‘Independence Day’ Gave Us The Greatest Presidential Address In Recent History

Entertainment
“We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive!"
Task & Purpose photo illustration by Aaron Provost

Welcome to That One Scene, a semi-regular series in which Marine veteran and pop culture omnivore James Clark waxes nostalgic about “that one scene" from a beloved movie.


Twenty-two years ago today, director Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin gave American audiences one of the greatest summer blockbusters of the 1990s. Independence Day helped cement Will Smith's tenure as a top action star of the decade, gave us another excuse to listen to Jeff Goldblum quip and stutter between raised eyebrows, and delivered a perfect mix of camp and gratuitous destruction at a time when we weren't so queasy about seeing national monuments laid to waste on screen.

Part doomsday sci-fi romp, part patriotic escapist fantasy, Independence Day had all the trappings of an instant summer classic — and that has a lot to do with one scene in the final act of the film. You know which one I'm talking about:

The scene takes place at Area 51, where the survivors of the brutal alien invasion gather to mount a last-ditch offensive to deliver mankind from the threat of annihilation. When President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), grabs the mic and addresses the beleaguered troops, he delivers the speech we've always wanted to hear from an actual president. In fact, if we were ever attacked by a warfleet of extraterrestrials, that scene would probably be required viewing for White House staff, according to former President Bill Clinton's speechwriting director Michael Waldman.

“I wrote a book that was a collection of great presidential speeches, and if in fact the world had been invaded by aliens, this speech would have made the collection," he told Complex in a June 23, 2016 roundtable discussion. “So that's high praise."

Surprisingly, the iconic scene — and it is iconic, so much so that people have actually delivered it during weddings — was written in just five minutes and was never meant to make it into the final cut as is, screenwriter Dean Devlin told Complex. But it's a good thing it did, since the scene ends with Whitmore plugging the movie title when he concludes: “Today we celebrate our independence day!" And it turns out, that was deliberate.

“The main reason we did that is 'cause the studio at the time was threatening to change the title to Doomsday," Devlin told Complex. “So we thought, let's get it into the speech."

Not only did President Whitmore rally earth's defenders for one final push against the alien menace, he also helped secure the film's title, which is great, because… Doomsday? Are you fucking kidding me?

So, we know it's good, but why is it so goddamn motivating? Well, partly because President Whitmore is the fictional leader we all wish was real. An actual presidential address under these circumstances would amount to a clipped statement followed by an all but-meaningless executive order given that the world is in flames, the military is in disarray, and we just nuked Houston. Sorry, but no carefully crafted statement delivered from a substitute Resolute Desk will cut it.

Instead, we get Whitmore as commander-in-chief in the very literal sense of the constitutional office. An ex-Air Force fighter pilot and Gulf War veteran, he's more comfortable in a flightsuit and the cockpit of an F-16 (or an F-18 later in the film) than he is wearing a tie and sitting in a boardroom — something he's criticized for by cable news hosts early on in the movie. But before personally taking to the sky to kick alien ass for America, and all mankind, he's gotta rally his troops.

Related: 'Independence Day' Fails Prove The Aliens Should've Won »

“Perhaps it's fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution — but from annihilation," Whitmore says before pivoting to a more unifying message that pays homage to both the St. Crispin's Day Speech from William Shakespeare's Henry V, when the titular king rallies his men before leading them into battle, and to the poem, Do not go gentle into that good night, by Dylan Thomas:

“Should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice: We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive!"

If your response to the final lines of that speech was anything but “FUCK YEAH!" and a curious sensation of patriotic arousal, then you're dead inside. (WARNING: If a moto-boner lasts more than four hours, call your local recruiter — that'll take care of it immediately.)

And with that, Happy 4th of July. Let's hope no alien invaders drop by, but if they do, then political leaders the world over should brush up on the finest presidential address in movie history.

In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea said on Sunday they will postpone upcoming military drills in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea, even as Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.

The drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea.

Read More Show Less

An opening ceremony will be held Monday on Hawaii island for a military exercise with China that will involve about 100 People's Liberation Army soldiers training alongside U.S. Army counterparts.

This comes after Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, spoke on Veterans Day at Punchbowl cemetery about the "rules-based international order" that followed U.S. victory in the Pacific in World War II, and China's attempts to usurp it.

Those American standards "are even more important today," Davidson said, "as malicious actors like the Communist Party of China seek to redefine the international order through corruption, malign cyber activities, intellectual property theft, restriction of individual liberties, military coercion and the direct attempts to override other nations' sovereignty."

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to "act quickly" to reach a deal with the United States, in a tweet weighing in on North Korea's criticism of his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump, who has met Kim three times since 2018 over ending the North's missile and nuclear programs, addressed Kim directly, referring to the one-party state's ruler as "Mr. Chairman".

In his tweet, Trump told Kim, "You should act quickly, get the deal done," and hinted at a further meeting, signing off "See you soon!"

Read More Show Less

It is impossible to tune out news about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump now that the hearings have become public. And this means that cable news networks and Congress are happier than pigs in manure: this story will dominate the news for the foreseeable future unless Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt get back together.

But the wall-to-wall coverage of impeachment mania has also created a news desert. To those of you who would rather emigrate to North Korea than watch one more lawmaker grandstand for the cameras, I humbly offer you an oasis of news that has absolutely nothing to do with Washington intrigue.

Read More Show Less

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will return three captured naval ships to Ukraine on Monday and is moving them to a handover location agreed with Kiev, Crimea's border guard service was cited as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday.

A Reuters reporter in Crimea, which Russian annexed from Ukraine in 2014, earlier on Sunday saw coastguard boats pulling the three vessels through the Kerch Strait toward the Black Sea where they could potentially be handed over to Ukraine.

Read More Show Less