JFK Tapes: New Insight Into White House Tensions During Cuban Missile Crisis


The extended recordings and transcripts provide more context about how military leaders were pressing the president to take military action against Cuba. After Gen. Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, tried to force Kennedy's hand by equating the president's chosen course of a naval "quarantine" with the appeasement of Hitler before World War II, Kennedy walked LeMay through his predicament.

"Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy" is on sale Sept. 25, 2012

"We do nothing, they have a missile base there with all the pressure that brings to bear on the United States and damage to our prestige. If we attack Cuban missiles or Cuba … we would be regarded as the trigger-happy Americans who lost Berlin. We would have no support among our allies," Kennedy said.

"Which leaves me only one alternative, which is to fire nuclear weapons – which is a hell of an alternative – and begin a nuclear exchange, with all this happening," he continues.

"You're in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President," LeMay famously told the President.

Kennedy made him repeat that statement before coming back: "You're in there with me."

Moments later, with Kennedy and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara having left the room, the tapes kept rolling, capturing several members of the Joint Chiefs musing openly about how to press the president toward a stronger response in what they thought would lead to nuclear war.

"You pulled the rug right out from under him," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Shoup told LeMay.

"I agree with that answer, General, I just agree with you, I just agree with you a hundred percent," Shoup continued. "Somebody's got to keep him from doing the goddamn thing piecemeal. That's our problem. Go in there and frig around with the missiles. You're screwed. You go in there and frig around with anything else, you're screwed."

Caroline Kennedy told Sawyer: "I think you really get a sense of just how scary it was to the people in the room. It wasn't just outlining a set of options. It was really that they felt this sense of, you know, this could be life or death for not just the people in the room, but our whole country." Kennedy consulted with high-ranking lawmakers in real-time during the crisis, and also checked in with former President Dwight Eisenhower – himself, of course, a retired general.

Click here to purchase an advance copy of the new book "Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy," on sale Sept. 25, 2012

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