The Bay of Pigs

John F. Kennedy endured arguably the most highly pressurised start to his Presidency than any preceding President. The expectations Kennedy brought with him into office were ones of hope and prosperity for the American public all wanting to be part of the American Dream. The new decade of the 1960’s offered a great deal to the average American, consumerism was continuously growing, and unemployment was low. However issues such as equality for black American’s would be turned into a civil rights movement that dominated domestic affairs for the entire decade.

The immediate concern for President Kennedy when he took office was the suddenly growing Cuba problem, and was seen as the priority over all things for Kennedy. Entering office at a time when the world was waiting to see who would come out on top in the on-going Cold War, Kennedy had to tread a fine line of being strong, but not to robust in his policies so as to antagonise the Soviets to the point of armed conflict. The American publics’ concern over the ‘Red Scare’ that had dominated the 1950’s, continued into the new era under Kennedy, with close neighbour Cuba having a large part to play in ensuring that fear persisted.

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The threat of a Communist fifth column infiltrating American society on all levels from social to political was now starting to feel very real. This fear was also heightened because, although not as influential as it was in the 1950’s, McCarthyism still had a strong grasp on many American citizens and many viewed Fidel Castro as a direct threat to America. This study sets out to examine John Kennedy’s handling of the military, the decision making of Kennedy throughout the planning of the Bay of Pigs, as it was the nadir of his presidency.

The first chapter focuses on investigating Kennedys options – whether to, and if so how, when and where go on with the invasion, by looking at whether pre-set expectations had too much of a part to play in John Kennedy’s decision making. Along with pre-set expectations, the chapter also argues that Kennedy himself had done himself no favours by proclaiming action should be taken to remove Castro throughout his own election campaign.

The second chapter analyses the incoherent decision making process Kennedy went through in how best to utilise the military for the planned invasion of Cuba. It also builds an argument that Kennedy lacked the necessary leadership skills and experience to carry out an operation of this scale as his first major foray into foreign policy. The CIA also played a significant role; it could be argued that President Kennedy was actually influenced far too easily by the agency and the chapter investigates that argument.

In the third chapter The Joint Chiefs of Staff role is examined and its contribution to the planning and input it offered to President Kennedy during the planning phase, and whether it is right for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to have been blamed for the subsequent disastrous failure of the operation. Kennedy was renowned for distrust and largely he distrusted his Joint Chiefs, the argument is made against Kennedy that his lack of trust, contributed to the failure of the invasion and it not being a case of the Joint Chiefs failing Kennedy.

The fourth and final chapter looks at the consequences the Kennedy administration faced in the wake of the failed invasion. The struggle Kennedy faced to restore his own reputation along with administrations. The link between the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis is examined, with the argument being made that the Bay of Pigs failure led to Kennedy maturation as a president resulting in him finding a solution to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is regarded as John Kennedys finest moment as President, as he is viewed to have saved the world from all out nuclear warfare.

However it is often forgotten that after the failed invasion of Cuba, led to the Kennedy having to commit more soldiers to Vietnam as the struggle to prevent Communist expansion was continuously proving more difficult. The material available on the Cold War is extensive; however the primary source material available on the Bay of Pigs is elusive. Throughout this study the primary source material will come from those involved in the Kennedy administration at the time of the Bay of Pigs.

The primary sources that will be cited are Arthur M. Schlesinger’s A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, Maxwell D. Taylor’s Swords and Plowshares and Raymond L. Garthoff’s Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis. All three of the above authors served in Kennedy’s administration and in their books when examining Kennedy the word about him are laudable. However Peter Wyden’s book Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story is a primary source that is not exclusively biased towards Kennedy. Other primary source material comes from the John F. Kennedy online archives, and throughout this study memorandums that were sent to John Kennedy, that have been declassified are also used in this study.