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. Philip

    I thought inquiring of Marilyn Mon roe was pertinent to the Secret Service during the JFK years, and was just wondering if there were any tapes. RUFFNUTT? he he.

    January 24, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Grey

    I wonder if any were: "I'm worried that if I put nukes in Turkey, just outside Leningrad and Moscow, the Russians might retaliate by putting bombs somewhere close to the US?" Apparently, it was not. But I bet "I'm worried that Russia is going to nuke the US, now that I put bombs in Turkey and they're now putting some in Cuba" was one of his worries.

    January 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy©

    It needs to be pointed out that BOMBO ©'s 12:22 post was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

    January 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    @ BOMBO©:
    I knew it was coming, and I knew that it was coming from you, after you mentioned absent conspiracy theories elsewhere.

    January 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    President Kennedy was a great American and a great leader.
    He and Mrs. Kennedy were models of dignity and charm to their entire country and to the world.

    January 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    "JFK's dog Checkers," you say?
    Try American History 101-103 at CUNY.

    January 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sylvie

    What the President was worried about was preventing conflict and defending the USA and he was probably surrounded by people who would make billions if the conflict continued.

    January 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    the Kennedy's were as big of bootleggers as the Bush's were(are) war profiteers. Both family dynasty's were founded on corruption. Old man Kennedy's bootlegging, and old man Bush's trading with the Nazis during the war. Jackie was gorgeous. And Caroline was cuter than a bugs ear." Sweeeeet Care-o-line. Bomp bomp bah."-Neil Diamond

    January 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    @ Peter Yanker:
    Who were the liars?
    President and Mrs. Kennedy?
    President Kennedy and Checker's real master?
    I didn't say that any person was not a liar.
    That's not what I go by.

    January 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    "But we are in the world."
    –Henry James

    January 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. My name is Jose Jimenez

    He missed the big one...worried about being shot.

    January 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    @ banasy:
    Does it really have to be pointed out that BOMBO©'s 12:22 post, the "Erwache," was tongue-in-cheek?

    January 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      There were a couple of replies from people who didn't realize that (since deleted).

      January 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    Of course JFK had very functional frontal lobes. That's a curse that comes with being born smart.

    January 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bribarian

    The last great leader America had, before zionists assassinated him.

    January 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. spike

    Jackie was pretty goofy looking and sounding. If you don't believe me, check out her White House Tour on youtube.

    January 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
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