Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
Was President John F. Kennedy a
bleeding-heart liberal who was soft on communism? Was he leading the free world
to ruin? Was he bankrupting our economy with socialistic economic policies? Did
he lose his nerve during the
President Kennedy's handling of the
Shortly after taking office, President
Kennedy approved a CIA plan to invade
The invasion began on the morning of April
15, 1961, when eight American-supplied B-26 bombers flown by exile pilots
departed from an airfield in
Two days later, on April 17, Brigade 2506,
consisting of about 1,500 Cuban exiles, landed on the beach at the
Kennedy felt terrible about the failure of the invasion. At the White House he privately expressed his grief and regret to leaders of the Cuban exiles. On the evening of April 19, Jackie Kennedy told a close relative that her husband had practically been in tears all day over the failure of the operation. Bobby Kennedy reported he had never seen his older brother as upset as he was when it became obvious the brigade was going to be defeated. One Kennedy aide wrote that the vision of the freedom fighters gunned down on the beaches or hauled off to Castro's prisons "haunted him that week and many weeks to come" (8:285).
Answering Some Common Questions
* Why did Kennedy scale back the number of planes for the first air raid from sixteen to eight?
JFK did so in the interest of plausible
deniability. After all, this was supposed to be a covert operation. No
one was supposed to know the
* Why was the invasion handled as a covert
operation? Why didn't Kennedy just openly invade
The principal reason JFK simply didn't
"send in the Marines" was that he had no legal basis for doing so
under international law. A
* Why didn't Kennedy authorize the second air strike as planned?
According to most historians, Secretary of
State Rusk persuaded Kennedy to cancel the second air strike until it could be
made to look like the planes came from captured Cuban airfields. This was
consistent with the invasion plan itself, which called for the second air raid
to appear to be coming from Cuban defectors who were flying from the beach
airstrip. There were undoubtedly other factors that influenced Kennedy and
Rusk. As mentioned, the first air attack caused an international uproar, and
Rusk undoubtedly played a major part in the
cancellation of the second air strike, but Adlai Stevenson's role in the
cancellation also warrants consideration. At the time of the invasion,
Stevenson, already a senior Democratic figure and the party's previous
presidential nominee, was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. When the
invasion began, he presented to the U.N. the administration's assurances of
non-intervention on behalf of the
In any case, most observers now agree that a second air strike definitely would not have guaranteed the operation's success, in part because the CIA's planning of the invasion was incompetent and unrealistic. The invasion force consisted of 1,500 men, a small amount of armor, and some artillery, whereas Castro's army had over 200,000 men, dozens of heavy tanks, and plenty of artillery. Unless the CIA planners were counting on American air support, which even Eisenhower had opposed, how could they have believed the exile brigade had a realistic chance of winning? The Agency's execution of the invasion was equally incompetent. Indeed, many of the exiles themselves were furious at the CIA for what they viewed as its bungling of the attack (4:271). So even if there had been a second air strike, the operation's success still would not have been guaranteed.
It should also be noted that the initial reports on the first air strike said it had been mostly successful, that it had destroyed almost all of Castro's air force (5:94). Thus, perhaps with these reports in mind, and concerned about plausible deniability and the uproar that the first raid had caused, President Kennedy probably felt it was both safe and prudent to cancel the second air attack. Nevertheless, when subsequent events proved that the first raid had not destroyed enough of Castro's air power, Kennedy reauthorized a second air strike. It was scheduled for Sunday night, April 17. Unfortunately, there was a thick cloud cover that night, which made it impossible to carry out the raid (6:301; 5:127-128). Moreover, after it became apparent that too many of Castro's planes had survived, JFK authorized the B-26s to bomb at will, and on the afternoon of the invasion one bombing raid destroyed an entire battalion of Castro's forces (5:120-128).
Before moving on, I should point out that
some researchers do not believe Kennedy was the one who cancelled the second
air strike. According to these writers, the second air raid was cancelled by
one of three people: Secretary of State Rusk, special presidential assistant McGeorge Bundy, or General Charles Cabell, the deputy
director of the CIA, with Bundy being the most likely candidate. Support for
this view comes from the report on the
* Why didn't Kennedy authorize American air support as the situation on the beach grew worse?
This would have been an act of war
tantamount to sending in
Furthermore, shortly after the exile force
landed at the Bay of Pigs, Soviet Premier Khrushchev sent a strongly worded
message to Kennedy blaming the U.S. for the entire operation and threatening to
"render to the Cuban people and their government all necessary
assistance" to repel the invaders (emphasis added). If JFK had
intervened with air strikes against
Even if Kennedy had authorized American air
strikes, these alone would not have been enough to defeat Castro's army, unless
they were massive and prolonged in scope. Naval bombardments also might have
been needed. On the other hand, while limited American air and naval support
probably would have stopped the counterattack of Castro's forces, eventually we
would have had to land a sizable contingent of U.S. Marines or Army combat
troops to finish the job. Whether Kennedy had approved large-scale air and
naval attacks or opted for limited air and sea support followed by the landing
Now that we have addressed the most commonly asked questions concerning Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion, let us discuss some important facts about the operation that are often overlooked by his critics.
CIA Deception: A Major Factor
The CIA brazenly misled President Kennedy
about the nature of the operation and about its chances for success. For
example, the CIA told Kennedy the invasion could not really fail because there
was a contingency plan for the freedom fighters to escape into the
The CIA never told JFK that the Joint Chiefs
of Staff were worried about the landing sight. The Joint Chiefs did not think
President Kennedy was by no means the only
one who was misled by the CIA. The freedom fighters themselves were given all
sorts of wishful assurances and false information by their CIA handlers. The
CIA officers at the brigade's training bases in
Planning and Execution
Because of the CIA's poor logistical planning, the exile troops ran out of ammunition. The CIA put all the ammunition and most of the communications equipment, gasoline, and medical supplies on a single ship, which was destroyed by one of Castro's T-33 jet trainers shortly after the invasion began. Then, without consulting the president, CIA officials cancelled a convoy that was to bring more ammunition (1:313).
The CIA failed to adequately scout the
beaches at the
As mentioned, on April 19, President Kennedy
approved a one-hour flight of American jets to cover an attack by four B-26s
from the brigade's base in
The CIA did not attempt to activate the
underground resistance in
CIA director Allen Dulles later claimed the CIA had never counted on a "spontaneous revolt" to assist the invasion, and many Agency defenders subsequently adopted this view. For example, Mario Lazo said, "The CIA never viewed the operation as one in which the landings would at once touch off a widespread insurrection in a police-state" (7:277). Of course, this does not explain the CIA's failure to alert the underground in time. Moreover, exile leaders Manuel Artime and Pepe San Roman, along with other prominent members of the brigade, disputed the claim that the CIA had not expected a large-scale uprising. Indeed, according to the exiles, they were told by the American intelligence officer at the brigade's base in Guatemala that a CIA intelligence estimate predicted that in the first two days of fighting five thousand men would join them in a voluntary uprising (5:84-85). Kennedy aides Ted Sorenson and Arthur Schlesinger did not agree with Dulles's recollection either. Both men said the CIA presented the anticipated uprising as an integral part of the invasion plan (6:303; 8:247-248). There is no longer credible doubt that senior CIA officials were counting on an uprising as a key part of the invasion.
New Disclosures About the CIA and the
A few years ago, the CIA finally released
the formerly sealed CIA report on the reasons for the failure of the
* Even after the CIA knew the invasion had little chance of success, CIA officials misled the White House into believing that success was "still likely." At "some point in this degenerative cycle," according to the report, "they [CIA officials] should have gone to the president and said frankly" that the invasion should be halted. (15:12)
* JFK's cancellation of the second airstrike was not the chief cause of the invasion's failure (15:12). Furthermore, the proposal for a second air strike was presented to Kennedy under "ill-prepared, inadequately briefed circumstances," which "better CIA planning, organization, staffing and management would have avoided" (15:12).
* The invasion operation plans were predicated on the belief of senior CIA officials that the invasion would "trigger an uprising" against Castro (15:12). Following the invasion debacle, Dulles and others denied telling Kennedy the invasion would be quickly followed by an uprising of the Cuban people; they also denied that the invasion plans were based on the assumption that such an uprising would occur. The Kirkpatrick Report refutes these claims.
* When Kirkpatrick completed the report, CIA director John McCone ordered Kirkpatrick to turn over the distribution list for all 20 copies of the report. "Most of them," notes Kornbluh, "were retrieved and burned; the copies that remained were locked away in the director's office" (15:15).
* The two principal managers of the invasion plans, CIA operative Jacob Esterline and Marine Col. Jack Hawkins, believed that Richard Bissell, the CIA's Deputy Director of Plans, had misled Kennedy as well as themselves (15:8). They "determined that he [Bissell] had misled them--and the president" (15:8). Bissell was the principal architect of the invasion plan.
* According to Col. Hawkins, Bissell "ignored the emphatic advice given him by the Chief WH/4 and the Paramilitary Chief that a landing at the Bay of Pigs would be disastrous and should be cancelled" (15:8).
* Bissell was "responsible for agreeing to the changes in landing sites, and the reduction of air strikes ordered by the new president" (15:8).
* The report reveals for the first time that
a CIA-Mafia assassination plot against Castro was "an explicit component
* During the post-invasion investigation, Bissell revealed to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy in May 1961 that the CIA's "associated planning" for the Bay of Pigs included "the use of the underworld against Castro" (15:10). It was Bissell who approved the CIA-Mafia plot to kill Castro (15:8).
* When CIA officials attempted to shift some of the blame onto the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chiefs replied that the final invasion plan was presented to them only orally, which prevented normal staffing; that they had considered the operation as being solely the CIA's; that it had been their understanding that full air support would be furnished; and that CIA officials had assured them that a great number of Cuban insurgents would immediately join up with the invasion force as soon as the invasion began (15:53).
* CIA officials, including Bissell and his deputy Tracy Barnes, were furious with Kirkpatrick's findings. Gen. Cabell, the deputy director, said that in "unfriendly hands" the report could be used to discredit the CIA and threaten its future.
In June 1961 Kennedy and Soviet Premier
Khrushchev held a two-day conference in
The crisis continued to grow. In the early
part of July, Khrushchev said he was increasing the Soviet defense budget by a
whopping one third, and he repeated his threat to seal off
President Kennedy went on to say that he intended to match the drastic increase in the Soviet defense budget. He called for an additional 3.2 billion dollars in defense spending and upped the Army's strength from 875,000 to nearly a million soldiers. He also asked for a huge increase in non-nuclear weapons and civil defense preparations. In addition, the president announced he would double or even triple draft calls, and that he would put some reserve and National Guard units on active duty status.
The July 25 speech was a masterpiece. In it Kennedy showed firmness and courage, and the American people responded favorably to it. Opinion polls indicated the public strongly backed Kennedy's tough stance. Mail to the White House was overwhelmingly supportive (4:304).
The next phase of the crisis came at 12:30
A.M. on August 13 when East German troops set up roadblocks around
Three days later, on August 16, Kennedy sent
Vice President Johnson and retired General Lucius
In October, after the East Germans had
harassed the access route to West Berlin on several occasions, Soviet and
American tanks lined up face to face, two rows deep, across the East-West
Some conservative commentators have
suggested Kennedy should have authorized U.S. Army forces in
President Kennedy's handling of the
There were several
lessons to be learned from the
The Cuban Missile Crisis
On October 16, 1962, President Kennedy
learned there was photographic evidence the Russians had offensive missiles in
The quarantine went into effect at 10:00
A.M., Wednesday, October 24. The whole world held its breath to see what would
happen next. Kennedy administration officials, including Robert Kennedy, felt
the world was on the verge of nuclear war. There were reports that twenty-five
Soviet ships and some submarines were en route to
Once again, Kennedy had stood eyeball to eyeball with Khrushchev, and once again the Soviet leader had backed down. There were compromises made behind the scenes by both sides. Publicly, however, Khrushchev was humiliated. Yet, Kennedy was careful not to rub Khrushchev's nose in the dirt over the matter. He ordered his advisors to exercise restraint. He reminded them that it must have been very hard for Khrushchev to back down, and he cautioned against any public claims of an American victory.
JFK and National Defense
No one familiar with the facts could accuse President Kennedy of having been soft on defense. His defense proposal in 1963 actually only called for a cut in the growth of the defense budget in 1963 (10:33). Since U.S.-Soviet relations had begun to improve, Kennedy saw no need to continue his huge military buildup at the furious pace of the preceding two years. Furthermore, a large share of the reduction was to come from closing down unnecessary military bases. The president's proposed slowdown in the growth of defense spending would not have endangered national security.
The fact is that President Kennedy was strong on national defense. I again quote JFK critic Reeves:
. . . Kennedy
presided over the largest and most rapid military expansion in
There are many other facts that prove President Kennedy was strong on national defense. For example, Kennedy:
* More than doubled the acquisition rate of Polaris submarines.
* Doubled the production capacity for Minuteman missiles.
* Increased by fifty percent the number of manned bombers standing ready on fifteen-minute alert.
* Doubled the number of ready combat divisions in the Army's strategic reserve.
* Increased the active naval fleet by more than seventy vessels.
* Approved a 14.4 percent pay increase for members of the armed forces in 1963.
JFK's Economic Policy
Since most current Democrats who hold government positions believe in higher taxes and seem to be hostile to American business, many people assume President Kennedy was the same way. He most assuredly was not. John F. Kennedy was arguably one of the most pro-business, pro-growth, fiscally conservative presidents we have ever had.
None other than conservative stalwart and Heritage Foundation president Edwin J. Feulner has said, "John F. Kennedy pushed through Congress legislation dramatically lowering marginal tax rates, and produced the growth spurt that would later fuel Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty" (9:5). Feulner adds that Kennedy understood that a "growing economy" must precede the expansion or creation of government assistance programs (9:5).
Jack Kemp, one of the leaders of the modern conservative movement, has said that Kennedy's economic program was a major, successful "experiment with growth oriented tax reduction" (11:59). JFK's tax cuts, says Kemp, "not only forestalled a widely anticipated recession, but launched the economy on a prolonged period of prosperity. . . ." (11:59).
Donald Lambro, a widely read conservative author and an expert on federal taxation and the economy, has praised Kennedy's economic policies:
Kennedy believed that cutting taxes would spur higher economic growth, business expansion and new jobs, and thus would produce more revenue for the government, not less, as some of his advisors had warned him and the Congress. The Kennedy tax cuts resulted in a sharp jump in economic growth, up by 5.8 percent in 1964, and by 6.4 percent in 1965 and 1966, without fueling inflation and/or higher interest rates. Not only did the tax cuts lead to higher real growth, but also the increased tax revenues that flowed from a surging economy led to a balanced budget by 1969--the last time that we have been able to balance the government's books. (14:20)
JFK critic Reeves acknowledges Kennedy's pro-business policies:
The Kennedy administration's policies on taxes, trade, and antitrust were in harmony with corporate tastes. From his conservative State of the Union message through the steel crisis, the president largely resisted the Keynesian appeals of Walter Heller and other liberal advisors. (4:333)
Not only did President Kennedy cut taxes and
strengthen our national defense, he also took steps to improve Soviet-American
relations, to help the poor and disadvantaged in our society, and to improve
* Signed Executive Orders increasing quantity and quality of surplus food distributed to jobless Americans and expanding Food for Peace Program to aid overseas needy.
* Started the Peace Corps to send American doctors and social workers to developing countries.
* Signed the Area Redevelopment Bill to aid communities with chronic unemployment.
* Proposed an American space effort greater than all previous efforts combined, and called for putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
* Signed a bill that extended Social Security benefits to five million people and that permitted people to retire with benefits at age 62.
* Signed the most comprehensive Housing Bill in history, initiating aid to middle income families and mass transportation users, and increasing urban renewal and elderly housing.
* Signed legislation to double the federal effort to fight water pollution.
* Signed the most comprehensive wheat and feed grain bill since 1938, which resulted in higher farm income and lower food surpluses.
* Increased the minimum wage for the first time since its inception.
* Signed an Executive Order to end racial discrimination in federal housing.
* Urged final action on Constitutional Amendment outlawing poll tax as a bar to voting--it became the 24th Amendment.
* Signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the first disarmament agreement of the nuclear age.
All of this is not to say that I agree with everything President Kennedy did. Nor is it to say that he was a perfect president. His personal morals certainly left much to be desired. My point is that though he had his faults, he was not a bleeding-heart, anti-business liberal. He was strong on national defense and pursued a pro-growth, pro-business economic policy. On balance, I would say his presidency was good for America.
1. Some researchers say six planes were used for the first air strike, but such authors as strongly pro-Kennedy Arthur Schlesinger to anti-Kennedy Mario Lazo put the number at eight.
2. Says Haynes Johnson, "Why such a vast majority of all the supplies needed for any success whatsoever was committed to one ship is a question still unanswered by the CIA" (5:113). I agree wholeheartedly with Harrison Livingstone's comments on this matter:
No president is in a position to review an entire plan for each of many operations. He is the Commander in Chief and cannot micromanage every detail. He could not have known that the . . . CIA would be so stupid as to put all the ammunition on one ship which was easily blown up with a few bullets from one small trainer jet plane. (3:43)
1. Robert Groden and Harrison Edward Livingstone, HIGH TREASON: THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY AND THE NEW EVIDENCE OF CONSPIRACY, Berkley Edition, New York: Berkley Books, 1990.
2. Jim Marrs, CROSSFIRE: THE PLOT THAT KILLED KENNEDY, New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1989.
3. Harrison Edward Livingstone, HIGH TREASON 2, New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1992.
4. Thomas C. Reeves, A QUESTION OF CHARACTER: A LIFE OF JOHN F. KENNEDY, New York: The Free Press, 1991.
5. Haynes Johnson, THE BAY OF PIGS: THE LEADERS' STORY OF BRIGADE 2506, New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1964.
6. Ted C. Sorenson, KENNEDY, New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1965.
7. Mario Lazo, DAGGER IN THE HEART: AMERICAN POLICY FAILURES IN CUBA, New York: Funk and Wagnells, 1968.
8. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., A THOUSAND DAYS: JOHN F. KENNEDY IN THE WHITE HOUSE, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965.
9. Edward J. Feulner, "Reading His Lips: How to Tell if Clinton Really Is a New Democrat," POLICY REVIEW, Winter 1993, pp. 4-8.
10. John F. Kennedy, THE BURDEN AND THE GLORY: THE HOPES AND PURPOSES OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S SECOND AND THIRD YEARS IN OFFICE AS REVEALED IN HIS PUBLIC STATEMENTS AND ADDRESSES, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1964.
11. Jack Kemp, AN AMERICAN RENAISSANCE: A STRATEGY FOR THE 1980'S, Falls Church, Virginia: Conservative Press, Inc., 1979.
12. Barry Goldwater, WITH NO APOLOGIES, New York: William Morrow and Company, 1979.
13. Barry Goldwater, with Jack Casserly, GOLDWATER, New York: Doubleday, 1988.
14. Donald Lambro, "Americans Can Keep Their Money Without Busting Budget: JFK Correct That Lower Tax Rates Would Produce Higher Revenues," HUMAN EVENTS, August 30 and September 6, 1996, p. 20.
15. Peter Kornbluh, BAY OF PIGS DECLASSIFIED: THE SECRET CIA REPORT ON THE INVASION OF CUBA, New York: The New Press, 1998.
THE AUTHOR: Michael T.
Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance
University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from
American Military University, a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts from
Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the
Community College of the Air Force. He also holds an Advanced Certificate
of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from