The PJ Tatler

The Bay of Pigs invasion's 50th anniversary is today

It should remind us of the often neglected need for militarily realistic planning of military operations.

Sunday, April 17th, is the fiftieth anniversary of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. Here is an article about the survivors and about ceremonies planned in their honor in Miami. As noted,

For exiles, the men of Brigade 2506 represent the first — and only — organized, large-scale, CIA-backed effort to rid their homeland of Castro. “Because of that, being a brigadista has always been a revered thing,’’ said Triay, who was born and raised in Miami after his parents fled Havana.

For anyone interested, Decision for Disaster: Betrayal at the Bay of Pigs is a book by Grayston L. Lynch, a CIA operative who was intimately involved in the invasion as one of the few U.S. citizen “boots on the ground” in Cuba. Lynch died in Florida on August 20, 2008. His book provides many details of the diplomatically motivated plan changes made in Kennedy’s Washington and how they caused the invasion to fail, horribly. A short chronology of the invasion is provided here; it notes that “the failed invasion became a black mark on President John F. Kennedy’s short administration and had far-reaching reverberations still felt today in South Florida and across Latin America.”

Large shares of blame for the debacle must indeed fall on then recently elected President John F. Kennedy. I explained why in an article published in June of 2008 here. The invasion had been planned during the Eisenhower Administration and the so called Trinidad invasion site – militarily a far better place for the assault than the Bay of Pigs – was their focus; it was scrapped under President Kennedy. Here is an excerpt from a February 11, 1961 memo to President Kennedy from Arthur Schlesinger:

FEB 11, 1961: In a memo to the President, Arthur Schlesinger argues that the “drastic decision” to enact the plan being promoted within the government only makes sense “if one excludes everything but Cuba.” Taken in the context of “the hemisphere and the rest of the world, the arguments against this decision begin to gain force.” He points out that there is no way to disguise U.S. complicity in the plan and “at one stroke, it would dissipate all the extraordinary good will which has been rising toward the new Administration through the world.” (emphasis added)

The fog of indecision based on inconsistent military and diplomatic recommendations was difficult to penetrate. At a meeting on March 11th , the following happened:

MAR 11, 1961: At a White House meeting between 10:05 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., Richard Bissell presents the CIA’s Proposed Operation Against Cuba to President Kennedy. The paper provides four alternative courses of action involving the commitment of the paramilitary force being readied by the U.S. These include the course of action favored by the CIA ? the Trinidad Plan that involves “an amphibious/airborne assault …. to seize a beachhead contiguous to terrain suitable for guerrilla operations,” with a landing of the “provisional government …as soon as the beachhead had been secured.” The invading force is expected to repulse attacks by Castro militia with substantial losses to the attacking forces followed by defections from the armed forces and widespread rebellion. If the actions are unsuccessful in detonating a major revolt, the assault force would retreat to the contiguous mountain area and continue operations as a powerful guerrilla force. The assault, combined with a diversionary landing, according to the CIA plan, has the potential for administering a demoralizing shock that could lead to the prompt overthrow of the Castro regime. If not, guerrilla action could be continued on a sizable scale in favorable terrain.

The President rejects the Trinidad Plan as too spectacular, too much like a World War II invasion. He prefers a quiet landing, preferably at night, with no basis for [noticing] American military intervention. No decision comes from the March 11 meeting and the President states his view that “the best possible plan… has not yet been presented, and new proposals are to be concerted promptly.”

The site was ultimately changed to the Bay of Pigs, the intensity of initial air action was reduced and there were attempts to portray it as merely an indigenous Cuban operation with no U.S. involvement.

[A]ttacking B-26 planes were disguised to look as if they were Cuban planes flown by defecting Cubans. An exile Cuban pilot named Mario Zúñiga was presented to the media as a defector, and photographed next to his plane. The photo was published in most of the major papers, but the surprising omission of several serious details, and the overwhelming amount of information already gathered by reporters, helped bring out the truth much sooner than anyone expected. U.S. involvement continued to be denied for a time.

The amount of planned close air support was further reduced during the invasion, also to make U.S. involvement deniable and apparently with little concern for the success of the operation.

Shortly after the attack started, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, flatly rejected Cuba’s report of the attack, telling the General Assembly that the attacking planes were from the Cuban Air Force and presenting a copy of the photograph published in the newspapers. In the photo, the plane shown has an opaque nose, whereas the model of the B-26 planes used by the Cubans had a Plexiglas nose. Within a few hours the truth was revealed, and Stevenson was extremely embarrassed to learn that Kennedy had referred to him as “my official liar.”

The “my official liar” quote attributed to “Kennedy” may been made by either JFK or his brother, Robert, his attorney general. RFK – with no more military understanding than President Obama – had been intimately involved in the administration’s Cuba decisions.

On Monday, April 17, as the invasion was well under way, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk gave a press conference. “The American people are entitled to know whether we are intervening in Cuba or intend to do so in the future,” he said. “The answer to that question is no. What happens in Cuba is for the Cuban people to decide.”

. . .

After Ambassador Stevenson became aware of the true facts, he was so outraged that he publicly urged Washington to stop the attack and avoid further embarrassment. Soviet Ambassador Zorin said, “Cuba is not alone today. Among her most sincere friends the Soviet Union is to be found.”

The Cuban Missile Crisis came eighteen months later (following some farcical attempt at false flag operations and at killing Castro, designated Operation Mongoose) with the discovery of Soviet missile bases in Cuba. That’s a topic, perhaps, for another article.

According to a report by

General Maxwell Taylor, a member of the Kennedy-appointed Cuban Study Group: “From its inception the plan had been developed under the ground rule that it must retain a covert character, that is, it should include no action which, if revealed, could not be plausibly denied by the United States and should look to the world as an operation exclusively conducted by Cubans. This ground rule meant, among other things, that no U.S. military forces or individuals could take part in combat operations.”

Copious studies and analyses were made of the debacle after the fact and much previously classified information has been made available. Although there were many revelations, there remain many points of confusion and contention. One point, however, seems clear beyond dispute but not, unfortunately, beyond being ignored: excessive planning for deniability at the expense of mission success is a path to failure accompanied by the deaths of many U.S. troops and her supporters. If a military operation is not designed to be militarily successful, it should not go forward. More thought than is given to this at present should a principal focus during the remainder of U.S. operations in Libya and elsewhere. “Unready!  Fire Somewhere!  Aim!” is a recipe for disaster, both militarily and diplomatically.