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Why the Bay of Pigs Invasion Went So Wrong

May 6, 2019 in History

By Christopher Klein

A series of poor decisions and mistakes led to one of the worst foreign policy failures in American history.

Before the break of dawn on April 15, 1961, a squadron of eight B-26 bombers piloted by Cuban exiles roared down a Nicaraguan airstrip on a secret mission. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and President John F. Kennedy hoped the Bay of Pigs Invasion would result in the overthrow of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. But the operation that unfolded over the next five days became one of the greatest military fiascoes in American history.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower had first sanctioned the covert CIA operation in 1959 to topple Castro, who had nationalized American industries and strengthened ties with the Soviet Union after leading a revolution that ousted the pro-American military dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Bay of Pigs Invasion (TV-14; 1:41)

The Plan, and Why It’s Called the Bay of Pigs Invasion

The plan called for an initial air strike to wipe out Castro’s small air force, followed by the amphibious landing of 1,400 Cuban expatriates at the Bay of Pigs, an inlet of the Gulf of Cazones on the southern coastline of Cuba. The ex-pats had been trained by the CIA in Guatemala and Florida. Once the insurgents established a beachhead, a provisional government of exiled Cubans would fly there from Miami, declare themselves the country’s rightful leaders and invite the United States to send in troops to assist in the operation to depose Castro.

When the plan, codenamed Operation Zapata, was presented to John F. Kennedy just weeks after he took the oath of office, the newly inaugurated president ultimately gave it his approval. Jim Rasenberger, author of The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, doesn’t believe that military planners pressured the new president into making a decision against his better judgment. “I think Kennedy knew very well what he was getting into, but he was in a tough place,” he says.

During the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy had repeatedly called for American intervention in Cuba. “Incredibly, Kennedy got elected by outflanking Richard Nixon as an anti-communist hawk. He beat up the Eisenhower administration for allowing Castro to come to power and not doing anything about it. So he became president in large part because of his anti-communist rhetoric, and he didn’t …read more


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