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01.24.12

JFK Tapes Released: 7 Revealing Moments

Kennedy’s library has released 45 hours of meetings, phone calls, and conversations that the president secretly recorded during his final months. From fretting over Vietnam to a gossipy conversation about Cuba, read the most fascinating moments.

President Kennedy recorded more than 260 hours of his life in the White House, unbeknownst to even his top aides. Now the Kennedy library has released the final 45 hours of the archives, providing a rare window into Kennedy’s life in the three months before his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. The Daily Beast rounds up the most interesting excerpts.

1. Fretting Over Income Inequality

In a conversation with aides that could come straight out of a modern White House, Kennedy worries about income inequality and the difficulty of appealing to young voters. “What is it we have to sell them?” Kennedy asks an aide in November 1963. “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 to make out well off. And the people who really are well off hate our guts.”

2. On the Washington Bubble

Even 50 years ago the president worried over the disconnect between Washington, D.C., and the rest of the nation. “We’ve got so mechanical an operation here in Washington that it doesn’t have much identity where these people are concerned,” he told aides.

3. ‘Color Is So Damn Good’

Kennedy worried about the details in his political campaign as well. Discussing the 1964 convention, he said he wanted videos to be in color. “Should they be made in color?” he asked. “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.” 

4. Frustration Over Vietnam

During a meeting in September 1963, Kennedy vented his frustration with conflicting reports about the civil war in Vietnam. Gen. Victor Krulak was optimistic while State Department adviser Joseph Mendenhall—who had been on the same fact-finding mission—said there was widespread military and social discontent.

“You both went to the same country?” Kennedy asked.

The officials laughed nervously.

“I mean how is that you get such different—this is not a new thing, this is what we’ve been dealing with for three weeks. On the one hand you get the military saying the war is going better and on the other hand you get the political (opinion) with its deterioration is affecting the military … What is the reason for the difference—I’d like to have an explanation what the reason is for the difference.” 

5. Flirting With War in Cuba

In November 1963 Robert McNamara tells Kennedy about a conversation he had with Adm. Hyman Rickover regarding Adm. George Anderson, who was chief of naval operations in charge of the U.S. quarantine of Cuba during the missile crisis. It's a little gossipy, but it indicates how close the situation came to all-out war.

“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,” McNamara tells Kennedy.

“I wonder what he means.”  says Kennedy.

“Well I didn't want to probe too much, I didn’t want to have a discussion but, I just was—he was objecting,” says McNamara.

“He wanted to sink a ship,” Kennedy replies.

“He wanted to sink a ship. That’s right.”

6. A Foreboding Moment

In an eerie coincidence, a tape from the day before Kennedy left for Dallas records him trying to schedule a meeting with Gen. Abdul Nasution of Indonesia for the following Monday, which would be his funeral day. 

“I will see him, when is he here? Monday?,” Kennedy asks an aide.

“Monday and Tuesday.”

“Well that’s a tough day,” says the aide.

“It’s a hell of a day, Mr. President.”

7. Kennedy the Family Man

The tapes also record Kennedy interacting with his children. In one segment, you can hear a 6-year-old Caroline and 3-year-old John Kennedy playing outside the Oval Office while Kennedy talks with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.

“You can just open the door there—just have you say hello to my daughter and son,” he tells Gromyko. “Come in a minute and say hello. Want to say hello to the minister? Do you want to say hello to John?”

“Hello, hello,” Gromyko says as the children enter. “They are very popular in our country.”

Kennedy introduces Gromyko by telling John and Caroline that his boss, Nikita Khrushchev, gave them their dog. “His chief is the one who sent you Pushinka. You know that? You have the puppies.”