The Bay of Pigs set a low standard for America interventionism. 50 years ago today, the Bay of Pigs landing was supposed to free Cuba from Fidel Castro’s rule, and deliver a blow to communism in the region. But on April 17, 1961, the operation turned into a massive defeat for the United States, and got the Kennedy administration off to a horrific start. Of course, it wasn’t the last time that forming regime change in a foreign land became tougher than the U.S. first imagined.
In 1961, the Kennedy White House made its first major policy decision, by helping anti-Castro Cuban exiles set up an invasion. Trained by the CIA, the guerilla forces were expected to overwhelm Castro’s troops, take back the country, and reverse its course as a Soviet ally.
However, when the soldiers landed at the Bay of Pigs, on the southern coast of Cuba, the operation went rather differently. Castro’s air force had been bombed two days earlier, yet there was still enough left to overwhelm the troops on their arrival. By the next day, it became clear the mission had no chance of success — at least without direct U.S. intervention.
Yet President John Kennedy already realized that he had been “so stupid” in approving the operation, and decided to offer no further help. It prevented a larger war from breaking out, yet it doomed the remaining exiles, and fueled the opposition’s view that he was weak and soft on communism.
Due to the immense failure, Cuba was still under communist control, and Castro and the Soviet Union had a major propaganda victory. Later, it looked like the failure would lead to nuclear war, once the USSR began putting nuclear missiles into Cuba.
The inability to remove Castro, both at the Bay of Pigs and in the Cuban Missile Crisis, may have made a lot of enemies for Kennedy. In fact, it is one of the many conspiracy theories around his death, alleging that either anti-communist zealots, or Castro himself, helped to kill him as payback for what happened in 1961.
50 years later, the Cuban government is still under Castro control, albeit not under Fidel’s. His brother Raul is now the president, now that Fidel is ailing. But he is holding a sweeping celebration for today’s anniversary, to help overshadow their current economic crisis.
While the Bay of Pigs has inspired a national holiday in that nation, it is a more reflective occasion here in America. Given the controversial decision and failure to achieve regime change — and the efforts to do so in the Middle East today — it is hardly a joyous anniversary for the U.S. and its foreign policy.
Jim Rasenberger- “The Bay of Pigs: A Brief Timeline: Five Days in April, 1961”
Fox News- “The Bay of Pigs, 50 Years Later: ‘How Could We Have Been So Stupid?'”
National Enquirer- “The Question Remains….Who Killed JFK?”
ABC News- “Cubans Mark 50th Anniversary of Failed Bay of Pigs Invasion”