiding the Quagmire-1963 (National Security Action Memorandum No. 263, on plans for withdrawal from Vietnam)p. 154
Planning for Cuban Rapproachement-1963 (CIA memorandum on Cuba)p. 156
A Speech Undelivered-1963 (Prepared remarks of President John F. Kennedy for delivery at the Trade Mart in Dallas, Texas)p. 161
Trying to Take Down the Cuban Roadrunner-1967 (Recently released report of inspector general, on CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro)p. 163
Opportunities Missed; Warnings Unheeded
A Young Illinois Congressman Challenges U.S. Imperialism-1847 (Abraham Lincoln introduces the Spot Resolutions)p. 168
A Georgian Olive Branch Rejected-1863 (Remembrances of Alexander Stephens of aborted Confederate plan to seek terms for an end to Civil War hostilities)p. 171
"Ma Bell" Beats "Ma Gray" by a Nose-1876 (Patent for the telephone filed by inventor Elisha Gray only hours after Alexander Graham Bell's)p. 173
No Hurricane Can Make a Left Turn: How a Killer Storm Defied the Rules and Detroyed a City-1900 (Warnings of Cuban weather forecasters of hurricane heading toward Galveston ignored by U.S. Weather Bureau)p. 175
Ice Warnings and the Unsinkable Titanic-1912 (Wireless message of the Mesaba to the Titanic)p. 177
Advertised in Advance: The Lusitania Disaster-1915 (Warnings published in New York newspapers from the German government that American citizens should not board European cruise ships on the day the Lusitania was sunk)p. 179
Eleven Months' Warning-1941 (U.S. Ambassador to Japan Joseph Clark Grew to U.S. State Department, on rumors in Tokyo of plan to attack Pearl Harbor)p. 182
Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and Ho Chi Minh-1945 (Ho Chi Minh's Declaration of Independence for Vietnam)p. 184
A Ripsnorting Chance to "Give 'Em Hell" Missed-1950 (Telegram of Senator Joseph McCarthy to President Truman, demanding he provide Congress with a full accounting of Communist infiltrations, and draft of Truman's response)p. 188
Left at the Space Race Starting Gate-1957 (Memorandum of conference with President Eisenhower following Soviet launch of Sputnik)p. 192
Genocide Alert Ignored-1994 (Coded cable to United Nations from Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, U.N. Force Commander in Rwanda, warning of imminent genocide, and the United Nations' response)p. 196
For Lack of a Ferret: Aldrich Ames and the CIA Fiasco-1985-94 (1997 report of inspector general of the Department of Justice on the FBI's performance in uncovering espionage activities of Aldrich Ames)p. 201
Vagaries of War
British Frustration and the Saratoga Debacle-1777 (Letter from Sir William Clinton to Gen. John Burgoyne, complaining of Gen. William Howe's failure to reinforce Burgoyne)p. 206
Establishing a Second Europe: The American Revolution Truce Plan-1781 (French plan for truce and settlement of the American Revolution)p. 209
SOS from the Alamo-1836 (Letter of Col. William Travis appealing for help at the Alamo)p. 212
Some Thought It Lunacy: Pickett's Charge Questioned-1863 (Exchange of battlefield notes between James Longstreet and E. P. Alexander at Gettysburg, prior to Pickett's charge)p. 215
A Question of Guilt: Custer and His Orders-1876 (Orders of Brig. Gen. Albert Terry to Gen. George Custer before the Battle of Little Big Horn)p. 219
Japanese Americans: Evidence to the Contrary-1941 (Evidence from suppressed Munson Report, debunking fears of treachery and treason by Japanese living in the United States)p. 222
Code-Breaking Consequences
A Decoded Note and the End of Neutrality-1917 (The Zimmerman Note, proposing a Mexican-German alliance and adding to American sentiment to join the Allies)p. 228
Herbert Yardley's American Black Chamber and the Arms Conference-1921 (Decryptions by the American Black Chamber allowing Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes to know Japan's negotiating position during the Washington Naval Conference)p. 230
Breaking the Code and Winning Midway-1942 (Report of navy code breakers on Japanese plans to attack the Midway Islands)p. 232
Slippery Truth
Plots, Forgeries, and the Assassination of Jefferson Davis-1864 (The Dahlgren Papers and the attempt to murder Jefferson Davis)p. 236
Horror Concealed: Vignettes of an American Army Nurse-1916 (Suppressed account of World War I atrocities and suffering)p. 240
Harry Truman's Puzzling Diary Entry-1945 (Diary entry of Harry S. Truman, indicating that new atomic bomb will not be used on civilian populations)p. 243
Human Guinea Pig Research and the Tragic Death of Dr. Frank Olson-1963 (Memorandum of CIA official Richard Helms)p. 246
Urban Legends
Milking Chicago's Urban Cow Legend: Mrs. O'Leary's Cow or a Terrorist?-1871 (Official report on Great Chicago Fire)p. 250
Giving the Country a Bath-1917 (H. L. Mencken's account of the history of the bathtub in America)p. 253
The Advent of the Bambino's Curse-1920 (Babe Ruth's claim that he would play only with the Boston Red Sox)p. 259
Lousy Predictions
What About Radial Tires?-1909 (Report by Scientific American that the automobile has been nearly fully developed)p. 262
Who Is This Guy, Jules Verne?-1920 (New York Times editorial ridiculing Robert Goddard's rocket research)p. 264
Some Got It Right-1948 (Poll results clearly showing the 1948 election was turning in Truman's favor)p. 267
A Laptop for a Large Lap-1949 (Popular Mechanics predicts that someday a computer might weigh as little as a ton and a half)p. 269
Document Sourcesp. 272
Indexp. 279