The Bay of Pigs, by Howard Jones, a University of Alabama history professor, is a readable and concise study of the events leading to the military and political disaster in April 1961. It was the first major public mistake of the Kennedy administration, and its rippling effects are still being felt.
Relations with Cuba remain hostile 47 years later, nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War. The power of Cuban-American voters in South Florida affects presidential races, and the 1962 trade embargo remains in effect.
The plan to overthrow Fidel Castro's dictatorship in Cuba was conceived in the Eisenhower administration and continued to its disastrous birth under Kennedy. Jones writes that the original plan, which sited the invasion in eastern Cuba, was seriously flawed and then was made worse when the invasion was shifted to the Bay of Pigs in the west.
He calls the attempt to maintain "plausible deniability" the overriding mistake, but the mistakes form a blueprint of what not to do: The plan was not properly thought through. The CIA headed the military operation instead of the Pentagon. The invading force was too small. There were too many pre-invasion leaks. There was no local population to join an uprising, and no exit strategy.
Worst, Jones declares, our leaders in Washington have not learned from the mistakes of the Bay of Pigs: "Just as America's strategists in the 1960s failed to adequately assess the number of troops needed to fight Castro, so did they repeat the same mistake later in that same decade and again forty years afterward when sending American troops into Vietnam and Iraq."
In keeping with the governmental tradition of rewarding the guilty, in 1962 Kennedy awarded Richard Bissell, chief architect and manager of the debacle, the National Security Medal.
This book should be must reading for our two presidential candidates and their staffs.
Jules Wagman, last book editor of the old Cleveland (Ohio) Press, reviews books in Jacksonville.