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tv   History Bookshelf Jim Rasenberger The Brilliant Disaster  CSPAN  April 22, 2021 10:58pm-11:59pm EDT

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next on history bookshelf, the history of the bay of pigs crisis, the failed military invasion of cuba in 1961 that was supported by the u.s. government resulted in the capture and death of more than 1000 men. this was recorded at books and books in coral gables, florida in 2011. >> this evening, books handbooks is pleased to welcome mr. jim rasenberger and his new book, brilliant disaster, jfk, castro, and america's doomed invasion of cuba's bay of pigs. gm has written for the new york times, vanity fair, smithsonian, and the wilson quarterly among any other publications.
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his most recent book was america in 1908, and he is also the author of high steel, the daring men who built the world 's greatest skyline. in his 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 the long hidden cia documents and delivers, as never before, the vivid truth and consequences of those five pivotal days in april 1961. to tell us more about it, please give a warm welcome to mr. jim jim rasenberger. [applause] [applause] [applause] >> perfect. thank you. thank you for that introduction and thank you to books and books for having me. this is a wonderful bookstore. i had not been earlier. i came earlier today, and it's
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fantastic. support it. i urge you to buy a book before you leave today. it doesn't have to be my book, but if you wanted to be, that's fine with me. this is more on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the bay of pigs infer invasion of cuba. and i can think of a better place to launch my new book then 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 that i wanted to tell for a long time. i think it's, their number of reasons i've wanted to tell it for a long time but, one of the main reasons, i think it's one of the most fascinating and important stories in modern american history and i hope if you read the book, you will share that opinion with me. before i go into any detail, i should probably give a brief overview of what the bay of pigs was for those of you who
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don't know. if there are any of you. i suspect anyone my age, or older, i was born just after the bay of pigs, it's pretty familiar with it simply because we grew up hearing about it. those of you who are younger or forgiven, you're not forgiven for being younger, there is 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 the of those not familiar, let me go through a brief overview of 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 mad men fans, i think that's just after season one of -- that group of a cuban exiles trained, supplied and backed by the united states government. attempted to invade cuba and overthrow fidel castro.
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the attack began on april 15th 1961 when a fleet of eight b 26 bombers flown by cuban exile pilots attacked the castro's airfields. these planes bombed and strife tidier fields intending to destroy fidel castro's air force. few days later, just after midnight of april 17th, the invasion itself began. about 1400 men, again, cuban exiles, young collectively -- came ashore at the southern coast of cuba at an area called the bay of pigs. the plan was to establish and hold the beach ahead and eventually spark an uprising against the 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 1400 men who came ashore,
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over 100 were killed and the rest were sent free out at sea, some try to acts -- escaping votes, or in swamps, there was a vast ever grid just inland of the bay of pigs. and then they were rounded up by castro soldiers and thrown into cuban jails. well, for fidel castro, who looked like the david who is a slate of the goliath, this was a supreme victory. and it is still a victory that cuba celebrates today. today, i was in cuba exactly a year ago for the 49th anniversary and it's remarkable how around havana and down at the bay of pigs, there are billboards all over the place celebrating the victory against yankee imperialism. and this 50th anniversary, they will be marking with a parade, with all sorts of celebrations. i'm not expecting too many celebrations here. and that's of course because for the united states, it was a disaster.
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i was a personal tragedy for the men who took part in the evasion, 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 try to insist that the united states had nothing to do with this, that it was just the exiles that had gone in on their own, but that charade did not last very long. and very soon, that the whole world knew the truth which was, that the brigade had been trade by the cia, had been supplied with american equipment and the invasion had been approved by the joint chief 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 that u.s. has suffered since the war of 1812, that was about the kindest thing anybody had ever said. and everyone agreed that it was a mistake that they would never
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forget and they must never repeat. 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 and other parts of the world, in fact, the bay of pigs turned out to be sort of a curtain raiser on a whole new era of troubled interventions and an era were stolen today. by one count, the united states engaged no fewer than two dozen forcefully interventions after 1961. and that's not including our 21st century entanglements in iraq, afghanistan. now given all these other interventions, since the bear, facing may be asking yourself, why should we still care about the bay of pigs? i mean, next to vietnam and iraq, seems like a fairly moderate event, perhaps. an appetizer before this huge feast of troubled interventions. not to this the fact, that it
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lasted just five days and it cost a mere 46 million dollars. that's about, i think less than the average budget of a hollywood movie, these days. and then of course the fact that it wasn't a merriment. and it has everything to recommend for oblivion. but here's the thing. it changed this country and some very important ways. it changed how americans look at their government, and it changed how the rest of the world looked at us. prior to the bay of pigs, it would've been a cynical american who doubted that he lived in good and mighty nation led by competent men that engaged in worthy experts. that was certainly a possible view for americans 50 years ago after world war ii. the bay of pigs made that view hold on ardor trolled onto. they had to distinction of making the united states look weak. this is what kennedys junior wrote in his journal shortly after the invasion.
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not only look like imperialists, we look like it and fearless, which is worse. and we look like stupid imperialists, which is worse than all. in many ways, the 1960s, that decade of questioning authority began with the bay of pigs. this was a first step into the vietnam era, even before vietnam. actually, what you may not realize, but i did not realize until i wrote the book is how much of the vietnam war itself posed to the bay of pigs. if we have time, i'll delve into that a little later on. but right, now i want to go back bid in time, back a few years before the bay of pigs. and focus on the positive the invasion. because here's the really central question and when we don't have a good answer to yet. how does something like this happen? my ambition in this book, beyond telling you what i think is a fascinating story as well as i could, was to go back once
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more and look at these events as clearly as possible. with no access to grind, with no finger-pointing, not trying to blame anyone, not trying to exonerate anybody. just trying to find out a space that could the truth. so, with that didn't only, 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 15th 1959, that evening, fidel castro arrived in the united states for a visit. this was his first visit to the united states since he's taken over cuba to start the year. dwight eisenhower was still present, richard nixon was vice president, john kennedy was still a junior senator from massachusetts. castro came to distiller his
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speech to some newspaper editors, but the visit was something more like an invasion and its own right, the trauma offensive. he and his bearded entourage arrived in washington loaded with cuban cigars and cases of cuban rum and castro spent most of his visit hogging and smiling and seeing all the right things. there were some americans, including some of the eisenhower administration, including dwight eisenhower himself who had pretty serious concerns about eisenhower. mainly that he was a communist in the making. many found him to be quite charming and charismatic. after a few days in washington, castro trained in new york city. from the moment he arrived in pen station, where he was greeted by 20,000 people, he had a grand ole time. he went to the top of the eight buyer 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 where the police men who were signed
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to protect him because the were all these assassination plot surrounding castro and these were reported in the press every day and none of these turned out to be real but the police didn't know that. and castro was completely impossible to protect. he threw himself in the crowds, hugging and kissing people with no concern for his safety and one afternoon on the win, 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 had a hotdog, he felt peanuts to the elephants, he wrote 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 finger right through the cage and petted a bangle tiger on the head. this was the sort of thing castro did to make people think he's a little crazy. besides trying to save castro from assassins and tigers, american spent much of his visit trying to decipher as
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politics, which meant answering the phone. was fidel castro a communist? now you have to recall that in late 19 fifties and early 1960s, the battle against the so-called international communist conspiracy was the organizing principle in which american foreign policy was based. and was interest the spread of communism that was so feared, it was the fact that the communist had nuclear weapons. and given the rhetoric coming out of the -- cruise travelers saying all sorts of things like we will bear you and those were literally his words. they see more and more willing to use them. i emphasize this to point out that the communist country 90 miles from american shores was simply intolerable, not just the conservatives like barry goldwater, richard nixon, but really to everybody so. fidel castro was interrogated on the subject of communism anywhere he went on his visit.
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vice president nixon, by congressional subcommittee, by scores of journalists, everyone asked him the same question. doctor castro, are you a communist? and he answered the same every time. no, he was not a communist, never had, been never would be. when castro finally left new york on april 25th, the police were relieved to see him go. but most new yorkers were happy that he had come to visit. editorial in the new york times summed up the general attitude towards castro as he left, quote, he made it quite clear that neither he or 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. well that changed, that changed very fast. and 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'm going to jump ahead a bit, suffice to say that castro immediately
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began behaving very much in the manner that seemed almost designed to provoke the american government. he started appropriating american property in cuba, delivering speeches filled with anti-american rhetoric, tracking down on cubans who made anti communist statements and most worrisome of all, you can expect accepting overtures from the soviet union. all together in other, words acting exactly like the communist that the eisenhower administration thought he was. within months, washington decided that good relations with castro we're going to be impossible. by the end of 1959, less than a year after castro came to power in cuba, the eisenhower ministration was taken aggressive steps against him. the great irony is that after devoting millions of dollars and hundreds of men protecting him from assassins, the united states government now began plotting his demise. generating these plots was as
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the central intelligence agency. with encouragement from president eisenhower. some of the early ideas explored by the cia were quite interesting, one with the place a drug in castro's food that would make him behave strangely in public. and make him up here truly insane, as some people already thought that he was. the drug wasn't specified in the cia documents, but it was probably ellis the, which the sea had a had done quite a bit of work with in the 19 fifties. that sounds like something it inspired by james bond, about that's because it might have been. the director of the cia was a big james ponce signed, as many people were in the cia, and in fact, at one point that march, as the cia was looking for ideas, he and fleming happen to be visiting washington. he had dinner at the home of jack kennedy and jackie kennedy and somebody asked him, sort of tongue-in-cheek if he had any ideas for offering fetal castro, he came up with this crazy plot that he would drop over havana,
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advertising that radiation was in the air and that radiation would claim to amend spirit, the only way to get rid of radiation would be to shave the beards, so therefore all of castro's minions which shave their beards and supposedly lose their mystical power. while dulles seemed to take this seriously and tried to track down ian fleming while he was still in washington, but he was too late, another method the cia considered was assassination. one idea was to assassinate not just fidel, but also raul and shea weber, out an assassination trifecta. and more serious cia plan was approved by dwight eisenhower later in the month, march 17th, 1960. the plan developed by the cia's famously brilliant director of plans was to use some of the cubans that had been fleeing castro, mainly to florida, to
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return to cuba and overthrow him. originally, the idea was to infiltrate the men onto the island and small groups. that shifted to something more like a world war ii style amphibious invasion. the plan was never that the 1400 men were supposed to overrun cuba and somehow defeat castro's army of 30,000. the objective was to land the brigade on a specific piece of 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 that the cia had assembled in miami and was being kept in a safe house at the time, and then the government would set up shop on the beach and declare itself the rightful government of cuba, and what was supposed to happen after that was never all that clear. the plan canada spotted out after then. another possibility was that the provisional government,
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after establishing itself in cuba, 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 covertly and quasi-legally settle the matter. not long after eisenhower approved the plan, the cia set up camp in the mountains of guatemala, on a coffee plantation, and bill today or stream nearby. in late spring, cuban exiles in miami had to transported new -- exiles came from an array of backgrounds, former soldiers who served in bautista's army. others are students who supported castro and grew disenchanted with him as he became increasingly left and more and more acted like a communist. later, there would be lawyers, doctors, farmers, young and old,
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rich and poor, a cross section of the human population. while the military operation was coming together in guatemala, the military campaign of 1960 was heating up in america. in a close contest between nixon and kennedy. from the outset, nixon realized fidel castro is either going to be an opportunity or a problem for him, depending on whether castro was still in power are gone by election day. kennedy was beating the eisenhower administration over the head of fidel castro. kennedy had realized that no subject aroused american voters more than the specter of communist cuba, and it every whistle stop, reminded voters that the island was only eight jet minutes away, and he blamed eisenhower for letting this happen. imagine being in the shoes of richard nixon. he had a well earned reputation
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as a communist buster, one of the premiers in america, and it comes as a democrat from massachusetts suggests that he was not anti communist enough, that was galling. kennedy had managed to outflank nixon as an anti-communist talk. the best example of this occurred in one of the nixon and kennedy televised debates. not the first, but the fourth debate. this debate may have been the most important of the campaign and at the very least it offered a glimpse into the strange creature that was richard nixon. kennedy had released a statement about cuba. kennedy suggested that the eisenhower administration was being negligent about castro taking arms. this is exactly what the eisenhower administration was trying to do.
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someone in the cia must have told kennedy about the cia's plan, and now kennedy was claiming this as his own idea, when in fact, richard nixon had been pushing for this operation for months. nixon couldn't say that because it was a covert operation, so he had to shut up and let kennedy pretend the whole thing was his idea. that's probably what he should have done. he denounced kennedy's statement as irresponsible and foolish. he had a long 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 was very painful, but it was uncomfortable and ironic as a duty. he added, from that point on, i
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had the wisdom and wariness of someone who had been burned by the he's. 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 to watergate. that's the story for another time, though. as we know, john kennedy became the 35th president of the united states and no sooner did he enter office on january 20th and he was handed a plan that had been developed under the eisenhower administration. kennedy knew something about it by the time he got into office. he had been briefed in detail by dulles after he won the election. so he knew something, but it still 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 that the cubans were about to get a large arms shipment from the soviets, including big fighter jets, which would make it much more difficult to get rid of
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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 that john kennedy was not thrilled by the cia plan. his main concern was that the involvement of the united states was not clear enough. that 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 didn't want to get into a risky game of-for-tat with the soviets, because he knew the game could escalate to nuclear war. he realized he needed to do something. if he canceled the plan, he would look like a hypocrite. worst, he would be soft on communism, the lasting john kennedy wanted to seem.
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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 totally upfront. they later admitted that they sold too hard, but i don't believe kennedy was fooled. he knew what he was getting into and got into it anyway, because he didn't know how not to get into it. he painted himself into a corner during the campaign. by the way, most americans were in the same corner with him. everybody wanted castro gone. finally, in early april, after weeks of hemming and hawing, president kennedy gave the thumbs up. he still held up the possibility of canceling, it but he never did, and for
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reasons that i mentioned, i don't think there was ever a good chance that he would have. and so, back to where we began, april 15th and the opening attack on the cuban airfields. the attack was meant to destroy castro's air force. i covered the invasion and the aftermath and great detail in the book, but it's hard to do it justice in a few minutes, so i am afraid you will have to read the book if you want to find the full story, but for the moment, the thing about the air attacks on april 15th as they did not completely take out castro's air force. they left half a dozen intact. that was half a dozen to many. the following evening, april 16th, president kennedy canceled a second round of airstrikes that were scheduled for the morning of april 17th. why kennedy canceled is a mystery. he had become the most common
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explanation is he had become very concerned about the public and international reaction that had been stirred up by the first ground air strikes. among other things, it had become clear to the whole world that the whole world realized the united states was behind the attacks almost the moment the first bombs fell on the 15th. and kennedy was always very concerned about lighting a match that would lead to a great nuclear conflagration. who is the advice of his secretary of state, dean rusk, he called off the air strikes. among the cia planners that discovered this on the evening of april 16th, it had always been understood that for the invasion to have a chance, castro's air force had to be taken out. the moment kennedy canceled those follow-up strikes, everyone involved in the operation instantly understood what it meant.
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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 to supply ships. two other ships, also under air attack, fled for international waters. much of their food and medical supplies, much of the communications equipment, and virtually any fighting chance the brit had was gone. this is not to suggest that if the secondary strikes had not been canceled, the invasion would have ultimately achieved, what they wanted it to achieve at least. there is no question that at the moment those airstrikes was canceled, it was over. and that's why today, many cuban exiles who fought in the bay of pigs hold a deep
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animosity for john kennedy, even 50 years later. the brigade was essentially stranded there on the beach, is running out of ammunition, and under constant bombardment is castro sent his army in column after column and he had about 30,000 to draw from. by the 18th, the brigade was withering. on the 19th, it came to an end. castro's troops swept. in the brigade scrambled for the swamp. that's not before one last tragedy. the final morning, april 19th, for american pilots from the alabama international guard, who had been brought in to help train the brigade pilots, flew from the brigade base. they did this because the brigade pilots had been flying virtually nonstop and suffered numerous casualties. these americans volunteered to fly in their place. without warning, the planes were shot down over cuba and all four were killed, including the 30-year-old pilot.
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thomas is daughter was a big help to me when i was writing the book, as were the veterans of the brigade when i visited two years ago on the 40th anniversary of the bay of pigs invasion. i am grateful for your help and their help, and i'm grateful for all of you coming and listening to me tonight. what i want to do now is give you a chance to ask any questions you might have, or make any brief comments. we have c-span with us, so please wait for the microphone before you speak, and because there are so many of us here tonight, please try to keep brief so everyone who wants to say something will get a chance to do so. think give airy much. [applause] [applause] [applause] [applause] [applause] [applause] i'm going to start there since the boom is already
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there, with this gentleman right here. go ahead. >> your book is the first one of all the many i have read that mentions, on the morning of january the 20th, when alice -- allen dollars briefed kennedy for the first time two -- >> we can't hear the question. >> the question will come in a moment. at the end of the memo that was prepared, it comes out that the end of the operation would be for the u.s. to come in after the beach had had been established. my question to you is, i know, because i've read it, but that was not the first plan. were you able to find that anywhere else? and were you able to find mention of that anywhere else
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after that? >> what's specifically do you mean? >> the fact that the u.s. was going to come in -- >> that was always part of the original plan. the idea was never that these 1400 men were going to take over cuba. some people seem to think tank that but that was in the plan. the plan was that they would set up his speech head and then they would call for help. and that's why, i had mentioned this, but it was a fleet of american aircrafts interest over the horizon during the brigade. an aircraft carrier and seven destroyers. they were there to help out and they were called upon. one of those ships had 30,000 levels to give to any cubans who would want to join any invasion. there were tanks on those ships, there were trucks on those ships. there were set just waiting for the word go to bring this equipment in and help the brigade out.
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>> okay, good enough? i have a question. the decision that john f. kennedy made at the bay of pigs, do you think that resulted in haze a sassy nation or play the part in that decision? >> i think probably lee harvey oswald's wind to. and of course there's a question of whether fidel castro ordered it, lyndon johnson said something like, castro knew that kennedy wanted to kill him, so he wanted to kill kennedy, so there was a lot of speculation that castro may have ordered is 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 signaller 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 that he was doing fidel castro a favor by
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going after john kennedy. so, indirectly, he has. i do think of bay of pigs definitely leaves -- lead to the assassination of kennedy. and they may have had a more direct link but that's very difficult, even impossible to prove. over here please. i'll come to you in a second. >> what's confusing to me is if after the first day of the invasion it became very clear that u.s. is behind it, and then if it was known that without the secondary airstrikes on the 17th, the invasion was doomed, are you basically stating that the cause that kennedy was afraid of lighting the match against the soviet union, that he was willing to sacrifice the 1400 men for the good of the bigger picture? >> it's a haunting question. >> because how do you portray
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this, whether we're in favor or not in favor of war or in favor or not in favor of getting castro, by putting the pen in place, we already committed. and anything short of that, you said there is no guarantee, any assurance of that would be a disaster. so it's hard to imagine that 1400 would be sacrificed for whatever. bigger picture. >> i'm sure jon kennedy never thought in those chilling terms, i'm sure he never thought, i'll just sacrifice those 1400 lives. i think what he wanted was to have his taking you to. he wanted to have an immaculate invasion, you know, he wanted to invade cuba, he wanted to get cast throughout, 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 airstrikes, i don't think so.
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but i think the conflict within himself he had from the very beginning. to the holidays operation, really was, it had been set up long in advance. but that's what he did. he did essentially, the cia knew that the swat he had 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 coldhearted enough to do it intentionally and we do know he really did feel very truly depressed about it afterwards. he went into a deeper depression. and i'm sure it was because he knew he had done something 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, very many
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who assisted in the invasion. there were tanks coming off carrier ships. there were obviously sophisticated weaponry that was brought into cuba and a large scale invasion, oh do you would talk -- scientists saying that we can deny -- even if we had won the war, the invasion, how can anybody talk him into that? >> 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, this famous by plane, we were flying a u2 over the soviet union, the soviets knew we were
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flying a u2 over the soviet union and we knew they knew but nobody said anything. because nobody wanted to admit that weakness. so, to go back to your question, i don't think anybody thought, oh we will be able to completely deny this, but the hope was, we can possibly deny. we can say, well yeah, we were there to help out with if they asked them to help them, we were there is 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 key parts of it and all accepting other parts of it. does that answer the question? >> this gentleman here. no come to you. >> aside from the lack of air cover, was -- did you find any information regarding infiltration of the brigade by castro intelligence officers that already give up the plane before they even landed? >> i did not.
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but it's not -- does not because it's not out there, i think it's commonly assumed that he didn't. it's hard to believe -- he had spies in miami, so certainly he knew what was happening in miami. he probably spies in cuomo guatemala. and by the way, he really just have to pick up the newspaper if you want to know is 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, and end of him not to be that bad because the new york times reporter was kind of fooled and thought that these soldiers were guatemalans, rather than cuban exiles. but nonetheless, castro can read between the lines, he knew something was coming. and then when john kennedy, john kind of he made a press conference on april 12th, right before the invasion said that there would be -- that should there be invasion of cuba, there would be no
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american involvement in it. for castro, that set it up. clearly these guys would come out any second. now, there's also, you may, know a story that somebody leaked to soviet intelligence the fact that the actual invasion had. that's probably true. there seems to be not a lot of evidence that. our elephant made much of a difference for the cause castro knew anyway, he had been howler over, to oscar, use randy, he stayed up all night smoking cigars waiting night after night for this to happen. and when it did happen, he sprang to action. he only thing he didn't know was when it was going to happen and once you find that out, he was ready to go. this young woman here. >> i'm the godmother of alan douglas is great grandson, and my husband is cuban. and when i found out that my
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friends last name was actually douglas, and she knew my husband was cuban, she asked me, can we still be friends? so what i'm asking is, how liable is allen douglass to all of this? >> well tell us, i don't think -- the cuban axles would be set with tell us, dulles was on their side, you very much wanted this to go through. he also very much wanted this to president kelly d. to rescue them when it was clear that they were failing. dallas, fraud results, with puerto rico and it happened. but richard made a number of attempts to get john kennedy to approve air cover. now, to go back to the point was made earlier, there was an enormous amount of american firepower just offshore's, including an aircraft carrier
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with a four fighter jets. so, richard kept saying, -- for a little bit, time others were saying, this was to give a little bit of their career to the brigade. have to remember, the brigade is they're paying down, begging for help. and if you read the intercepts coming in from the beaches, they're just 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 think this they didn't put quite hard enough. but certainly douglas wanted that. so i think that, certainly you and this woman can be friends. here please. >> i just saw the series on television. and one of the segments that covered in detailed was the invasion.
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and two parts, my first part is, how accurate, fuselage tunes, one of the things that brought out in that series, and again, i don't know if it's true but, they said it was which shocked me, i lived in that invasion. and one of the things they said was to the present day, they acknowledge that the must take they made was that there was a full moon on the night of the invasion. and i remember -- because that made no sense to me. how could they have done that? obviously it's a military strategy. they made a big point of that in the series. >> one of the -- home the morning of the 15th, the cuban ambassador to the united nations also made the point that there were sunspots
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that day and somehow the cia was so diabolical that they hadn't arranged the invasion. that's sunspots to scrub radio equipment, or stuff like that. but i don't know that much about the meteorology about, but it was intentionally done on a formal insight. yes. >> anybody else? 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. >> as far as leaks, they rounded up 150,000 people right before the invasion who were supposed to take part in all kinds of anti-government activity, so they filled stadiums in havana and throughout cuba and the oberlin pivotal, but that was leaked to the castro government, did you cover that also? >> i only cover the fact that these people rounded up and it
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goes to the problem of hoping for a populace a prize against castro, because anybody against castro was either in jail or in miami. and there weren't many people left who were free in cuba who were against castro. >> seven members of her family went to bay of pigs. they didn't send us because she was five and i was five and a half. otherwise, we would've gone too. >> yes. >> i've seen a list -- but only 1200 to 1400, i understand landed. my uncle was part of the teams that were supposed to go in a head of the invasion to help where the resistance and prepare and he never. they found out about the innovation later. >> there were many other units, there were false invasions, there were infiltrations, there
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were a number of things going on at the same time. the actual brigade thailand it was about 1400. but, yes, there were hundreds of others who were involved in the operations against cuba at the time. >> i've heard that the planes on the air fields today before the attack were painted in cuban colors to make it seem as though the planes were cuban, themselves. is that true? >> that is true. the whole plan was to try to make those air attacks look as if they have been carried out by castro's own pilots. so, part of that plan was to have -- soviet eight b 26 bombers who had -- you also had a ninth 26 who flew directly from nicaragua to miami. and landed in the b 26 and claimed that he was part of the conspiracy of cuban pilots who that morning, had bombed their own and airfields. and that was coming to the
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united states. that fell apart very quickly though, for a number of reasons. for one thing, his b 26 was different than the b 26 is in castro's air force. and some enterprising journalists figure that out rather quickly, for example, he had his machine guns, castro's machine guns were under the warnings. that's part of why kennedy ended up canceling the air strikes on the 16th. once people realize this charade was not true, they realized something was not read about this and they started looking to the americans for answers as to what was going on. yes? >> in your opening remarks, you refer to the fact that kennedy
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was concerned about provoking the russians by his actions in the bay of pigs invasion. do you go into that in the book and what subsequently happened? four or five months later, the berlin wall went up and i am sure that was triggered by his weakness in the bay of pigs. eight months later, vietnam exploded. that's all in consequence. when they detected that he was what they determined to be weak, that triggered a lot of problems. >> kennedy knew that. he went to a summit at vienna in june with khrushchev. khrushchev just ate his lunch. kennedy afterwards said, he thinks i'm stupid and weak because of what happened at the bay of pigs. certainly, you can then make a connection to khrushchev making this move to put up the berlin wall.
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but in some ways, the berlin wall defused the situation in berlin. that's a long story. >> but it triggered it while being belt? and the same thing happened in asia. >> that's true. kennedy certainly was very aware of that when he went to the summit with khrushchev. the repercussions of the bay of pigs just kept going. they really didn't and for kennedy until the cuban missile crisis. in many ways the, vietnam war 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 to a way to stop communism in south vietnam. and quickly after that, he sent 400 more meant to be an all. that is really the first step
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into the morass of vietnam that began on the beaches of cuba. i will go to this gentleman, here, and then i will go there. >> in my mind, there must have been the some kind of a cause for kennedy to back away from the second air strike, particularly after the first. are you where, or is there any documentation -- caused john kennedy to back out? >> no, the conversations were with the secretary of state to advised him to stop. on the 18th, khrushchev did send a very threatening letter to john kennedy, really saying, if you value the lives of your people, you better back off. in the cold war, the stakes were always so high. that's why we have to have some
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sympathy for these presidents who served when there were always only a few decisions away from war, at least that's how they thought. khrushchev said you better get out of cuba, or we are going to come after you. there were communications after that kennedy didn't respond. 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 seventies. they remarked upon the fact that eisenhower, for some reason, really seemed to start pushing again after the election, just before kennedy took over.
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eisenhower before that was afraid of doing something to mock up nixon's chances. maybe he was just trying to hand kennedy a tough problem. i doubt it. >> but he did, i think they wanted to do was handoff something that was ready to go. eisenhower later said he never meant this to be a plan. he called it a program. and other words, it was an asset. it wasn't something that had to be done. he later denied he really had much responsibility for, it although, remember, for a year the plan lived under eisenhower and it only lived under kennedy for three months. i think we can take a few more questions. have you asked? go ahead. >> can you elaborate on the alabama national guard and the history behind that? i don't think it was made clear
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that they got shot down for several years? and what's the status now? >> this woman here knows more about it than i do. her father was one of them. they had been brought in to train this ei a pilots. they weren't meant to fly. there was always a backup plan that maybe they would be used to fly, but that wasn't the main function. it's true that when they were killed, the kennedy administration and then the cia denied this happened. it came up with a cover story for how they died. and it's really one of the most shameful parts of the whole thing. 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 -- and other people. but the truth came out, and we now know that these four men
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died in battle, fighting for their country. let me take one more question. do you want to ask? one okay. >> is it true that president kennedy felt personally guilty for not ordering the secondary air strike? he made it clear he was upset with the cia over the failure of the bay of pigs because he fired many of the heads of the cia afterwards. >> that's right. he fired alan dulles. he fired richard bissell. and he fired charles, who was the second in command at the cia. he thought the cia had misled him. but the cia was scapegoating, and i don't mean that to be highly critical. even before the invasion, arthur slash unger wrote a memo saying if something bad should happen, someone's neck has to go on the chopping block and it can't be the presidents. so it was the cia, and that's
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partly the job of the cia. they have to take the heat when things like this happen, and it was their baby, and basil, it was the end of his career certainly. he went and worked at a corporation in connecticut for the rest of his life, and it changed the lives of many people in the cia whose careers basically ended with that. kennedy's goal was to shatter the cia into 1000 pieces. he didn't do that, but he was very upset. do we have time for one more? one more question here, and then -- >> just to ask you, does the book explore the issue as to why allen dulles was in puerto rico, left to run probably one of the most high-profile operations the cia had planned and many, many years to geo,
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richard bissell who was an underling of his? is there any information on that situation? >> it was an invitation that had been crawford to dallas many years before. and dulles's papers i found the note from the young presidents association. it was a retreat for young american executives and the invited island dulles to come talk. dallas went because it was thought that if he didn't go, it would be a tip off to castor that the invasion was about to happen, and if they did go to puerto rico, it would be one more indication that the united states had nothing to do with this. as early as the 18th, they were saying dallas was intentionally in puerto rico so he could run the operation from there. that's not true. dallas did give the speech at the same time the chips were exploding in the bay of pigs.
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he really didn't know much about what happened until they came back that evening and learned at the airport about how things were going. then he told his aide, let's go get a stiff drink and that's how he handled that. i think we need to cut it off here. can we do any more questions? >> i don't understand how if everybody in the world knew that this was going to happen, the cia didn't know cast drew new? they not have anyone in the castro organization at the time? if everybody knew, then how did dallas not knew that everyone knew? >> yes. 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 no one whatever suspect the united states.
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it's just that they wanted enough deniability to hide behind that so khrushchev was not put in a position where he -- . do you understand? because it was obvious that the united states was behind this, khrushchev would have no choice, for his own political reasons, but to escalate the problem 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. you certainly don't want to be a president during the cold war. you were faced minute by minute with life or death decisions that are incredibly difficult. the point, when people write about the bay of pigs, there is so much anger over history and a lot of blame goes around.
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i impression was that most of the people involved in this and all ends are 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 it was a very difficult thing to do, and the way they did it was not the right way. what's the answer should have been still isn't really clear to me. should kennedy have thrown in the u.s. military entirely,? we could say yes to that, but we have to ask what would happen afterwards. but if marines had gone into cuba? in april 1961, it's hard to know how the game would have played out. what we know is what happened, and what happened was a tragedy. thank you all for coming tonight. [applause] [applause] [applause]
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next on american history tv, historian vince hotan discuss the thames by the u.s. government to overthrow cuban


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