A balanced, engrossing account of the U.S.-backed invasion of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
On Apr., 17, 1961, a CIA-trained brigade of 1,400 Cuban exiles, mostly students and former soldiers, made an unsuccessful amphibious assault on the Bay of Pigs, in southern Cuba, hoping to spur a popular revolt and overthrow the Castro regime. Fifty years later, Rasenberger (America, 1908: The Dawn of Flight, the Race to the Pole, the Invention of the Model T and the Making of a Modern Nation, 2007, etc.) succeeds admirably in offering a nuanced view of the entire botched operation, from its planning in two U.S. administrations to the Cuban armed forces’ quick defeat of the exiles, whose attack lacked air cover and the element of surprise. Nicely re-creating the nation’s near-hysteria over the spread of communism in the period, the author traces Castro’s coming to power in 1959, his friendly-seeming early visits to America and Eisenhower’s first steps later that year as the “prime mover” behind planning to remove the bearded leader’s Communist regime. Drawing on previously classified documents, Rasenberger shows how John F. Kennedy, already on record as a foe of the Castro regime, took up the Cuban invasion plan upon election as president, but remained conflicted about it until the last minute, when he canceled planned air strikes for fear of revealing America’s clandestine role. The invasion—marked by “the twin sins of deceit and incompetence”—was doomed for many reasons. The Joint Chiefs, deeply involved in planning, failed to express misgivings about the military prospects; the CIA oversold the operation to Kennedy; and Castro was aware of a coming invasion, thanks to intelligence from his agents and reports in the New York Times. Yeoman efforts by White House aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Senator J. William Fulbright to halt the operation on moral grounds were to no avail. Rasenberger notes that since 1961 the United States has forcibly intervened in the affairs of nearly 25 nations.
Graceful, dramatic writing makes this well-worn story new again.