JFK tapes show he worried about re-election, Vietnam
President John F. Kennedy plays with his children in the Oval Office in 1962.
January 24th, 2012
10:42 AM ET

JFK tapes show he worried about re-election, Vietnam

Shortly before his death in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was worried about how he would come across to young voters at the 1964 Democratic Convention.

"What is it that we can [do to] make them decide that they want to vote for us, Democrats and Kennedy – the Democrats not strong in appeal obviously as it was 20 years ago. The younger people, party label – what is it that’s going to make them go for us. What is it we have to sell them? We hope we have to sell them prosperity but for the average guy, the prosperity is nil. He’s not unprosperous but he’s not very prosperous; he’s not going make out well off. And the people who really are well off, hate our guts," Kennedy says in a recording released Tuesday by his presidential library and museum in Boston.

The library on Tuesday released the final 45 hours of more than 248 hours of meeting conversations the president had recorded during his time in the White House. The latest tapes cover some the final discussions Kennedy had before his November 1963 trip to Dallas, where he was killed by an assassin's bullet on November 22.

Recordings of some of the last political discussions of President John F. Kennedy were released Tuesday by the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

Besides the message Kennedy planned to relate at the '64 convention, he was worried about how it would be presented, wondering if films that would be shown could be in color, according to the tape made on November 12, 1963.

“Should they be made in color?” he asks on the tape. “They’d come over the television in black and white. I don’t know if maybe they’d come over the NBC one in color. Probably a million watching it in color and it would have an effect. I don’t know how much more expensive it is. Be quite an effect on the convention. The color is so damn good. If you do it right.”

Recordings made on September 10, 1963, deal with what was then a civil war in Vietnam. Two advisers, one military and one diplomatic came back with divergent views on what was happening there.

“The Viet Cong war will be won (by the United States) if the current U.S. military and sociological programs are pursued,” Gen. Victor Krulak said.

But State Department adviser Joseph Mendenhall doesn't have the same optimism.

"The people I talked to in the government when I asked them about the war against the VC, they said that is secondary now – our first concern is, in effect, in a war with the regime here in Saigon. (pause). There are increasing reports in Saigon and in Hue as well that students are talking of moving over to the Viet Cong side,” Mendenhall said.

To which Kennedy replied: “You both went to the same country?”

Later in the meeting adviser Rufus Phillips tells Kennedy what many would say later when support for the war soured as U.S. casualties mounted.

"When someone says that this is a military war, and that this is a military judgment. I don’t believe you can say this about this war. This is essentially a political war…for men’s minds,” Phillips said.

In a November 8 meeting, Kennedy and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara discuss Adm. Geroge Whelan Anderson, who was chief of naval operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

McNamara tells Kennedy that Anderson came up in a discussion McNamara had with Adm. Hyman Rickover.

“I talked to Rickover in connected with this nuclear carrier and while we were discussing it, he said, ‘You know that Anderson was absolutely insubordinate during the Cuban crisis. He consciously acted contrary to the president's instructions. I just thought you'd be interested. Rickover told me 10 days ago."

"I wonder what he means?" Kennedy said.

"Rickover said enough to let me know that Anderson was objecting to the instructions that you and I were giving relating to the quarantine and the limiting of action in relation to stopping the Russian ships," McNamara replied.

"He wanted to sink a ship," Kennedy said.

"He wanted to sink a ship. That's right," McNamara replied.

The last of the recordings comes on November 20, two days before Kennedy was killed. In it, he makes plans for the week after his trip to Dallas.

"They were going to have a briefing book for me by Saturday. I think I ought to be back here til maybe 7:00, then I have to see Cabot Lodge on Sunday and then have to get in touch with him on Monday. So you ought to have something to take to Texas with me," Kennedy said on that final tape.

The library says Kennedy deliberately made the recordings - mostly from the Oval Office and the Cabinet room - but without any apparent pattern. Not all meetings were recorded, the library said.

The existence of the tapes has been known since 1973, and they were first opened to public research 10 years later, the library said.

"Although on the one hand releasing the final recordings is a bittersweet milestone, on the other, we hope that the public will appreciate having the opportunity to hear these important discussions first hand,” library archivist Maura Porter said in press release. “The presidential recordings are an historical treasure for those interested in truly feeling like a participant during Oval Office discussions from this time period. No other avenue can present the facts quite like listening to the players themselves.”

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Filed under: History • Politics
soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. Danny K

    Why now? Why most think CIA assassinated JFK?

    January 24, 2012 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©


      January 24, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. spike

    JFK. I think I've heard of him before. Wasn't he Marilyn Monroe's boyfriend or something?

    January 24, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • JeanneLH

      Nope, Spike, you must be thinking of someone else...

      January 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. PTVMan

    That last recording is so sad and eerie. Bittersweet indeed.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  4. max

    should have been released long before now.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. Pbremer

    My Dad actually had the pleasure of meeting JFK on Nov 18th 1963 as part of his WW2 8th Armored Division presentation to JFK of the 'Man of the Year' award. It would be incredible if tapes of that WH visitor phot op...the last one of his presidency..were ever released! Does anyone know of a way to track down photos and/or transcripts of that day? I only have 2 precious B/W photos of my Father with the group! My Dad was able to have a private chat with President Kennedy and was traumatized when he returned home to put on the tv and learn of the assassination! Words that haunted my Dad forever were from when he said to the WW2 veterans...'Let's go out to the Rose Garden. It's a warm Nov. day. We won't be seeing more days like this!"

    January 24, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • saywhat?

      Talk to the JFK libaray or NARA, they should have something about it

      January 24, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. johng

    we always think how much better it would have been if people where not taken from us and world would have been much better place <but this is the plan and nothing we do can change some things ,I wish a huge wish that we could .Eye see you !!!!

    January 24, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. Army4Ever

    This is my favorite speech of JFK. He tried to tell the people the truth.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. Byrd

    Kennedy's final speech before his assassination concerned his opposition to the destructive influence of secret societies such as Freemasons, which he considered as posing the greatest threat to our society. He was dead within a week and the place where he was killed, Dealey Plaza is in a masonic shrine.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mneisbaar

    There should be a rule about idiots with nothing good to say or relevant to the conversation posting in these forums? What does the CIA have to do with an article about the release of these tapes.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  10. Philip

    I wonder if the JFk tapes mention Marilyn Monroe. She was kind of popular among young voters back then.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. Philip

    @Mneisbarr. The CIA has their nose in everything. sheesh. Have you ever heard of the CIA World Factbook? The CIA keeps tabs on just about everything. Microsoft even engineered a back-door in their Windows operating systems begining in 1998:just for them. It's callled the 'NSA key' if you care to research it.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  12. Philip

    @Byrd. Most people understand that the Freemasons aree whack. Every single member of the Israeli Supreme Court are Freemasons of the highest order, the Illuminati, who also control the world's federal resrve/central bank systems like the one doing business here in the USA. Ron Paul is trying to expose them, but hardly anyone listens to his pleas for having the fed audited for the first time ever. Crooks don't like to be audited. Funny, Bush and Obama noth steadfastly refuse to allow US an audit. Wonder why.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  13. jim lsim

    Oswald killed him, He even put the first bullet through the Traffic Lights, when the car came too close to the book depo.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • kathleen

      Get your head out of lhe sand – the CIA, LBJ and JEH were responsible for the coup! The proof is there for all to see.

      January 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • heyitsme

      If he really did kill him, then why was it the bullet that hit him coming from the FRONT OF THE CAR, the one that took his life, not the back of the car, where Oswald was located? I think you need to stop eating what people are trying to feed you. I usually do not buy into *oh he really didn't do this, he really didn't do that*. But it's kind of hard to dismiss a scientific fact. The bullet that killed him came from in front of the car – thus why his head flew backward then front. Oswald was in the warehouse that was heind the motor coach......

      January 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BOMBO ©

    My eyeballs hurt from rolling around so much. I should have known better than to click on a JFK story. Now, if I can find a nice story about the moon landing or the 9/11 attacks....

    January 24, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. jdean

    JFK invaded South Vietnam and created the ensuing disaster.This release further implicates JFK in this debacle as his advisor indicates the internal insurgence within South Vietnam was the enemy of the government. In essense Kennedy invaded South Vietnam to fight the populace. This guy is not as clean as the myth makes him out to be.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
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