The Bay of Pigs: In defense of Truth and History – Part II
Part II of a Babalú exclusive report on the Bay of Pigs invasion by historian Diego Trinidad, Ph.D. (Part I available HERE):
The Bay of Pigs: In defense of Truth and History - Part II
By Diego Trinidad, Ph.D.
Kennedy had made Cuba a large and important part of his presidential campaign, accusing the Eisenhower-Nixon administration of being soft on Cuban communism. Nixon was enraged, since he could not reveal the plans against Castro and he thought Kennedy was being unpatriotic by misusing his knowledge. Kennedy also misused another key campaign issue, the so-called missile gap. There was a missile gap, but it was in favor of the US. Yet again, Nixon could not talk about the overwhelming American superiority without revealing that fact to the Soviet Union (USSR).
The attacks on the Eisenhower Cuban policies were helpful to Kennedy in winning the presidency, and during the campaign, in a meeting with former Truman Secretary of State Dean Acheson in October, Kennedy asked Acheson his opinion on the effect those attacks were making. Acheson answered that he should be very careful because he could end up as a prisoner to the promises and expectations he was creating about a change of regime in Cuba. Acheson was prophetic, as the Kennedy rhetoric during the campaign came back to haunt him in early 1961.
Dulles and Bissell briefed Kennedy on the Trinidad Plan at his Palm Beach, Florida compound after his election in late November. He listened in silence and expressed no objections, so that the CIA proceeded full speed ahead. However, a review of the internal White House memoranda from mid January to early April, especially communications between the president and his National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, clearly show Kennedy’s mounting doubts about the Cuban operation. It can be safely stated that he never fully expressed any support for a military solution in Cuba, certainly not an overt attack with U.S. support. Those doubts would be very costly in the end.
The full details of the Trinidad Plan were officially given to Kennedy in a White House meeting on January 28, just a few days after his inauguration as president. Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Secretaries Dean Rusk (State) and Robert McNamara (Defense), Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Lyman Lemnitzer, Bundy and assorted advisors and Under Secretaries were present. Allen Dulles made the presentation, assisted by Tracy Barnes, reading from notes written by Bissell. The end of the operation was specifically emphasized to him. Dulles read the following from the official Plan: “The present plan can establish a beachhead on Cuban soil and maintain it for a period of two weeks, possibly as long as thirty days”. Once this had been accomplished, there would be “a basis for an overt, open U.S. initiative to institute a military occupation of the island. There is a reasonable chance that the success of the above plan would set in motion forces which would cause the downfall of the regime”. Two other essential points were made explicitly clear to the audience. Timing was of the essence. The invasion had to take place in March (the 10th was tentatively chosen by the CIA), no later than mid April. This was because of the already mentioned arrival of the Cuban pilots and MiGs from Czechoslovakia but also because of the rainy season, both in Cuba and Central America, which would make it more difficult to implement all the plans. The other point was the key to the entire operation: the Brigade must have total control of the air; the Cuban Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria (FAR) must be totally destroyed on the ground.
There is no record of anyone saying anything or asking any questions, other than General Lemnitzer, who commented that he thought 1,200 men might be too few to hold the beachhead. Whereupon Kennedy asked him for the Pentagon to conduct an evaluation of the Trinidad Plan, the first time that the military would even review the CIA plans. The taping system later set up in the White House was not yet in place (it was set up in the summer of 1962), but it is very hard to believe that after hearing the scope and implications of the plan, especially the final intervention of U.S. military forces to ensure the success of the invasion, nobody said anything or asked any questions. Indeed, it is stunning. Which leads me to believe that there must have been many questions and comments. But there is no record, perhaps for a very good reason. The Kennedy apologists who later wrote the history of the Bay of Pigs never even once mentioned this crucial meeting. Neither did any other writer in 50 years, until Jim Rasenberger included the full details of the Plan in his excellent book The Brilliant Disaster published last year. But why not? Because it was the only time that the key element of the Trinidad Plan was ever mentioned on record: that U.S. forces must land to guarantee success and “to occupy” the island.
The Pentagon evaluation was submitted to the president in early February. Signed by Army Chief of Staff General Earle Wheeler, it was prepared by General David Gray. The evaluation of the Plan was “favorable”. However, the summary ends: “The Chiefs consider that the timely execution of this plan has a fair chance of final success”. As it should be quite obvious, the Pentagon report cannot possibly be described as “favorable”. To the contrary, it is a typical bureaucratic document designed only to give cover to the military and to protect the Pentagon from any responsibility in case of failure. Indeed, it was far worse, for after the invasion was defeated, General Gray, in an inquiry, was asked how he could possibly give the operation a fair chance of success. He replied that the word fair was included at General Wheeler’s insistence to “facilitate” the understanding of the report, but that what he meant by fair was only a 30% chance of success. On the other hand, most others understood fair to be good, at least a 50-50 proposition. But even a 50% probability of success was most definitely unacceptable for an operation of this magnitude, the largest and most complex ever attempted by the CIA. The Plan should never have been approved.
In any case, the final meeting to decide whether to authorize the invasion to go ahead was held on March 15 in the White House (the final decision was not made until April 4). The CIA deadline of March 10 had gone, but the planners were still hopeful that Kennedy would give the final approval. Kennedy’s doubts, however, had only increased since the January 28 meeting, especially after he had read the lukewarm evaluation by the Pentagon in early February. Now, prodded by Dean Rusk and the State Department bureaucrats, Kennedy demanded that the plan be changed. And changed it was, drastically so. Now, Trinidad was out because the president wanted something less spectacular, less noisy, more isolated, and he wanted the landing to be at night, the first time in U.S. military history that a large amphibious landing would be attempted at night. The CIA came back with a new site, the only other one possible according to them, in just three days. Desperation was clearly reaching a critical mass with the agency planners. But the CIA still, against all odds, wanted the invasion to go ahead, apparently convinced that in the end, the president would get behind it. They could not have been more wrong.
- To be continued -