A new book entitled “Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy" has compiled hundreds of hours of recordings made in JFK’s Oval Office. They offer a wide array of different insights, from personal matters to global issues.
The Cape Cod Times reports on the new book, of which Thomas Putnam, the director of the Kennedy Library said, “This is the memoir that President Kennedy never got to write.”
While a lot of the content of the tapes is already known by the general public, this is the first time they’ve been compiled into a book. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation has assembled the highlights of the hours upon hours of recordings into a book of annotated transcripts and two audio CDs, and some of the material will be available online.
The value of this book, Putnam said, is that, “it is the first time the material has been published in one collection with annotations and a serious historian providing context for each conversation.”
The book includes the conversations about an array of different events, including key Kennedy comments on Russia and the Space Race, as well as more personal and “human” moments - such as him chatting with Harry S. Truman about keeping his wife satisfied, and talking with then-toddler John F. Kennedy, Jr.
On the space race in November 1962, the president told James Webb, the NASA administrator, that putting a man on the moon was his top priority.
Webb disagreed, saying general space exploration was more important, but Kennedy strongly disagreed, “If we get second to the Moon, it's nice, but it's like being second anytime.”
Kennedy had an obsession with the Russians and was very disturbed when the U.S. hockey team lost to Sweden, 17-2.
“Christ,” the president said. “Who are we sending over there? Girls?”
Kennedy spoke to former presidents like Eisenhower about major issues but his conversation with Harry Truman seemed to be about erectile dysfunction.
“Well, you sound in good shape,” Kennedy said on the tape.
“All right,” Truman replied. “The only trouble with me is that, the main difficulty I have, is keeping the wife satisfied.” Both men then laughed.
“Well, that's all right,” Kennedy said.
“Well, you know how that is,” Truman went on. “She's very much afraid I'm going to hurt myself. Even though I'm not. She's a tough bird.”
Widmer, the historian, states he thinks that Truman is referring to erectile dysfunction. “I wanted the book to have human moments,” he said.
The practice of recording in the oval office first began with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, and remained largely unknown until the Nixon tapes were revealed in 1973 amid the Watergate hearings. JFK’s recordings were self-administered - as in, he had to press record on the Dictaphone as opposed to being continuously recorded.
The Kennedy family held on to the tapes until 1976 when they handed them over to the National Archives. Later, The Kennedy Library acquired the tapes and began making them available to historians in 1983. Following a long process including declassification and transcriptions, the final 45 hours of tape were only made available this year.
The book, which features a foreword by daughter Caroline Kennedy and introduction by Ted Widmer, a presidential historian at Brown University, is now available for sale online.