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. Isabella

    I will always believe LBJ had JFK killed. My father was very much in politics and told us numerous stories before he passed away. Startling to say the least.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Philip

    JfK's wife says LBJ did it. She probably didn't know JFK. Mrs. Sandusky didn't know her husband was bi-se/xual. Or did she? Paterno claimed that he only found-out about Jerry Sandusky's gayness in 2002. I guess it's possible that Jackie Kennedy didn't know who murdered her hubby. She certainly didn't believe Oswald did it.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Darth Cheney

    What was true for Kennedy remains so nearly 50 years later, "the people who really are well off, hate our guts." All the more reason to NOT vote GOP in 2012.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      DC, I thought the exact same thing when I read this...the more things change, the more they stay the same...

      January 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mark

    JFK did not invade south vietnam johnson did it was called the gulf of tonkin..

    January 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lydia

      THANK YOU "MARK" who just told us the truth about who was the one who got us more involved in Vietnam:
      LBJ and NOT JFK. Mark has some idea of history; let's all try it.

      January 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Philip

    @jdean...the communists were threatening to take-over SE Asias drug market that has been controlled by Americans for decades. Ross Perot exposed it back in the Reagan years when his team was looking for MIA's. Perot discovered that americans were laundering the drug money through Haitian banks. Haiti's President Aristide passed laws making it illegal for Americans to do this, and within weeks faced an "internal" uprising driven by hundreds of men armed with brand-new M-16s. Americans lost their foothold on SE Asian drug exports, and now depend on South America for mind-altering drugs that are just too darn expensive at the local pharmacy for so many to afford..

    January 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. molinyc

    another myth previous JFK White House tapes displaced..Jackie O was not the sophisticated refined or worldly woman they would have us believe.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • AGuest9

      Every video I've ever seen her in, she came off as less-than-intelligent. I'm not sure if that was what was expected of the wife of a head of state, or that was her true personality.

      January 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • molinyc

      ....she was just another rich, suburban wife with too much time on her hands

      January 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BOMBO ©

    Wake up people! The CIA tracked UFO’s all through the post WWII period and finally shot one down in 1947. They reverse engineered the damaged spacecraft and built the space program and fighter jet program on it. They dissected the aliens and built genetics and cloning technology on it. The spy planes and satellites that can see into your house and know what you are doing 24 hours a day are based on this technology, as are the cloned zombie spies that invade your privacy and kill foreign leaders on a daily basis. They control your mind, with the help of the pharmaceutical companies, and the thought-ray technology developed by Dick Cheney and Halliburton. Every war since then has been planned by the CIA and the Israelis just for their own personal gain. They killed JFK and RFK and Princess Diana when they discovered the TRUTH. They killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 because they knew the TRUTH about alien autopsies, and used it as an excuse to invade Iraq. The moon landing was a hoax (even though they have the technology from the Roswell incident, pay attention OK) and so was the Vietnam war!

    January 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tom

    Who killed JFK – "One man's life if the worth the lives of millions of people". If I was president and I knew my enemies was going to aassassinate me and it would cause a nuclear war I would issue a secret excutive order – My life is not worth the lives of millions – I would cover it up and all cost.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lydia

    Yes, we all jumped on the bandwagon of LBJ had JFK killed. Nonsense. One more dopey theory right up there with the US had something to do with the 9/11 horror. Come on. I'm skeptical; always have been, but so much points to either the Mafia or Castro or those who really hated JFK. If we continue to blame LBJ for something so ludicrous, we show ourselves to be small minded people. Think about his real enemies: he had quite a few. Just look at the evidence against Lee Oswald and you'll find a very disturbed man capable of doing this. He was unhinged, along with Jack Ruby.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. going to war isn't the answer

    i don't think going to wars was the answer.

    January 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. AGuest9

    "are they trying"?

    January 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. billybob22

    They said they would release everything by 2039 !!

    January 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. BOMBO ©

    @CNN's Brad Lendon, fess up, is there an office pool about how many psychos this post was going to bring out of the woodwork?

    January 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Some of the posts are already gone.
      They were not pertinent to the topic.
      How much do I need to get into this pool?

      January 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. tramper john

    Have you with no sin? Can you cast the first stone,I think not. He was a war hero, but he had a womanizing issue and an alcohol issue. He was not perfect, but I was in his era, and the great men, as the song goes has anyone hear seen my old friend Bobby, Martin, and John?You better leave the judging up to God, that's his job.

    January 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. banasy©

    *Yawn* at the people who continuously post ignorance.

    January 24, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
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