BOSTON–As it marks the 86th anniversary of the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917), the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum today announced that it has declassified and made available for research more than 11 hours of presidential recordings which include several meetings and conversations that took place in the Cabinet Room and Oval Office of the White House from February 5, 1963, to February 21, 1963.
The release incorporates tape numbers 72a to 75 and is part of the Library’s ongoing release of taped recordings made by President Kennedy. The meetings predominantly discuss relations with Europe and include discussions on ongoing multilateral force (MLF) negotiations in Europe. Additionally, there is discussion about the debate these negotiations might foster for an increasingly partisan U.S. Congress.
Wav file cd of excerpts from the recordings is available to the press. Please contact Ann Scanlon, Director of Communications, at the Kennedy Library and Museum at 617-514-1662 or via email at www.jfklibrary.org to obtain a copy.
Kennedy on Education
Of special note is a conversation on the importance of education between President Kennedy and Admiral Hyman Rickover, who was known as the "Father of the Nuclear Navy." Rickover oversaw the development of the nation’s nuclear navy and was the driving force behind the construction of the first nuclear-powered submarine, Nautilus, which was launched in 1955. Critical of the American education system for years, Admiral Rickover had been considered for the post of U.S. Commissioner of Education, according to a September 1962 newspaper account. He was not selected, but continued to speak his opinions and write several books on education.
On February 11, 1963, President Kennedy and Admiral Rickover met to discuss using submarines and surface ships in the multilateral force program. At the onset of the meeting, President Kennedy mentions to Rickover an article he read on high-school dropouts and asks why many children do not succeed.
President Kennedy says: "I think of how drilled-in, in my life, was the necessity for participating actively and successfully in the struggle, and yet I was brought up in a luxurious atmosphere where this is a rather hard lesson."
Admiral Rickover states: "The vast majority of parents who have children now…are just trying to do everything they can to make life easy for them. In that way they are really defeating what they are trying to do."
Admiral Rickover then counsels the President, stating: "I have felt that if you really wanted to do something for this country, you would hit on education. Because without education you can’t win." The conversation continues with the two men discussing how to improve education.
Rickover apologizes for taking up the President’s time, but adds: "This is my citizenship. A lot of people complain that I am engaging in this thing which is none of my business but….every citizen has an obligation to partake in the democratic process." In 1963, Admiral Rickover gave President Kennedy the Breton’s prayer plaque, which states "O God, the sea is so great and my boat is so small." President Kennedy kept the plaque on his desk in the Oval Office. The plaque is on display in the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Library as part of its Oval Office exhibit.
Some additional highlights included in this recordings release:
During this Executive Committee (EXCOMM) meeting of February 12, 1963, the President made a decision on the use of surface ships rather than submarines in the MLF discussions. Since some European countries had already spoken in favor of the submarine arrangement, the President's decision now poses another foreign policy issue concerning MFL and Europe. The Administration has been facing strong opposition in Congress on many of its recommendations, and a submarine debate in Congress would be very difficult. President Kennedy describes Congress as being "a pretty partisan group". Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara provides the President with examples of this increased partisan atmosphere of Congress, stating, "It ranges in problems all the way from the interior of your airplane, which Gerry Ford [then-Representative Gerald Ford] raised with me last night, ….to disarmament."
President Kennedy asks why the relationship with Congress has "gotten so mean". McNamara believes that the recent change in political atmosphere is directly related to the 1964 campaign: "In order to hold Goldwater and Rockefeller together, which they can't be held together on domestic issues, they are going to try to hold them together on defense and foreign policy issues. Now they are probing…in a hundred different directions simultaneously."
In response to the President's question about what the Republicans want to do, McNamara adds, "It isn't what they want to do. It's what you're doing that's wrong (that) they want to talk about."
Although McNamara advises the President to avoid a foreign policy fight with Congress since "they are just seeking any chink to develop into a partisan political attack", the President is not surprised by the partisan reactions: "I don’t know what you can do about it… given that background, I don’t want to blow this MLF."
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara agrees stating: "The partisan political problem is so serious that I personally would strongly recommend against a submarine force today…I was strongly in favor of the reverse decision two months ago, but the whole political environment has changed in this two month period."
On February 5, 1963, Tape 72, the President meets with staff members to discuss the draft instructions for US Ambassador to the United Kingdom David Bruce, who had been recently asked by President Kennedy to make a review of the United States' policies with Europe and to make recommendations for action. The President discusses at length his reservations, from a political perspective, on the MLF proposals and questions whether the MLF program is appealing enough for the European countries: "Can we sell the multilateral package in such a way that even though the United States maintains a veto, the multilateral force will be sufficiently attractive so that it can withstand the assault that will be made on it?" The President also expresses concern about a failure, stating that the MLF might "die and give (French President) Charles DeGaulle a tremendous psychological lift and a setback to us".
The Multilateral Force was the United States attempt to consolidate the nuclear defense of Europe during the first half of the 1960’s. The MLF was a plan to create a fleet of ships, carrying nuclear weapons, manned by multinational crews which was called mixed-manning, yet the weapons would remain under NATO command and control. President Kennedy hoped that this fleet would provide the European partners with a greater sense of inclusion in nuclear defense matters, as well politically ensure their continued participation with NATO and the United States.
Success of the MLF idea was inhibited by several factors: British insistence of veto power over the use of nuclear weapons, the United States’ legal requirements not to relinquish control over nuclear weapons, the diplomatic issues of Germany’s involvement since they had forsworn production of nuclear weapons, and the partisan politics of this idea on the home front.
The Kennedy Library and Museum are providing members of the media with a CD-ROM containing approximately 14 minutes of excerpts. The four soundfiles highlighted discuss the education discussion with Admiral Rickover, the partisan Congress, and the political issues with the MLF. These excerpts were selected because of their sound quality and because the subject matter is familiar to most Americans. Members of the media are cautioned against making historical conclusions based on the sound clips alone. They are provided as a professional courtesy to facilitate the reporting of the release of these presidential recordings.
This release totals 11 hours and 43 minutes of recordings. Approximately 100 hours of meeting tapes remain to be reviewed for declassification prior to release. Processing of the presidential recordings will continue to be conducted in the chronological order of the tapes. Please note that much of tapes #74 and #75 are simply recordings of office noises and distant hallway conversations. Also on tape #72a there is a meeting which is currently closed pending further review; this meeting was not listed in the total minutes for this opening.
The first items from the Kennedy presidential recordings were opened to public research in June of 1983. Over the past 20 years, the Library staff has reviewed and opened all of the telephone conversations and a large portion of the meeting tapes. The latter are predominantly meetings with President Kennedy in either the Oval Office or the Cabinet Room. While the recordings were deliberate in the sense that it required manual operation to start and stop the recording, it was not, based on the material recorded, used with daily regularity nor was there a set pattern for its operation.
The tapes represent raw historical material. The sound quality of the recordings varies widely. Although most of the recorded conversation is understandable, the tapes include passages of extremely poor sound quality with considerable background noise and periods where the identity of the speakers is unclear.
Today’s release of White House meetings is in tape form without transcripts. The tapes are available for research use in the Library’s Research Room. The hours of operation are Monday – Friday from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm, and appointments may be made by calling (617) 514-1629. The recordings and finding guide are available for purchase at the John F. Kennedy Library, Columbia Point, Boston, MA 02125, or by calling the Audiovisual Department (617) 514-1617.
To document the life and career of President Kennedy and to provide insight into people, events, and issues of mid-20th century American history, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum collects, preserves and makes available for research the documents, audiovisual material and memorabilia of President Kennedy, his family, and his contemporaries. The Library's Archives includes 36 million pages of documents from the collections of 340 individuals, organizations, or government agencies; oral history interviews with 1,300 people; and over 30,000 books. The Audiovisual Archives administers collections of over 200,000 still photographs, 7,550,000 feet of motion picture film, 1,200 hours of video recordings, over 7,000 hours of audio recordings and 500 original editorial cartoons.
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.