Skip to main content

tv   History Bookshelf Jim Rasenberger The Brilliant Disaster  CSPAN  July 8, 2021 6:09pm-7:11pm EDT

6:09 pm
deputy chief historian, and intelligenceyo study program director at catholic university for being with us here this morning. thank you, nicholas. >> thank you. it's been a pleasure. tens of thousands of anti-vietnam war protesters converged on washington, d.c., in may of 1971. more than 7,000 were arrested in a single day. tonight on american history tv we look back 50 years at the forces that collided on the capitol streets that spring with journalist lawrence roberts. he is the author of may day 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 here on american history tv on c-span3. next, jim rosenberger presents a history the bay of pigs crisis, the failed military invasion of cuba in 1961 that
6:10 pm
was supported by the u.s. government and resulted in the capture or death of more than 1,000 men. >> this evening books and books is very pleased to welcome mr. jim rasenberger and his book brilliant disaster, jfk, castro and america's doomed invasion of cuba's bay of pigs. mr. razenberger has written for "the new york times," "vanity fair," smithsonian, and the wilson quarterfinal among many other publications. his most recent book was america 1908 and he is also the author of high steel, the daring men who built the world's 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 hidden cia documents and delivers the vivid truth and consequences of those five
6:11 pm
pivotal days in april '61. please give a very warm welcome to mr. jim razenberger. [ applause ] >> 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 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. 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
6:12 pm
event and some deep knowledge of it, and i thank you for coming. i am honored to be here. now, this is a story that i wanted to tell for a long time. i think it's -- there are a number of reasons i wanted to tell to for a long time. the main reason is i think it's one of the most fascinating and important stooerz in modern american history. and i hope if you read the book you will 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 suspect 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. you are 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 those not
6:13 pm
familiar, let me go through a brief overview with a few basic facts. the bay of pigs was a five-day event that occurred in april of 1961. for those of you who were "mad men" fans, i think that's after season 1, 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 b 26 bombers flown by cuban exile pilots attacked castro's air fields. these planes bombed the air fields intending to destroy fidel castro's air force. two days later midnight april 17th the invasion began. about 1,400 men, again cuban
6:14 pm
exiles, known as brigade 2506 came ashore at the southern coast of cuba at the bay of pigs. the plan was to establish and hold a beach head and eventually spark an uprising against fidel castro. that was the plan 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 ever grade inland of the bay of pigs. and there they were rounded up by castro's soldiers and thrown into cuban jails. well, forecast cast who looked like the david who slade the yankee goliath this was a victory and it's still a victory
6:15 pm
that cubans celebrate today. i was in cuba 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 in 50th anniversary they will be marking with a parade, with all sorts of celebrations. i am not expecting too many celebrations here. and 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 that the united states had nothing to do with this, it was just the exiles that had gone in on their own. that didn't last long and soon the whole world knew the truth, which was that the brigade had
6:16 pm
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. suffered since the war of 1812. that was about the kindest thing anybody said. everyone agreed 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 in other parts of the world. the bay of pigs turned out to be sort of a curtain-razor on a whole new era of troubled intervention, an era we are still in today. but one count the united states
6:17 pm
engaged in no fewer than two dozen forceful interventions after 1961. and that's not including our 21st century entanglements in afghanistan and iraq and libya. given these other interventions since the bay of pigs 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 perhaps. an appetizer before this huge feast of troubled interventions. add to this the fact that it lasted just five days and it 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 and it has everything to recommend it for oblivion. here is the thing. it changed this country in some very important ways. it changed how americans look at their government and it changed how the rest of the world looked
6:18 pm
at us. prior to the bay of pigs it would have been a cynical american who doubted that 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 on to. it had the decision tinks of making the united states look both bullying and weak. this is what kennedy's aide wrote in his journal after the invasion. we're not only look like imperialists, we look like ineffectual imperialists. we look stupid, which is worst f all. in many ways, the 1960s, that decade of questioning authority, began with the bay of pigs. this was the first step into the vietnam era. even before vietnam. actually, what you may not realize, what i did not realize
6:19 pm
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 in 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, no finger-pointing, not trying to blame anyone, not trying to exonerate anybody. just trying to find out as best i could the truth. so with that goal in mind i began 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.
6:20 pm
so i begin 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 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 more like an invasion in its own right. a charm offensive. he and his bearded entourage arrived in washington loaded with cuban cigars and cuban rum and he spent most of the visit hugging and smiling and saying all the right things. there were some americans, including some in the eisenhower administration, including dwight eisenhower himself, who had pretty serious concerns about
6:21 pm
eisenhower. mainly that he was a communist in the making. but many found him to be quite charming and charismatic. after a few days in washington 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 where 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 and none of these turned out to be real but the police didn't know that and castro was completely impossible to protect. he would throw himself into crowds, hugging and kissing 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. the new york city police followed.
6:22 pm
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 through the cage and petted a bengal tiger on the head. this was the sort of thing that castro did that made people think he was a little crazy. besides trying to safe him from assassins and tigers, americans tried to desoifr his politics, which meant answer the question, was fidel castro a communist? you have to really in the late 1950s and early 1960s the battle against the so-called international communist conspiracy was the organizing principle on which american foreign policy was based. and 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
6:23 pm
out of of the kremlin, khrushchev was saying things like we will bury you. those were literally his words. they seemed more and more willing to use them. i emphasize this to point out that the spector of a communist country 90 miles from american shores was simply intolerable not just to conservatives like barry goldwater or 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 congressional subcommittee, by scores of journalists. dr. castro, are you a communist? and he answered the same every time. no, weighs 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 he had come to visit. an editorial in "the new york times" summed up the general
6:24 pm
attitude towards castro. 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. well, 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 am going to jump ahead a bit. suffice to say that castro immediately began behaving very much in a manner that seemed designed to provoke the american government. he started appropriating american property in cuba, delivering speeches with anti-american rhetoric, cracking down on cubaness who made 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
6:25 pm
communist that the eisenhower administration feared he was. within months washington decided that good relations with castro were going to be impossible. by the end of 1959, a year after castro came to power this cuba, the eisenhower administration was taken graefg steps. the irony after devoting millions of dollars and hundreds of men to protect him from assassins, the united states government began plotting his demise. generating these plots was the central intelligence agency. with encouraged 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 as some people thought he was. the drug wasn't specified in cia but it was probably lsd which the cia had done quite a of work with in the 1950s.
6:26 pm
if that sounds like something inspired by james bond. it may have been. dulles was a big james bond fan. 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 kennedy and somebody asked him sort of tongue-in-cheek if he had any ideas for offing fidel castro and he came up with this crazy plot that you would drop leaflets over havana advertising that radiation was in the air and radiation tend today cling to men's beards. the only way to get rid of the radiation would be to shave the beards. there are, all of castro's minions would shave their beards and lose their mystical power. well, dulles took this seriously. he tried to track down ian fleming but it was too late. he had already gone back to
6:27 pm
london. another method was to assassinate justify dell but his braer raul and shea goff air a. the more serious cia plan was approved by daunte white eisenhower later in the month. march 17, 1960. the plan developed by richard bissell, cia's famously brilliant director of plans, was to use some of the cubesens who had been fleeing castro to florida to return to cuba and overthrow him. the idea was to infiltrate the men on the island in small groups but that turned into a world war ii style amphibious invasion. the plan was never to overrun cuba and defeat castro's army of 25 or 30,000. rather, to land the brigade on a significant piece of cuban real estate and hold it for a length of time, maybe a week, up to ten
6:28 pm
days. and at some point the brigade would fly in a provisional government which the cia had assembled in miami being kept in a safe house at the time and then this government would set up shop on the beach declare itself the rightful government of cuba and what was supposed to happen after that was never all that clear. that plan sputtered out after that. the cuban population, the hope was, would rise up in support of the brig gid and help overthrow castro. another possibility was that the 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 at least quasi legally settle the matter. not long after eisenhower approved the plan the cia set up camp in the mountains of guatemala and built an airstrip nearby. in late spring the agency began
6:29 pm
to recruit cuban exiles mainly in miami and to transport, assemble and train them in guatemala. they came from an array of backgrounds. some former soldiers who serve inside batista's army, many students, many moderates or leftists who supported castro when he came to power but grew disenchanted with him as he became increasingly left and more acting like a communist. later lawyers, doctors, farmers, young and 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 that fidel castro was either going to be an opportunity or a problem for him. depending whether castro was still in power or gone by election day. now, in the fall of 1960 john
6:30 pm
kennedy was beating the eisenhower administration over the head with fidel castro. kern realized that no subject roused american voters more than the spector of a communist cuba and every whistle stop he reminded voters that the island was, quote, a near eight jet minutes away and he blamed eisenhower and company, including vice president nixon, for letting this happen. now, imagine being in the shoes of richard nixon. he had a pretty well earned reputation as a come news buster and along comes a democrat from massachusetts suggesting that he, richard nixon, was not quite anti-communist enough. it was galloning. kennedy managed to out-frank nixon as an anti-communist hog. probably the best example occurred in one of the nixon/kennedy television debates. not the first, the one that's most famous, but the fourth debate. it may have been the most
6:31 pm
important in the campaign. at the very least it offered a glimpse in 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 that the eisenhower administration was being neglect about castro and that they out to find a way to help anti-castro cubeens take up arms against castro. of course this was 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 and 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 because it was a covert operation, so he just had to shut up and let kennedy pretend the whole thing was his idea. well, that's probably what he should have done.
6:32 pm
that's not what nixon did. in the fourth debate he lashed out at kennedy's statement, denouncing that it's 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 explained this lie was painful but it was his, quote, uncomfortable and ironic duty and he added, from that point on i this the wisdom and weariness of someone who had been burned by the consensus. 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 a story for another time though. as we know, johnson kennedy got what he wished for. he became the 335th president of the united states.
6:33 pm
on january 20th 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 been briefed by dulles and bissell after he won the election. so 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 that 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 rid of castro in the future. this was true, by the way. so from day one the pressure was on kennedy to decide what he wanted to do and to decide quickly. that's fair to say that 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. and if it were not, it would pro vek castro's new friends the soviet union it take retaliatory action, most likely in west berlin, a city that khrushchev
6:34 pm
had been threatening to cut off from the west. kennedy didn't want to get into a risky gametit-for-tat with the soviets because that could lead to nuclear war. like everyone else, he can'ted castro gone. since he had criticized eisenhower about castro, he needed to do something. if he can sed the plan he'd look like a hypocrite. worse, he'd 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 about the chances of the cuban population rising up against castro. i don't think the cia was totally upfront. richard bissell later claimed, admitted, rather, that they sold too hard. i don't believe kennedy was fooled either.
6:35 pm
i think he knew more or less what he was getting into and he got into it anyway because he know how not to get into it. he painted himself into a corner during the campaign. by the way, most americans were in that same corner with him. everybody wanted castro gone. the operation moved forward almost inexorably through february and march and in early april after weeks of hemming and hawing president kennedy gave it the thumbs up. he held out the possibility of canceling but he never did. and i don't think there was ever a good chance he would have. and so back to where we began, the attack on the cuban air fields, the attack meant to destroy fidel castro's air force. i cover the invasion and aftermath in the book in great detail. it's hard to do it justice in a few minutes. so i'm afraid you have to read the book if you want to find the full story.
6:36 pm
for the moment i will 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 in fact. half a dozen of his planes. that was half a dozen too many. the following evening, april 16th, president kennedy canceled a second round of airstrikes that were scheduled for the morning of april 17th. these strikes were meant to complete the job of destroying castro's air force. now, why kennedy canceled them is a mystery. he had become the most common explanation he had become concerned about the public and international reaction stirred up by the first round of airstrikes. among other things, it had become clear to the whole world that the whole world realized that the united states was behind the air astacks almost the moment the first bombs fell on the 15th. and kennedy, as always, was very concerned about provoking something big, about lighting a match that would lead to a great
6:37 pm
nuclear conflagration. so with the advice of his secretary of state, dean rusk. >> he called off the airstrikes. now, among the cia planners when they discovered this on the evening of april 16th they were horrified. it had always been understood for the invasion to have a chance, castro's air force had to be taken out. it was axiom attic. the moment kennedy canceled, 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. those two sunken ships and away with the other four ships went the brigade's ammunition, much of its food and medical
6:38 pm
supplies, much of its communications equipment, and virtually any fighting clans the brigade had. now, this is not to suggest that if the second airstrikes had not been canceled the invasion would have ultimately achieved what either the cia or the brigade wanted it to achieve. but there is no question that at the moment those airstrikes were canceled it was over. which is why to this day many cuban ex siels who fought at the bay of pigs hold a deep animosity for john kennedy even 350 years later. the brigade was stranded on the beaches running out of ammunition and under constant bombardment as castro sent in his army, about 30,000 to draw from. by the 18th the brigade was withering on and on the 19th it came to an end. castro's troops swept in and the brigades scrambled for the squafrm but not before one last
6:39 pm
trjdy. april 19 four american pilots from the alabama air national guard who will been brought in to help train the brigade pilots flew from the brigade air base in nicaragua to cuba. the pilots had suffered numerous casualties and these americans volunteered to fly in their place. well, that morning their planes were shot down over cube 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 of the bay of pigs invasion. so i'm grateful for your help and for their help, and i'm grateful to all of you for coming and listening to me tonight. what i want to do now is give you a chance to ask any questions that you might have or
6:40 pm
make any brief comments. we've got c-span 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 to wants to say something, will get a chance to do so, okay? thank you very much. [ applause ] . i am going to start there with this gentleman right here. go ahead. >> your book is the first one of all the many, i have read them all, that mentions on the morning of january 28th 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
6:41 pm
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 beach head had been established. my question to you is, i know, because i have read it, that that wasn't the first plan. were you able to find out 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 beach head. >> yeah. that was always part of the original plan, that -- again, had was -- the idea was never that these 1,400 meaner men were going to take over cuba. some people think that. that wasn't the plan. the plan was they would set up this beach head and call for help. and that's why i haven't mentioned this, but there was a
6:42 pm
fleet of american aircraft just over the horizon during the brigade. an aircraft carrier and seven destroyers there to help out when they were called upon. one of those ships had 3 # thousand rifles to give to any cubeens who would want to join in the invasion. there were tanks on those ships. there were trucks on those ships. they were set just waiting for the word go to bring this equipment in and help the brigade out. >> the decision thatk john f. kennedy made at the bay of pigs, do you think that resulted in his assassination or played a part that decision? >> i think probably lee harvey oswald's mind it is. there is a question of whether fidel castro ordered it. lyndon johnson said something like castro knew that kennedy wanted to kill him, so he went and killed kennedy. i mean, so there is -- there was
6:43 pm
a lot of speculation that castro may have ordered this himself. castro denies it vehemently. we know that as walled visited the mexican -- the cuban embassy in mexico city 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 that he was doing fidel castro a favor by going after john kennedy. so indirectly, yes, i 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. over here, please. >> 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
6:44 pm
then if it was known that without the secondary airstrikes 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 portrayed 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, though you said there was no guarantee it would work, anything short of that would be a disaster. so it's hard to imagine that 14 lives will be sacrificed for whatever bigger picture. >> i am sure john kennedy never
6:45 pm
thought in those chilling terms. i am sure he never thought, well, i'll just sacrifice those 1,400 lives. i think what he wanted was to have his cake and eat it, too. he wanted an immaculate invasion. he wanted to invade cuba, 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 airstrikes. i don't think so. but i think the conflict within himself that he had 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. the cia knew that's what he had done. he had basically set them up to fail. but i guess i don't -- i have never seen anything that makes me think that he was cold
6:46 pm
hearted enough to do it intentionally. and we know that he did really feel very truly depressed about it afterwards. went into a deep key pregs. depression because i'm sure 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 he set these guys up to fail. >> i am told there were american warships there ready to assist in the invasion. there were tanks coming off carrier ships. >> right. >> there were, obviously, sophisticated weaponry that was into cuba in a large-scale invasion. how could anybody talk to an intelligent person like the pft the united states into saying we could deny we were behind it, the plot? even if we had won the war, the
6:47 pm
invasion, how could 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, the spy plane, 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 plausibly deny it. we can say, oh, yeah, we were there to help out if they asked us to help them. we were there as a friend but in no way behind it. we weren't the ones instigating
6:48 pm
it, we weren't the ones funding it so they can deny key parts of it and while accepting other parts of it. does that answer the question? this gentleman here. then i'll come to you. >> aside from the lack of air power and air cover, wasn't there -- did you find any information regarding the infiltration of the brigade by castro intelligence officers that already gave up the plan before they landed? >> i did not. but it's not -- that's not because it's not out there. 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 had probably had spies in guatemala. by the way, he just had to pick up the newspaper because there were newspaper reports about the -- about the training camps in guatemala. on january 10th "the new york
6:49 pm
times" ran a story which said that there were training camps in guatemala. it ended up not to be that bad for the cia because "the new york times" reporter was kind of fooled and thought that these soldiers were guatemalans rather than cuban exiles. nonetheless, castro knew something was coming. john kennedy made a press conference on the 12th 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 were coming any second. now, there is also, you may know, a story that somebody leaked to soviet intelligence the fact that -- the actual invasion date. that's probably true. there seems to be a lot of evidence for that. i don't know if it really made much of a difference because castro knew. he had been on high alert all winter, all spring. he was ready.
6:50 pm
he didn't sleep. he stayed up all night smoking cigars waiting for this to happen. when it happen, he sprang to action. he didn't know where it was going to happen. once he found that out, he was ready to go. this young woman here. >> i am the godmother of alan dulles' great-grandson and my husband is cuban. and when my -- i found out that my friends' last name was actually dulles and she knew my husband was cuban she asked me, can we still be friends? so what i'm something you is how liable is alan dulles for all of this? >> well, dulles, i don't think that cubans, the cuban exiles,
6:51 pm
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 that they were failing. dulles, for odd reasons, was not actually in the country when the invasion occurred. he was in portugal. but richard bissell got john kennedy to approve air cover. there was an enormous amount of american firepower offshore including a 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. remember the brigade is pinned down begging for hem. if you read the intercepts coming in from the beaches, they are just heart-wrenching. please help us. please come. we're dying here. rescue us. send in some planes, please.
6:52 pm
well, kennedy never did, and but the cia pushed for it. some people think bissell didn't push quite hard enough, but certainly dulles wanted that. so i think that certainly you and this woman could be friends. here, please. >> you just saw the series on television the kennedy series and in one of the segments they covered in detail this invasion. and two parts. my first part is, how accurate, if you saw that series -- >> yes. >> sorry. one of the things in that series, and again i don't know if it's true, but they said it was, would shock me, i lived through that invasion. and one of the things they said was that through the present day they acknowledge that the mistake -- one the mistakes they made was that there was a full moon on the night of the
6:53 pm
invasion. and i remember -- >> the opposite is true. >> that made no sense to me. >> it was moonless night. >> okay. obviously, the military strategy, they made a big point of that in the -- >> yeah. one of the other -- the -- that -- on the afternoon -- the morning. 15th, the cuban ambassador to the united nations also made the point that there were sunspots that day and somehow the cia was so diabolical that they arranged the invasion while there were sunspots to screw up radio communications or something. i don't know that much about the meteorology. but it was intentionally done on a moonless night. >> thank you. >> 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
6:54 pm
pigs? >> yes. >> because that was pivotal. >> yes. >> and 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 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? >> well, i certainly cover the fact that these people were rounded up. and it goes to the problem of hoping for a populous uprising against castro in cuba. anybody against cuba is either in jail or in miami. there weren't many left who were free in cuba who were against castro. >> we had seven members of our family go to bay of pigs. >> is that right? >> yes. they didn't send us because she was 5 and i was 5 1/2. otherwise, we would have gone, too.
6:55 pm
>> yes? >> i have seen a list that the brigade [ inaudible ] but only 1,200 to 1,400, i understand, landed. my uncle was part of the teams that were supposed to go in ahead of the invasion to help the resistance and, you know, 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 heard that the planes to bombed the air fields were painted in cuban colors to make it seem as though the planes were koenen themselves s that true? >> that is true. the plan was to try to make
6:56 pm
those air attacks look as if they had been carried out by castro's own pilots. so part of that plan was to have -- now, you got eight b-26 bombers flew to three cuban air fields. also a ninth b-26 flown by a pilot who flew fromnicaragua to miami, landed in a b-26 and claimed he was part of a conspiracy of cuban pilots who that morning bombed their own air fields and was coming to the united states. that fell apart very quickly 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 quickly. for example, he had his 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 airstrikes on
6:57 pm
the 16th. because once people realized that 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 to look like castro's planes. somebody over here. yes? >> in your opening remarks you referred to the fact that kennedy was concerned that -- about provoking russia by his actions in the bay of pigs invasion. do you go into that in the book? and what subsequently happened, because, you know, four or five months later the berlin wall went up. i'm sure that was triggered by his weakness in the bay of pigs. a eight months later vietnam exploded. that was all in consequence. when they detected that he was
6:58 pm
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 ate his lunch. kennedy afterwards said he thinks i'm stupid and weak because of what happened at the bay of pigs. and certainly you could make a connection then to khrushchev making this move to put up the berlin wall. although in some ways 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. >> and the same thing happened in asia. >> well, that's true. it was certainly -- kennedy was certainly very aware of that when he went to the summit. the repercussions of the bay of pigs just kept going.
6:59 pm
i mean, all through -- they really didn't end for kennedy until the cuban missile crisis. but, you know, a lot of things. vietnam war in many ways started on april 20th, the day after the bay of pigs. john kennedy needing ago victory against the communists ordered a task force in the pentagon to look for a bay to stop communism in south vietnam and quickly after that sent more men, 400 more men to vietnam. really the first step into the more as of vietnam began on the beaches of cuba. >> my mind, there must have been some sort of cause that caused kennedy to back away from the second airstrike. immediately after that first airstrike, are you aware or is there any documentation of any conversations between john f.
7:00 pm
kennedy and khrushchev immediately after that first airstrike? that may have caused john kennedy to back out? >> 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 really saying, if you value the lives of your people, you better back off. you know, in the cold war, the stakes were always so always sod i think that's why we have to have some sympathy for these presidents who served one -- they're always the few decisions away from nuclear war. at least they thought they were. so, khrushchev said, i can quote the letter, it's in the book, but, he better get out of cuba or were going to come after you. so, there were certain communications after that and kennedy didn't respond to that. yes? >> during a research, did you
7:01 pm
come across any documentation that after the election, the republican administration either wanted to back off or wanted to accelerated? >> there was a cia history down in the 19 seventies and he was, 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 maybe because eisenhower before that was afraid of doing something to mock up nixon's chances. it may be that he was just trying to hand kennedy a tough problem. i doubt it. but he did really try -- i think they wanted to do was handoff 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.
7:02 pm
it wasn't something that had to be done. so, he later tonight that he really had much responsibility for it. although remember, for a year, this plan a lived and i under eisenhower, and didn't live under kennedy for three months. i think we can take a few more questions. somebody who has not asked when yet. have you? go ahead, please. >> can you elaborate on the four alabama national guards, what's the history behind that? i don't think it was made clear that they had gone shot down for several years and what's the status of those gentlemen now? >> well, this woman here knows more about that and i do. her father was one of them. they had been brought in to train the cia pilots. they were meant to fly. i mean, there's always a backup plan that maybe they would be used to flying, but that rosen really their main function. and, it is true that when they were killed, the kennedy
7:03 pm
administration and in the cia denied that this happened. they come 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 wray, mainly, and other people, that is -- the truth came out and now we all know with the truth is. that these four men died in battle fighting for their country. let me take one more question, the you had one, do you want to ask one? okay. >> you said president kennedy felt personally guilty for not ordering the second air strike. but, he made it clear that he was upset with the cia over the failure of the bay of pigs because he fought with many the heads of the cia afterwards. >> that's, right he fired alan dollars, he fired richard basil and he fired charles cavil who
7:04 pm
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 though, you have to understand that was scapegoating. and i don't mean that has been highly critical, but before the invasion, arthur wrote a memo that saying, absolutely brow true taiwan, suburbs nick has to go on the chopping block and it can be the presidents. so, it was the cia's and this -- that's partly the job of the cia, you know? they have to take the heat when things like this happen. and they, you know, it was their baby and basil, it was the end of his career, certainly, he went and worked at a corporation in connecticut the rest of his life and it changed the lives of many people in the cia whose careers were basically, not just the top three guys, but ended with that.
7:05 pm
kennedys said he shattered the cia in 1000 pieces. he didn't do that but he was certainly upset. do we have time for one more? let's do one more question here and then we'll -- >> just ask you, this the book explore the issue of why allen douglass was in puerto rico, left to run probably one of the highest profile operations the cia had planned in many years to job is so, who was -- richard busily rather, who was an underling of his. was there any further delving into that situation? >> it was an invitation that had been offered to dulles many months before. in his papers, i found the invitation. it was from a young presidents association of america. basically, this was a retreat for young american executives and they had invited allen dulles to come and talk to them. and dulles went because it was something he didn't go, it would be a tip off to castro that the invasion was about to
7:06 pm
happen. and that if it 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, saying allen dulles was intentionally in puerto rico so you could run the -- but the list could give the speech at the same time that chips were exploding in the bay of pigs. that's a morning, he was trying to this group of young executives. and it is rather bizarre but it was thought to be the right thing to do. he really didn't know much about what was happening until he came back that evening. and learned at the airport how badly things were going. and then he told his aide, let's go get us to drink and that's how he handled that. i think we need to cut it off here. can we do any more questions? perhaps this lady. >> okay, yes. i don't understand >> if
7:07 pm
everybody in the world knew that this was going to happen, the cia didn't know that castro knew, did not have any people infiltrated in the castro organization at the time? if everybody knew, then how did dulles not know that everybody knew? >> yes. it goes back to the weird psychology of the cold war. everyone knew but again, it wasn't that they thought that they were going to get away and nobody whatever suspect the united states. it's just that they wanted enough deniability to hide behind that, really so that khrushchev wasn't put in a position where he had to escalate. you understand? because if it was too obvious that the united 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 reason, political reasons, to escalate somewhere else.
7:08 pm
so, that's how this worked. i worked on so many different levels. i mean, if there's one thing i learned writing this book is that, you don't want to be a president, certainly during the cold war. i mean, you were faced minute by minute with these life or death situations and they're incredibly difficult. i learned by saying that the port that -- the ruling that when people read by the bay of pigs, or talk about the bay of pigs, there's often so much anger involved and there has been over history. a lot of blame goes around. my impression was that most of the people involved in this on all lens we're 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 very difficult thing to do and the way they did it was not the right way. and now, you know, what's the answer should have been, still hasn't really clear to me.
7:09 pm
should jon kennedy have thrown in the u.s. military entirely into this? well, we can say yes to that but then we have to ask, what would've happened afterwards. what if he had done that. but if marines had gone into cuba? in april of 1961? it's hard to know how that game would've played out. would we do know is what happened and what happened was a tragedy. thank you all very much for coming tonight. i really appreciate it. thank you. [applause] [applause].
7:10 pm
november 2nd 1960, a new york times television river wrote, quote, an exciting new voice, provocative, sensible and challenging him to television last night doctor albert burke former director of graduate studies at yale university. next, on real america. we believe that broadcast with educational television pioneer, albert berke. using footage and interviews from cuba, berke argues that poverty, racism and economic exploitation by u.s. corporate interests and pre revolutionary cuba led to the popularity of fidel castro, who promised to make life better for his supporters.

23 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on