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tv   History Bookshelf Jim Rasenberger The Brilliant Disaster  CSPAN  July 8, 2021 12:54pm-1:56pm EDT

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♪♪ ♪♪ >> tens of thousands of anti-vietnam war protesters converged on washington, d.c. in may of 1971 more than 7,000 of them were arrested in a single day. tonight on american history tv we look back 50 years at the forces that collided on the capital streets that bring with lawrence roberts, the author of "may day 1971 a white house at war a revolt in the streets and the unfold history of america's biggest mass arrest." that's at 8:00 p.m. here on
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american history tv on c-span 3. next on history bookshelf, a history of the bay of pigs crisis. the failed military invasion of cube in 1961 that was supported by the u.s. government and that resulted in the capture or death or more than a thousand men. >> this evening, books & books is pleased to welcome jim rasenberger and his new book, "brilliant diaster." jfk, castro, and america's doomed invasion of cuba's bay of pigs. mr. rasenberger has written for "the new york times," "vanity fair," smithsonian among other various politics. his most recent book was "america 19 o -- 1908." here's the author of high steel, the men who built the world's
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greatest skyline. in this book he examines the u.s. backed military invasion of cuba in 1961, one of the most ill-fated blunders in american history. he draws on long hidden cia documents and delivers as never before the vivid truth and consequences of those five pivotal days in april of '61. here to tell us more about it, please give a warm welcome to mr. jim rasenberger. [ applause ] >> perfect. perfect. thank you. thank you for that introduction. thank you to books & books for having me. this is a wonderful book store. i had not been here before i came earlier today. and it is fantastic. so, support it. i urge you to buy a book before you leave tonight. it doesn't have to be my book, but if you want it to be, that's fine with me. as i'm sure all of you know by now, this is on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the bay of pigs invasion of cuba.
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and i can't think of a better place to launch my new book than here with you. i know -- i'm sure many of you have some personal history of the event, and some deep knowledge of it. and i thank you for coming. i'm honored to be here. now, this is a story i wanted to tell for a long time. i think it's -- there's a number of reasons i wanted to tell it for a long time. the main reason is i think it's one of the most fascinating and important stories in modern american history. i hope, if you read the book, you'll share that opinion with me. before i go into detail, i should probably give a brief overview of what the bay of pigs was for those of you who don't know. if there are any of you. i'm suspecting anyone my age or older -- i was born just after the bay of pigs, is pretty familiar with it simply because we grew up hearing about it. those of you who are younger are forgiven.
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you're not forgiven for being younger, there's no forgiveness for that, but you are forgiven for not knowing much about something that happened before you were born. so, for the sake of those not familiar, let me go through a brief overview, a few basic facts. the bay of pigs was a five-day event that occurred in april of 1961. for those of you who are madmen fans, that is just after season one, if that helps orient you. that april a group of cuban exiles trained, supplied and backed by the united states government attempted to invade cuba and overthrow fidel castro. the attack began on april 15, 1961 when a fleet of eight b26 bombers, flown by cuban exile pilots attacked castro's airfields. these planes bombed and strafed the airfields attempting to
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destroy fidel castro's air force. two days later, just after midnight of april 17th, the invasion itself began. about 1,400 men, again cuban exiles known collectively as brigade 2506, came ashore at the southern coast of cuba at an area called the bay of pigs. the plan was to establish and hold a beachhead and eventually spark an uprising against fidel castro. that was the plan anyway, but it didn't quite work out that way. the brigade ran into trouble almost immediately. and within two days of landing, it was over. of the 1,400 men who came ashore, over 100 were killed, and the rest were sent fleeing either to sea, some tried to escape in boats or into the swamps. there was a vast everglade just inland of the bay of pigs. there they were rounded up by castro's soldiers and thrown into cuban jails.
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for fidel castro, who looked like the david who slayed the yankee goliath, this was a supreme victory. and it is still a victory that cubans celebrate today. i was in cuba exactly a year ago for the 49th anniversary. it's remarkable how around havana, down at the bay of pigs, there are billboards all over the place celebrating the victory against yankee imperialism. this 50th anniversary they will mark with a parade, all sorts of celebrations. i'm not expecting too many celebrations here. that's, of course, because for the united states it was a disaster. it was a personal tragedy for the men who took part in the invasion, of course. and it was a humiliation for the kennedy administration which had only been in power less than three months. at first the administration tried to insist the united
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states had nothing to do with this. that it was just the exiles had gone in on their own. but that charade did not last very long, and very soon the whole world knew the truth, which was that the brigade had been trained by the cia, had been supplied with american equipment and the invasion had been approved by the joint chiefs of staff, the state department and ultimately the president of the united states. in short, this had been a united states operation, and its failure was a distinctly american embarrassment. one american general said it was the worst defeat the u.s. had suffered since the war of 1812. that was about the kindest thing anybody said. everyone agreed that it was a mistake that they would never forget, and they must never repeat. well, they were wrong. not only is it largely forgotten, maybe not here, but in much of america it is. but we went on to repeat some of the same mistakes that we made in cuba in other parts of the
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world. in fact, the beau of pigs turned out to be sort of a curtain raiser on a whole new era of troubled interventions. an era we're still in today. by one count the united states engaged in no fewer than two dozen forceful interventions after 1961, and that's not including iraq, afghanistan and libya entanglements. given these other interventions you may be asking yourself why should we still care about the bay of pigs? i mean, next to vietnam and iraq, it seems like a fairly minor event, an appetizer before this huge feast of troubled interventions. add to this the fact that it lasted just five days and cost a mere $46 million. that's about, i think, less than the average budget of a hollywood movie these days. and then, of course, the fact that it was an embarrassment. it has everything to recommend it for oblivion.
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here's the thing, it changed this country in some very important ways. it changed how americans look at their government, it changed how the rest of the world looked at us. prior to the bay of pigs, it would have been a cynical american who doubted he lived in a good and mighty nation led by competent men and engaged in worthy exploits. that was certainly a plausible view for americans 50 years ago after world war ii. the bay of pigs made that view a lot harder to hold onto. it had the distinction of making the united states look both bullying and weak. this is what kennedy's aide wrote in his journal shortly after the invasion. we not only look like imperialists, we look like ineffectual imperialists, which is worse. and we look like stupid, ineffectual imperialists, which is worst of all. in many ways, the 1960s, that decade of questioning authority, began with the bay of pigs.
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this was a first step into the vietnam era, even before vietnam. actually, what you may not realize, what i did not realize until i wrote the book is how much the vietnam war itself owes to the bay of pigs. if we have time, i'll delve into that later on. right now i want to go back a bit in time. back a few years before the bay of pigs and focus on the causes of the invasion. because here's the really central question and one we don't have a good answer to even yet. how does something like this happen? my ambition of this book beyond telling what i think is a fascinating story as well as i could, was to go back once more and look at these events as clearly as possible, with no axes to grind, with no finger pointing, not trying to blame anyone, not trying to exonerate anybody, just trying to find out as best i could the truth.
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with that goal in mind, i begin my narrative well before the invasion. because i think to understand it you need to know not just what happened, but the context in which it happened. so i began two years before the bombs began to fall on cuba. exactly two years, in fact, to the day. april 15, 1959. that evening fidel castro arrived in the united states for a visit. this was his first visit to the united states since he had taken over cuba at the start of the year. dwight eisenhower was still president. richard nixon was vice president. john kennedy was still a junior senator from massachusetts. castro came to deliver a speech to some newspaper editors, but the visit was something like an invasion in its own right, a charm offensive. he and his bearded entourage arrived in washington with cuban cigars and cases of cuban rum and castro spent most of his
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visit hugging, smiling and saying all the right things. there were some americans, including some in the eisenhower administration, including dwight eisenhower himself who had concerns about eisenhower, maybe he was a communist in the making. but many found him to be quite charming and certainly charismatic. after a few days, castro took a train to new york city. from the moment he arrived at penn station where he was greeted by 20,000 people, he had a grand old-time. he went to the top of the empire state building, he shook hands with jackie robinson, he went down to city hall, went up to columbia university. having less fun in new york city were the policemen who were assigned to protect him, because there were all these assassination plots surrounding castro, and these were reported in the press every day. none of these turned out to be real, but the police didn't know that. castro was completely impossible to protect. he would throw himself into crowds hugging and kissing
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people with no concern for his safety. one afternoon, on a whim, he decided to go to the bronx zoo. the press followed, federal agents followed, new york city police followed. and castro did what everybody does at the zoo, he ate a hot dog, fed peanuts to the elephants, rode a miniature electric train and then before anybody could stop him he climbed over a protective railing in front of the tiger cages and stuck his fingers right through the cage and petted a bengal tiger on the head. this is the things that he did that made people think castro was a little bit crazy. besides trying to save castro from assassins and tigers, americans spent much of his visit trying to decipher much of his politics, which meant answering the following question, was fidel castro a communist? you have to recall that in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the battle against the so-called international communist conspiracy was the organizing
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principle on which american foreign policy was based. it wasn't just the spread of communism that was so feared, it was the fact that the communists had nuclear weapons. and given the rhetoric coming out of the kremlin, khrushchev was saying more and more things like we'll bury you, they seemed more and more willing to use them. i emphasize this to point out the specter of a communist country 90 miles from american shores was intolerable. not just to conservatives like barry goldwater, richard nixon, but really to everybody. so, fidel castro was interrogated on the subject of communism everywhere he went on his visit. by vice president nixon, by a congressional subcommittee, by scores of journalists, everyone asked him the same question, dr. castro, are you a communist? he answered the same every time. no, he was not a communist. never had been, never would be. when castro finally left new
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york on april 25th, the police were relieved to see him go. but most new yorkers were happy he had come to visit. an editorial in the "new york times" summed up the general attitude towards castro as he left. "he made it quite clear that neither he nor anyone of importance in his government so far as he knew was a communist. by the same token it seems obvious that the americans feel better about castro than they did before." that changed. that changed very fast. in the book, i go into some detail regarding what happened after castro returned to cuba after his american visit, how things went sour so quickly. for the sake of time, i'll jump ahead a bit. suffice to say that castro immediately began behaving very much in a manner that seemed almost designed to provoke the american government. he started appropriating american property in cuba, delivering speeches filled with anti-american rhetoric, cracking down on cubans who made
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anti-communist statements, and most worrisome of all, began accepting overtures from the soviet union. all together, in other words, acting exactly like the proto-communist that the eisenhower administration feared he was. within months, washington decided good relations with castro would be impossible. by the end of 1959, less than a year after castro came to power in cuba, the eisenhower was taking aggressive steps against him. the great irony is that after devoting millions of dollars and hundreds of men to protecting him from assassins, the united states government began plotting his demise. generating these plots was the central intelligence agency. with encouragement from president eisenhower. some of the early ideas explored by the cia were quite interesting. one was to place a drug in castro's food that would make him behave strangely in public. and make him appear truly insane
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as some people already thought he was. the drug wasn't specified in cia documents, but it was probably lsd, which the cia had done quite a bit of work with in the 1950s. that sounds like something inspired by james bond, it may have been. the director of the cia was a big james bond fan as were many people in the cia, in fact at one point that march, as the cia was casting about for ideas, ian fleming happened to be visiting washington. he had dinner at the home of jack kennedy and jacqueline kenny, and somebody asked him kind of tongue in cheek, if he had any ideas for offing fidel castro. he said he would drop leaflets over little havana that there was radiation in the air and the only way to get rid of the radiation was to shave their beards, so castros minions would shave their beards.
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supposed by losing their mystical power. they tried to track down ian fleming while in washington, but it was too late. fleming had already flown back to london. another method the cia considered was assassination. one idea was to assassinate not just fiddle but his brother, raul, an assassination trifecta. the more serious cia plan was approved by dwight eisenhower later in the month. march 17, 1960. the plan developed by richard bissell, the cia's famously brilliant director of plans, was to use some of the cubans who had been fleeing castro, mainly to florida, to return to cuba and overthrow him. originally the idea was to infiltrate the men on to the island in small groups, but that shifted into something like more a world war ii style amphibious invasion. the plan was never that the
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1,400 men of the brigade was to fee treat castro's army of 25,000 or 30,000, rather it was to land the brig gate on a significant piece of could you pan cuban real estate and hold it for a length of time, maybe a week, up to ten days. at some point the brigade would fly in a provisional government, which the cia assembled in miami and which was being kept in a safe house at the time. the government would set up shop on the beach, declare itself the rightful government of cuba. what was to happen after that was not clear. the plan sputtered out after that. one hope is that the cuban population would rise up in support of the brigade and help overthrow castro. another possibility was that this provisional government after establishing itself in cuba, could invite the united states to assist, much the way the rebels in libya invited the united states to assist recently. and then the united states could come in overtly and legally or quasilegally and settle the matter. not long after eisenhower
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approved the plan, the cia set up camp in the mountains of guatemala and built an airstrip nearby. in late spring the agency began to recruit cuban exiles, mainly in miami, and to transport, assemble and train them in guatemala. they came from an array of backgrounds. some were former soldiers who served in bautista's army, others were students, many were moderates or leftists who had even supported castro when he first came to power, but then he they grew disenchanted with him as he began acting like a communist. later there would be lawyers, doctors, farmers, whites, blacks, young, old, rich and poor, a fair cross section of the cuban population. while the military operation was coming together in guatemala, the presidential campaign of 1960 was heating up in america. in a close contest between richard nixon and john f. kennedy. from the outset, nixon realized
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that fidel castro was either going to be an opportunity or a problem for him, depending on whether castro was still in power or gone by election day. now, in the fall of 1960, john kennedy was beating the eisenhower administration over the head with fidel castro. kennedy realized that no subject roused american voters more than the specter of a communist cuba. at every whistle stop he reminded voters that the island was, quote, a mere eight jet minutes away. and he blamed eisenhower, and company, including vice president nixon, for letting this happen. imagine being in the shoes of richard nixon. he had a pretty well-earned reputation as a communist buster, one of the premiere communist busters in america, and along comes this democrat from massachusetts suggesting that he, richard nixon, was not quite anti-communist enough. it was galling. kennedy had somehow managed to outflank nixon as an anti-communist hawk.
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probably the best example of this occurred in one of the nixon/kennedy television debates. not the first debate, the one that's most famous, but the fourth debate. this debate may have been the most important in the campaign. at the very least it offered a glimpse into the wonderful strangeness that was richard nixon. kennedy had come out in the press the previous day with a statement about cuba. in his statement, kennedy suggested the eisenhower administration was being negligent against castro and they ought to find some way to help anti-castro cubans take up arms against castro. of course, this is exactly what the eisenhower administration was trying to do. when nixon saw this in the newspapers, he was outraged. somebody in the cia, he thought, must have told kennedy about the cia's plan. now kennedy was claiming this as his own idea when, in fact, he, richard nixon, had been pushing for this operation for months. but nixon couldn't say that
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because it was a covert operation. so he just had to shut up and let kennedy pretend the whole thing was his idea. that's probably what he should have done. that's not, in fact, what nixon did. instead in the fourth debate, he lashed out at kennedy's statement denouncing it as irresponsible and foolish. he gave a long thoughtful argument as to why a covert military operation against the castro regime was a terrible idea. dangerously irresponsible as he said in the debate. nixon later explained that this lie of his was very painful, but that it was his "uncomfortable and ironic duty." then he added from that point on, i had the wisdom and wariness of someone who had been burned by the kennedys. i vowed i would never again enter into an election at a disadvantage by being vulnerable to them or anyone on the level of political tactics. it's a lesson that nixon learned well. a lesson that led him straight
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to watergate. that's a story for another time. as we know john kennedy got what he wished for. he became the 35th president of the united states. no sooner did he enter office on january 20th, then he was handed this plan that had been developed under the eisenhower administration. kennedy did know something about it by the time he got into office. he was briefed in detail after he won the election. he knew something, but still it came as quite a shock to discover first of all how big the operation was, and secondly that he had to deal with it immediately. the cia told him the cubans were about to get a large arms shipment from the soviets, including mig fighter jets, which would make it much more difficult to get rudd of castro in the future. this was true, by the way. from day one, the pressure was on kennedy to decide what he wanted to do and decide quickly. it's fair to say john kennedy was not thrilled by the cia's plan. his main concern was that the involvement of the united states would not be hidden enough.
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if it were not, it could very well provoke castro's new friends, the soviet union to take retaliatory action, most likely in west berlin, a city that khrushchev had been threatening to cut off from the west. kennedy did not want to get into a game of tit-for-tat with the soviets because that could escalate to nuclear war. then again, like everybody else, he wanted castro gone. in fact, since he had run for president criticizing eisenhower about castro, he needed to do something. if he canceled the plan, he would look like a hypocrite. worst he would look soft on communism. which was the last thing john kennedy wanted to see. conventional wisdom has it that the cia misled kennedy about the essentials of the operation. that they really tricked him into going ahead by misleading him, for example, about the chances of the cuban population rising up against castro. i don't think the cia was
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totally up front, in fact richard bissell later admitted they sold too hard. i don't believe kennedy was fooled either. i think he knew more or less what he was getting into. he got it into anyway because he didn't know how not to get into it. he painted himself into a corner during the campaign. and by the way, most americans are in that same corner with him. everybody wanted castro gone. well, the operation moved forward almost inexorably. through february and march. and finally in early april, after weeks of hemming and hawing, president kennedy gave it the thumbs up. he still held out the possibility of canceling it but he never did. for reasons i won't mention i don't think there was a good chance that he would have. and so, back to where we began, april 15th, in the opening attack on the cuban airfields, the attack that was meant to destroy fidel castro's air force. i cover the invasion and the
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aftermath in great detail in the book. but it's hard to do it justice in a few minutes. so, i'm afraid you're going to have to read the book if you want to find the full story. but for the moment, i'll just say that the important thing about the air attacks on april 15th is that they did not completely take out castro's air force. they left about half a dozen intact. half a dozen of his planes. that was half a dozen too many. the following evening, april 16th, president kennedy cancelled a second round of air strikes scheduled in the morning for april 17th. the strikes were meant to complete the job of destroying castro's air force. now, why kennedy cancelled them is a mystery. he had become -- the most common explanation is that he'd become very concerned about the public and international reaction that had been stirred up by the first round of air strikes. among other things it had become clear to the whole world, that the whole world realized that the united states was behind the air attacks almost the moment
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those first bombs fell on the 15th. and kennedy was always very concerned about provoking something big. about lighting a match that would lead to a great nuclear conflagration. so with the advice of his secretary of state dean rusk he called off the air strikes. among the cia planners when they discovered this on the evening of april 16th, the planners were horrified. it was always understood for the invasion to have a chance, castro's air force had to be taken out. and it was axiomatic. and the moment kennedy cancelled the follow-up strikes everybody involved in the operation instantly understood what it meant. the brigade was doomed. this was confirmed the following morning before the brigade had even completed its landing. castro's planes showed up over the bay of pigs and very quickly sunk two supply ships. the four other brigade ships also under air attack, fled for international waters.
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but down with those two sunken ships and away with the other four ships went the brigade's ammunition, much of its food and medical supplies, much of its communications equipment, and virtually any fighting chance the brigade had. now, this is not to suggest that if the second air strikes had not been cancelled, the invasion would have ultimately achieved what either the cia or the brigade wanted it to achieve. but there's no question that the moment the air strikes were cancelled it was over. which is why, to this day, many cuban exiles who fought at the bay of pigs hold a deep animosity for john kennedy, even 50 years later. the brigade was essentially stranded there on the beaches, running out of ammunition and under constant bombardment as castro sent his army in column after column, and he had about 30,000 to draw from.
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by the 18th, the brigade was withering and by the 19th, it came to an end, castro's troops swept in and the brigade scrambled for the swamp. but not before one last tragedy. the final morning, april 19th, four american pilots from the alabama air national guard, who had been brought in to help train the brigade pilots flew from the brigade air base in nicaragua to cuba. they did this because the brigade pilots had been flying nonstop and suffered casualties. so they volunteered to flying in their place. but that morning, the planes were shot down over cuba and all four were killed including a 30-year-old pilot named thomas pete ray. thomas ray's daughter janet ray is here with us tonight and was a big help to me when i was writing this book as were veterans of the brigade, when i visited them two years ago over the 48th anniversary over the bay of pigs invasion. so, i'm grateful for your help and their help.
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and i'm grateful for all of you coming and listening to me tonight. and what i want to do now is give you a chance to ask any questions that you might have. or make any brief comments. we've got cspan here with us, so please wait for the microphone to come over before you speak. and please, because there are so many of us here tonight, try to keep it brief, so that everybody gets a chance who wants to say something, will get a chance to do so, okay? thank you very much. [ applause ] >> okay. thank you. thank you. i'm going to start -- since the boom is already there, with this gentleman right here. go ahead. >> your book is the first one of all the many, and i have read them all, that mentions on the meeting of january the 28th,
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when alan dulles briefed kennedy and his entire team for the first time at the end -- >> can't hear the question -- >> at the end of the memo -- the question will come in a moment. at the end of the memo that was prepared by bissell. it comes out that the end of the operation would be for the u.s. to come in after the beachhead had been established. my question to you is, i know, because i've read it, that that was in the first plan. were you able to find that anywhere else? and were you able to find mention of that anywhere else after that? >> what, specifically, do you mean? >> the fact that the u.s. was going to come in after the beachhead had been established -- >> yeah, that was -- that was always part of the original plan. again, the idea was never that these 1,400 men were going to
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take over cuba. some people seem to think that, but that wasn't the plan. the plan was they would set up this beachhead and then they would call for help. and that's why, i hadn't mentioned this, but there was a fleet of american aircraft just over the horizon during the brigade. an aircraft carrier of seven destroyers. they were there to help out when called upon. one of those ships had 30,000 rifles to give to any cubans who would want to join in the invasion. there were tanks on those ships, there were trucks on those ships, they were set waiting for the word go to bring this equipment in and help the brigade out. janet, yes. i mentioned you. >> good enough. i have a question. the decision that john f. kennedy made at the bay of pigs, do you think that resulted in his assassination, or played a part in that decision? >> i think probably lee harvey oswald's mind it did.
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there's a question whether fidel castro ordered it. lyndon johnson said something like, castro knew that kenny wanted to kill him so he went and killed kennedy. so there was a lot of speculation that castro may have ordered this himself. castro denies it vehemently. we do know that oswald visited the cuban embassy in mexico city shortly before the assassination. and perhaps got some sort of signal or communication there. but what we know for sure is that oswald, he was in the soviet union when the bay of pigs happened. and was infuriated by it. and thought he was doing fidel castro a favor by going after john kennedy. so, indirectly, yes, i do think the bay of pigs definitely leads to the assassination of kennedy. it may have had a more direct link, but that's very difficult, maybe impossible, to prove.
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over here, please. i'll come to you in a second. yes. >> what's confusing to me is if after the first day of the invasion it became very clear that the u.s. was behind it, and then if it was known without the secondary air strikes on the 17th the invasion was doomed, are you basically saying that because kennedy was afraid of lighting the match against the soviet union, that he was willing to sacrifice the 1,400 men for the good of -- the bigger picture, because -- >> it's a haunting question. >> how you portray this, whether we're in favor or not in favor of war, or in favor or not in favor of getting rid of castro, by putting the plan in place we had already committed. and anything short of that, you said there's no guarantee it would work, and anything short of that would be a disaster.
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so, it's hard to imagine that 1,400 lives would be sacrificed for whatever bigger picture. >> i'm sure, john kennedy never thought in those chilling terms. i'm sure he never thought i'll just sacrifice those 1,400 lives. i think what he wanted was to have his cake and eat it, too. he wanted to have an immaculate invasion. he wanted to invade cuba, he wanted to get castro out, but he didn't want to start anything with the soviet union. did he sit there on the evening of the 16th saying to himself, too bad for those guys? you know, i'm canceling the follow-up air strikes. i don't think so. but i think the conflict with himself that he had from the very beginning came to haunt this operation that evening. in many ways it had been set up long in advance because he was always conflicted about it. but that's what he did. he did essentially -- the cia
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knew that's what he'd done, he had basically set them up to fail. but i guess i don't -- i've never seen anything that makes me think that he was cold hearted enough to do it intentionally, and we do know he did really feel very, truly, depressed about it afterwards. he went into a deep depression. and i'm sure it was because he knew he'd done pretty terrible. i think he did it in his own mind for the right reasons. but, clearly, he knew that he set these guys up to fail. i'm going to come to this side of the room, please. >> i am told that there were american warships that were ready to assist in the invasion. there were tanks coming off carrier ships. >> right. >> there were, obviously, sophisticated weaponry that was brought into cuba, and a large-scale invasion, how could anybody talk to an otherwise
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intelligent person, like the president of the united states, into saying that we could deny that we were behind this? even if we had won the war, the invasion, how could anybody talk them into that? >> yeah, this gets into the oddness of plausible denial in the cold war. the idea of plausible denial was not total denial, it was that you could hide behind this covert front. and it lowered the heat. it lowered the stakes. for example, the u2, the u2, the famous spy plane america flew, we were flying a u2 over the soviet union. the soviets knew we were flying the u2 over the soviet union, and we knew they knew, but nobody said anything, because nobody wanted to admit weakness. so, to go back to your question, i don't think anyone thought, oh, we'll be able to completely deny this. but the hope was, we can
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plausibly deny it. we can say, we were there to help out, if they asked us to help them. we were there as a friend, but we were in no way behind it. we weren't the ones instigating it, we weren't the ones funding it. so they could deny a few parts of it while accepting the other parts of it. does that answer the question? this gentleman here, then i'll come to you. >> yes. aside from the lack of air power and air cover, wasn't there -- did you find any information regarding infiltrations of the brigade by castro intelligence officers that they gave up the plan before they even landed? >> i did not. but it's not -- that's not because it's not out there. i think it's commonly assumed that he did know. it's hard to believe -- he had spies in miami, so certainly he knew what was going on among the cuban exiles in miami. he probably had spies in guatemala.
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by the way, he just had to pick up the newspaper if you wanted to know what was going on because there were newspaper reports about the training camps in guatemala. on january 10th, "the new york times" ran a story which said that these training camps in guatemala -- it ended up not being that bad for the cia because "the new york times" reporter was kind of fooled. and thought that the soldiers were guatemalans. rather than cuban exiles. nonetheless, castro could read between the lines, he knew something was coming. and when john kennedy in a press conference, april 12th, right before the invasion said that should there be an invasion of cuba, there would be no american involvement in it. well, for castro that said it all. clearly, these guys are coming any second. now, there's also, you may know, a story that somebody leaked to soviet intelligence, the fact that, the actual invasion date.
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that's probably true. there seems to be a lot of evidence to that. i don't know if it really made much of a difference. because castro knew anyway. castro had been on high alert, all winter, all spring. he was ready. he didn't sleep. he stayed up smoking cigars waiting night after night for this to happen. when it did happen he sprang into action. the only thing he didn't know is where it was going to happen. once he found that out, he was ready to go. this young woman right here. >> thank you for calling me young. i'm the godmother of allen dulles' great grandson and my husband is cuban. when i found out that my friend's last name was actually dulles, and she knew my husband was cuban, she asked me can we still be friends. so, what i'm asking you is how liable is allen dulles?
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for all of this? >> well, dulles -- i don't think that cubans -- cuban exiles would be upset with dulles. dulles was on their side. he very much wanted this to go through. he also very much wanted president kennedy to rescue them when it was clear they were failing. dulles for odd reasons was not in the country when the invasion occurred, he was in puerto rico. richard businessel made a number of attempts to get john kennedy to approve air cover. to go back to the point made earlier. there was an enormous amount of american fire power just offshores, including an aircraft carrier with a-4 fighter jets. bissell kept saying let us have these for a little bit of time. others were saying this as well. to give a little bit of air cover to the brigade. you have to remember, the brigade is there, pinned down, begging for help. if you read the intercepts
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coming in from the beaches, they're heart-wrenching. please help us. please come. we're dying here. rescue us. just send in one plane. send in some planes, please. kennedy never did. but the cia pushed for it. some people -- some people think they didn't push quite hard enough, but certainly dulles wanted that. i think, certainly, you and this woman could be friends. here, please. >> i just saw the series on television, the kennedy series. and one of the segments they covered in detail is this invasion. two parts. my first part is how accurate, if you saw that series -- >> i didn't see it. >> oh, okay, sorry. one of the things they brought out in that series, and again, i don't know it's true, but they said it was, but if it is, it would shock me. i lived through that invasion. and one of the things they said
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was that, to the present day, they acknowledge that the mistake, one of the mistakes they made was there was a full moon on the night. >> that's true. --. >> -- of the invasion. >> the opposite was true. >> that made no sense to me, how could they have done that? >> no, the moon was a pendulum. >> that obviously was -- they made a big point of that in the -- >> one of the other -- that -- on the morning of the 15th, the cuban ambassador to the united nations also made the point that there were sun spots that day. and somehow the cia was so diabolical that they had arranged the invasion to occur while there were sun spots to screw up the radio equipment or something like that. i don't know that much about meteorology, but it was intentionally done on a moonless night. >> thank you. >> anybody else?
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standing back here in the yellow shirt. >> does your book go into how kennedy changed the invasion plan from trinidad, to the bay of pigs? >> yes. >> because that was pivotal. >> that was pivotal, yes. >> and as far as leaks, they rounded up 150,000 people right before the invasion. >> right. >> who were supposed to take part in all kinds of anti-government activities. they filled stadiums in havana and throughout cuba. and that would have been pivotal. but that was leaked to the castro government. do you cover that also? >> i certainly cover the fact that these people were rounded up. and it goes to the problem of it hoping for a populist uprising against castro and cuba. because anybody against cuba -- astros castro were either in miami or jail. there.
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there weren't many people left free in cuba against castro. >> i ask because we had seven members of our family go to the bay of pigs. >> is that right? >> yes. they didn't send us, she was 5, and i was 5 1/2. otherwise, we would have gone, too. >> yes. >> i seen a list that the brigade was over 3,000 men but only 1,200 to 1,400, i understand, landed. my uncle was part of the team that was supposed to go in ahead of the invasion, to help the resistance and to prepare, and he never landed. they found out about the invasion later. have you looked into that? >> there were many other units. there were false invasions. there were infiltrations. there were a number of things going on at the same time. the actual brigade that landed was about 1,400. but, yes, there were hundreds of others who were involved in operations against cuba at the time. >> i've heard that the plans on
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the airfield before the attack were painted in cuban colors to make it seem as if the planes were cuban themselves? is that true? >> that is true, the whole plan was to try to make the air attacks look as if they had been carried out by castro's own pilots. part of that plan was -- you have eight b-26 bombers fly through the cuban air field. you also had a ninth b-26th flown by a pilot who flew directly from nicaragua to miami, who landed in the b 26 and claimed that he was part of the conspiracy of cuban pilots who that morning had bombed their own air fields and was now coming to the united states. that fell apart very quickly, though, for a number of reasons. for one thing, his b-26 was different than the b-26s in castro's air force. and some enterprising journalists figured that out rather quickly.
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for example, he had machine guns in the nose cone, castro's machine guns were mounted under the wings. so that was part of how this whole -- why john kennedy ended up canceling the air strikes on the 16th. because once people realized this was not true, a charade, they realized, wait a minute, something is not right about this, and they started looking at the americans for answers as to what was going on. so, yeah, they were all marked. they were all marked to look like castro's planes. there's somebody over here. i'll come to you in a second. yes. >> in your opening remarks, you referred to the fact that kennedy was concerned that -- about provoking russia. and by his actions in the bay of pigs and in that invasion. do you go into that in the book? and what subsequently happened because four or five months later the berlin wall went up. >> right.
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>> i'm sure that was triggered by his weakness in the bay of pigs. eight months later, vietnam exploded. that was all in consequence of when they -- when they detected that he was -- what they interpreted to be weak, that triggered a lot of problems. >> and john kennedy knew that. he went to a summit in vienna in june with khrushchev, and khrushchev just ate his lunch. and kennedy afterwards said he thinks i'm stupid and weak because of what happened at the bay of pigs. and certainly, you can make a connection then to khrushchev making this move to put up the berlin wall, although in some way, the berlin wall diffused the situation in berlin, but that's a rather complicated story. >> but it triggered the wall being built. >> it did trigger it. >> the bay of bigs, and the same thing happened in asia.
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>> that's true. and it was certainly -- kennedy certainly was very aware of that when he went to the summit with khrushchev. look, the repercussions in the bay of pigs just kept going. all through -- it really didn't end for kennedy until the cuban missile crisis. a lot of things, vietnam war, in many ways, started on april 20th, the day after the bay of pigs. john kennedy needing a victory against the communists ordered a task force in the pentagon to look for a way to stop communism in south vietnam. and quickly after that, sent 400 more men to vietnam. really the first step into the morass of vietnam began in beaches of cuba. this gentleman here. and then i'll go there. yes. >> thank you. in my mind, there must have been some sort of cause that caused
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kennedy to back away from the second air strike. immediately after that first air strike, are you aware, or is there any documentation of any conversations between john f. kennedy and khrushchev, immediately after the first air strike? >> no. >> that may have caused john kennedy to back out and not continuing with the -- >> no. the conversations were with dean ross, his secretary of state who advised him to stop. now, khrushchev did, on the 18th, send a very threatening letter to john kennedy, saying if you value the lives of your people, you better back off. you know, in the cold war, the stakes were always so high. and i think that's why we have to have some sympathy for these presidents who served when there were always a few decisions away from nuclear war. at least they thought they were. so khruschchev said if you -- i can't quote the letter, it's in the book, but you better get out
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of cuba or we're going to come after you. so there were certainly communications after that and kennedy then responded to that. yes. >> during your research did you come across any documentation that after the election the republican administration either wanted to back off or wanted to accelerate it? >> there was a cia history done in the 1970s and a guy named jack pfeiffer and he remarked upon the fact that eisenhower for some reason really seemed to start pushing again after the election. just before kennedy took over. and it may be because eisenhower before that was afraid of doing something to muck up nixon's chances. it may be that he was just trying to hand kennedy a tough problem. i doubt it. but he did -- he did really try to -- i think what they wanted
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to do was hand off something that was ready to go. now, eisenhower did later say that he never meant this to be a plan, he called it a program. in other words, it was an asset, it wasn't something that had to be done. so he later denied that he really had much responsibility for it, although, remember, for a year this plan lived under eisenhower and only lived under kennedy for three months. i think we have -- can take a few more questions. somebody who has not asked one yet. ask you asked? go ahead, please. >> can you elaborate on the four alabama national guard. what's the history behind that? i don't think it was made clear that they had gotten shot down for several years and what's the status of those gentlemen now? >> well, this woman here knows more about that than i do, her father was one of them. they were -- they had been brought in to train the cia
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pilots. they weren't meant to fly. i mean, there was always a backup plan that maybe they would be used to fly but that wasn't really their main function and it is true that when they -- when they were killed the kennedy administration and then the cia denied that this happened, they came up with a cover story for how they died and it's really one of the most shameful parts of the whole thing because these men died trying to serve their country, trying to do the right thing, and then their families were lied to about how they died. through the efforts of janet ray mainly and other people the truth came out and we all know what the truth is, that these four men died in battle fighting for their country. let me take one more question. does anybody -- you had one. do you want to ask one? okay. >> you said that president kennedy felt personally guilty for not ordering the second air strike, but he made it clear
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that he was upset with the cia over the failure of the bay of pigs because he hired many of the heads of the cia afterwards. >> that's right. he fired alan dulles, he fired richard bissell and charles cabell who was the second in command at the cia. he fired the whole top. he was upset with the cia, he thought the cia had misled him. partly you have to understand that was scapegoating. i don't mean that as being highly critical. before the invasion arthur is that lesser wrote a memo saying if something bad happens somebody's neck has to go on the chopping block and it can't be the president's. it was the cia's. that's partly the job of the cia, you know, this he have to take the heat when things like this happen and they -- they -- you know, it was their baby and bissell it was the end of his career certainly, he went and
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worked at a corporation in connecticut the rest of his life and it changed the lives of many people in the cia whose years were basically not just the top three guys, but ended with that. kennedy wanted to shatter the cia into 1,000 pieces. he didn't do that, but he was certainly upset. let's do one more question here and then we'll -- >> just to ask you, does the book explore the issue of why allen dulles was in puerto rico, left to run probably one of the highest profile operations the cia had planned in many, many years, to richard bissell who was an underling of his? >> yeah. it was an invitation that had been proffered to dulles many months before. in dulles' papers, i found the invitation. it was from the young
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president's association of america. basically this was a retreat for young executive americans and they invited young dulles to come talk to them. and dulles went because if he didn't go, it would be a tip-off to castro that the invasion was about to happen. if he did go to puerto rico, it would be one more indication that the united states had nothing to do with this. now, in moscow, the newspapers immediately, as early as the 18th, it was intentionally going to puerto rico so he could run it from puerto rico. that's not true. but dulles did give his speech at the same time the shipments were exploding in the bay of pigs. he was chatting with this group of young executives and it was rather bizarre but it was thought to be the right thing to do. he didn't know much about happening with happening until he came back evening and learned at the airport how things were going. and then he told his aide, let's go get a stiff drink.
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that's how he handled that. i think we need to cut it off here. i'll take -- can we do any more questions? okay, yes, all right. >> i don't understand how if everybody in the world knew that this was going to happen, the cia didn't know that castro knew? did they not have any people infiltrated in the castro organization at the time? if everybody knew, then how did dulles not know that everyone knew? >> yes. it is, it goes back to the weird psychology of the cold war. everyone knew, but again, it wasn't that they thought they were going to get away and nobody would ever suspect the united states. it is just that they wanted to, enough deniability to hide behind that really so that khrushchev wasn't put in the position to escalate. if it was too obvious the united
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states was behind this, khrushchev would have no choice for his own political reasons but to escalate in west berlin and then john kennedy would have no choice for his political reasons to escalate somewhere else. so that's how this worked. it worked on so many different levels. if there is one thing i learned writing this book, you don't want to be a president, certainly during the cold war. you were faced with these difficult decisions. i'll end by saying the point, the moral for me is that when people write that the bay of pigs, there is often so much anger. and a lot of blame goes around. my impression was that most of the people involved on all wrenlds doing it for what they thought were the right reasons. they were basically good people trying to do the right thing for the country. the problem was that it was a
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very difficult thing to do. and the way they did it was not the right way. now, you know, what the answer should have been still isn't really clear to me. should john kennedy have thrown in the u.s. military entirely? we can say yes but what would have happened after that? what if marines had gone into cuba? in april 1961, it's hard to know what would have played out. we do know what happened was a tragedy. thank you all for coming tonight. i really appreciate it. thank you. c-span shop.org is c-span's online store. there's a collection of c-span products. brows to see what's new.
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your purchase will support our nonprofit organizations and you have time to get contact information. to go c-span shop.org. tens of thousands of anti-vietnam war protesters converged on washington, d.c. in may of 1971. more than 7,000 of them were arrested in a single day. tonight on american history tv, we look back 50 years at the forces that collided on the capital streets that spring with the journalist, the author of mayday, 1971. a white house at war. a revolt in the streets. and the untold history of america's biggest mass arrest. that's at 8:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span3. originally broadcast as an nbc white paper, this encyclopedia britannica he h

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