At around midnight on April 17, 1961 the United States finally made its way into the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast of Cuba. At the time, the thought of defeat would not have even crossed anyone’s mind, but looking back on the attempt to overthrow a government as powerful and stubborn as the Communism led by Fidel Castro in Cuba, it was a recipe for disaster. Hypothetically speaking, the Bay of Pigs Invasion should have been a success, in reality, the lack of information obtained by the United States, as well as the placement of the presidential elections quickly led the Invasion on a winding spiral.
Above anything else, the changing of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, put the country in a position where they simply were not ready to overthrow an entire government. One year and one month before the invasion was to take place, President Eisenhower sanctioned a document developed by the 5412 Committee, better known as the ‘Special Group’, that organized a plan to overthrow the Castro regime. The plan stated that it would substitute the Castro administration with another more devoted to the actual concerns of the Cuban people and a government more acceptable to the United States in order to avoid the need of future United States’ intervention. Essentially, in order to accomplish such government, the small army needed to generate, assist, and possibly even take direct action, both inside and outside of Cuba; selected groups of Cubans would be trained so that they could be expected to and would take their own initiative, if need be (Glennon and Rhonda). Although once the details of the plan were brought about, it was rejected by the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency quickly proposed an alternative. Because of the elections, President John F. Kennedy was in charge of approving or disproving the alternate idea. On April 4, 1961 Kennedy approved Operation Zapata, the invasion plan that was thought to have a better course of action since it reduced the number of planes therefore making U.S. involvement less conspicuous.
When the plan to overthrow the Communist government first came about everyone involved agreed to deny any involvement or knowledge of the invasion. By the second meeting, when it came time to presenting the supposed ideas to Eisenhower, the group included vice-president “ [Richard] Nixon, Acting Secretary of State Douglas Dillon, the secretaries of Treasury and Defense, Acting Chairman of the JCS Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, and, for the CIA, [Allen] Dulles and [Richard] Bissell.” During this meeting “Eisenhower approved a budget of some $13 million for the operation ‘as well as the use of Department of Defense personnel and equipment. However, it was specified at the time that no United States military personnel were to be used in a combat status” (Gleijeses 10). With that much governmental support, the Bay of Pigs Invasion had a fighting chance, Eisenhower was all for the invasion and all plans were set; when Kennedy came into the picture, everything seemed to be different. The interviews conducted by Gleijeses showed that Kennedy had more of an undercover approach to the invasion than Eisenhower, “the approved program authorized [them] to support elements in Cuba opposed to the Castro government while making Castro’s downfall to be the result of his own mistakes” (15). After the Eisenhower’s plans were finalized, the 300 guerrillas trained and the plan was ready for action, Eisenhower seemed to have a successful stratagem, Gleijeses makes it clear that it wasn’t until President-elect John F. Kennedy took office that the invasion turned into a desperate shot in the dark.
Expecting the people of Cuba to rise against their leader, the United States’ CIA trained a small army of Cuban exiles that reached no more than 1,500 ground forces, that were up against a strong 25,000 trained soldiers, 200,000 militia, and 9,000 armed police (JFK Waits). Since the plan was that the people of Cuba would come together to help defeat their communist leader, Kennedy did not allow for any other back up or air strikes. The article states that “ Kennedy and the CIA leaders in charge of the mission believed that Cuba’s people and its military would spontaneously rise up to help the exile army overthrow Castro” (JFK Waits). The aforementioned is one of the main reasons the Invasion was unsuccessful, but a well-known fact even more important than that was that “JFK’s decision to cancel air support strike was the main reason for failure” (Rasenberger 480). Although Kennedy’s decision to hold back on military support was well-known, when being put between a sword and a hard place, many believed that the newly elected president would budge. According to Karl Ernest Meyer in The Cuban Invasion, it is unclear whether President Kennedy or CIA Chief Allen Dulles had been alerted that the invasion’s goals were practically unachieveable without U.S. involvement. Partly because of the United State’s non-involvement as well as the unsuccessful uprising of the Cuban people, over one thousand of the exiles were captured and held prisoner (Johnson 9). After more than one year of being captive, all 1,113 of the Cuban exiles were released in exchange for $53 million worth of food and medical supplies raised by private donations throughout the United States (Johnson 10). Although under President Eisenhower’s command the United States at least seemed to have a better chance at overcoming Communism in Cuba, both showed maturity and responsibility in the matter. As stated by Rebecca Friedman in Presidential Studies Quarterly, “foreign policy decision making is an inherently difficult challenge” (307). Friedman discusses six variables that can be used to determine the success or failure of foreign policy decision making during presidential transitions: national security decision-making structure, availability of information relevant to the substance and history of the crisis and its policy responses, focus of time and resources, relevant campaign commitments, ‘newness’ of the incoming administration, and ‘inheritedness’ of the policy (Friedman 309). Personally, it is a waste of time to attempt to find a blame for the failure of the attempted government overthrow; instead of looking for a fault, the people of both nations should realize that “from this sobering episode [there are] useful lessons for us all to learn... it is clear that the forces of communism are not to be underestimated” (Explaining the.. 8). Years have been wasted looking for someone to blame when in reality everyone involved is to blame; the presidential switch amidst all the planning and preparations made for a difficult situation and an unsuccessful invasion.
Just as important as presidential elections, was the lack of information. Fidel Castro has always been a secretive person, making the world think he can handle the people of an entire country completely on his own. When the CIA began approaching the Cuban exiles and preparing for the invasion, no one really knew exactly what was happening throughout the island. Throughout Gleijeses’ article, “Ships in the Night: The CIA, the White House and the Bay of Pigs”, he states that over the span of interviews, he became “more skeptical of the explanations of the Bay of Pigs that stress the... lack of information about reality in Cuba” (15). Perhaps if the CIA would have collected more information both from the exiles as well as insiders about what exactly was happening in Cuba, the information provided would have helped them devise a plan that was more likely to succeed. Less than twenty-four hours after the ‘battle’, Castro broadcasted a short message on the situation in Cuba, on the morning of April 20, 1961 Castro boasts over the quick victory of Cuba on the United States. It stated that victory was claimed in “less than seventy-two hours” and spoke about a significant defeat of the “United States imperialism”; it asserted that “this be a lesson to the United States to leave [Castro] alone in the future”. This broadcast shows weakness in the United States army not to mention lack of presidential support. Losing the invasion was bad enough, but the shame that followed in addition to the way the United States was portrayed to other countries was perhaps just as bad or worse than the losing itself.
According to Victor A. Triay, the three day battle caused 176 Cuban casualties and 4,000 wounded while 118 Americans were killed and 1,202 captured, an astonishing number when considering the size of the armies respectively. The short lived war left a footprint not just in Cuba or the United States, but throughout the entire world also; no one is to with Castro. Even fifty years after the attempted invasion took place, communism persists in Cuba, and it wasn’t until three years ago that Fidel Castro stepped down and allowed his younger brother to take over. If the presidential elections would have taken place even just months later, then it is conceivable to believe that Cuba may not be a communist country in this day and age, but with the placement of the election falling precisely in the middle of approving, denying, planning and preparing, I believe that the changing of presidents threw everyone involved a curveball that left them no time to change anything around.
Explaining the Bay of Pigs Invasion April 20, 1961. Collin College Library. USA Today, 27 Sept. 2010. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <http://web.ebscohost.com.library.collin.edu/ehost/detail?vid=3>.
Friedman, Rebecca. Crisis Management at the Dead Center: The 1960-1961 Presidential Transition and the Bay of Pigs Fiasco. 2nd ed. Vol. 41. Blackwell. 307-33. Print.
Gleijeses, Piero. "Ships in the Night: The CIA, the White House and the Bay of Pigs." Journal of Latin American Studies 27.1 (1995). Collin College Library. Web. 23 Mar. 2011. <http://www.jstor.org.library.collin.edu/stable/158201?seq=10>.
Glennon, John P. ., and Ronald D. . Landa. "481. Paper Prepared by the 5412 Committee." Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960. Vol. VI. Washington (D.C.): Government Printing Office, 1991. Print.
"JFK Waits for Word on the Bay of Pigs Invasion — History.com This Day in History — 4/17/1961." History.com — History Made Every Day — American & World History. Web. 3 Apr. 2011. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jfk-waits-for-word-on-the-bay-of-pigs-invasion>.
Johnson, Haynes B. The Bay of Pigs; the Leaders' Story of Brigade 2506,. New York: Norton, 1964. Print.
Meyer, Karl Ernest., and Tad Szulc. The Cuban Invasion; the Chronicle of a Disaster,. New York: Praeger, 1962. Print.
Rasenberger, Jim. The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion on Cuba' S Bay of Pigs. Scribner. Academic Complete. Web. 27 Mar. 2011.
Triay, Victor Andres. Bay of Pigs: an Oral History of Brigade 2506. Gainesville: University of Florida, 2001. Print.