5.0 out of 5 stars A Story that Demands to be Told Honestly – A PAGE TURNER – 5 STARS for Jim Rasenberger
April 10, 2011
It is very strange that a story as important as this one has simply not received either the historical attention or public attention that it deserves. Very simply, President Kennedy's people will tell you that prior to entering office, JFK was briefed in a meeting with Eisenhower about plans for CIA trained Cuban exiles (some 1400 in number) to invade Cuba and foment a revolution against Castro. Eisenhower's people deny that this ever happened.
Since JFK entered office on January 20th, 1961, and the Bay of Pigs occurred in early April, just a shade over two months later, it is highly likely that the invasion was planned during the previous administration. Seventy days is far too short a period to plan, train for, and execute such an operation. Nevertheless, President Kennedy must take and did take full responsibility for the mission and its failure.
The embarrassment was extensive, and as the President said to then CIA Director Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell who was Deputy Director for Plans, if this were a Parliamentary form of government, it would be me leaving office, but it is a democracy and therefore you and Dulles will suffer. Dulles and Bissell over a period of months were quietly forced into retirement.
Strangely, there have been only two real books written on the Bag of Pigs invasion in the last 50 years. One was by Haynes Johnson in 1964 while the other by Peter Wyden was done in 1979. The author of this book had access to two new sources of information. The first is the national Security Archives which are kept at George Washington University, and the second is the CIA Inspector General's report on the invasion which was written right after the failed invasion, but remained classified until recently.
It is my belief that with the traffic early death of President Kennedy history seems to be completely biased towards his administration. This is completely understandable since so many of his loyalists were previously associated with universities, and when they returned to academia after their government service it was these same advisors who wrote the history of this period.
The book is a superb chronological, minute by minute account of the invasion day by day. It is spellbinding. It reads like a novel, only better because it is true. At 480 pages, it is not long enough to tell you the whole story but long enough to rivet you to your seat while you read it. When reading the book it becomes clear that there is something called institutional memory in government, which probably lasts about 20 years.
After two decades elapse, most of the lessons that must be learned from that period are forgotten. It is clear that our government like other governments simply does not learn from its own mistakes. Harvard historian and philosopher George Santayana use to say, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and this becomes clear once again with the lessons to be drawn from the Bay of Pigs.
The CIA was for the invasion, and Kennedy's entourage of advisors were completely for it with the exception of one man, Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger. Although the Bay of Pigs was under CIA supervision, the Joint Chiefs signed off on the operation, and told the young President that they thought it would work. JFK to his death told many people afterwards that “I never asked the right question.”
Remember there were less than 1500 Cuban exiles involved and they were supposed to incite a revolution against Castro that would pick up steam as they headed for Havana and supposedly thousands of disgruntled Cubans would join the exile group and take back the country. So what was the question that Kennedy should have asked?
He should have looked the Joint Chiefs in the eye and said, “I want to make this an American operation, forget the exiles, how many marines do we need to send in?” The Joint Chief's response would have been 250,000. JFK would have immediately recognized that he had been had. He would have thought, they are telling me that I need 250,000 marines to do the job that they are also saying 1500 exiles can handle. He would have immediately canceled the operation. He simply never asked the right question.
The Concept of GROUP THINK
When studying the Bay of Pigs decision making processes, Professor Irving Janis asked the question how could potentially the smartest men ever to serve in government completely fall in line, and give the President some horrible advice. Simply no one stood against the President's decision despite the seeming absurdity of the plan in light of what happened. Janis came up with the concept of GROUP THINK to explain this phenomenon, and it has been studied ever since. Janis used several phrases to describe what happens and happened during the Bay of Pigs. They included:
* JFK never failed at anything
* His people felt too blessed by their brains and breeding
* Too confident in their collective brilliance
* They were a little tentative being in office just 60 days
* New to their jobs
* Anxious to fit in
* Needed to impress one another
* Went along to get along
The only one to stand against all of these individuals was Arthur Schlesinger, the Harvard professor who later when asked why you didn't speak up more forcefully against the operation when you had a chance, responded in the following way. He viewed himself as a college professor, he was fresh to government, and he felt completely uncomfortable putting his unassisted judgment in an open meeting against that of such august figures as the Secretaries of Defense, State and the Joint Chiefs. This was especially true in light of the fact that each of them was speaking with the full weight of their respective institutions behind them.
The result of all of this was the complete destruction of the Cuban exile group. Those who were not killed were taken prisoner by Castro. The United States found itself completely embarrassed, at first denying involvement with the exiles, but later taking full responsibility for the invasion.
Yes, you will love this book which is hard to put down as a reader. You will read it and only when you have finished it, will you marvel that it is a true book, not a spy novel. In the end you will start to realize the importance that the Bay of Pigs had on all history to follow including but not limited to:
* Massive impact on the Cuban missile crisis.
* Berlin wall being built
* Viet Nam involvement, build-up, subsequent tragedy
* President Kennedy's death itself which is still being explored with additional documents to be released in the next few years
* President Nixon's election
* President Nixon's Watergate decisions
The history that is the Bay of Pigs is not just about the Bay of Pigs but has impacted all American history since its failure. Is it not clear that the advisors in George W. Bush's Administration learned nothing from the Bay of Pigs regarding our invasion of Iraq? It's as though they threw out the history books, and said it doesn't matter. The Brilliant Disaster is a book that cries out to be read and I thank you for reading this review.
Phi Beta Iota: JFK did get good advice from the Marine Corps Commandant. JFK was also assassinated by people trained by the CIA and probably using CIA forged Secret Service credentials. As time passes, more and more details are coming out with respect to elements of the US Government being out of control–while other elements of the US Government–notably Congress–failed to live up to their Article 1 responsibilities.
“Shoup advised against both the Bay of Pigs invasion and the commitment of U.S. ground forces in the Vietnam War. When the invasion of Cuba was first discussed, Shoup did a demonstration with maps. Placing a transparent map of Cuba over the United States, he surprised viewers that assumed it was a small island, not 800 mile long. He then put another transparent map overlay over Cuba, with a small red dot. Shoup explained that dot was the size of Tarawa, and “it took us three days and eighteen thousand Marines to take it.” David Halberstam said Shoup became John F. Kennedy's favorite general, but Kennedy did not take Shoup's warning.”
Halberstam, David (1972), The Best and the Brightest, Random House, pp. 66-67