Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fifty Years After the Bay of Pigs

It was 50 years ago today that the ill–fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba was launched.

A bunch of Cuban exiles, who had been trained by the CIA, attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro in a plan that had been hatched in the last year of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency. In the spring and summer of 1960, while John F. Kennedy was wrapping up the Democratic presidential nomination and Richard Nixon was doing the same on the Republican side, the CIA recruited and trained anti–Castro exiles in south Florida.

Kennedy, I have heard, was not told of the plan until sometime in July 1960. As Ike's vice president, I presume Nixon already knew of it — but the relationships between presidents and their vice presidents were much different then than they are now so Nixon may well have been as much in the dark as Kennedy.

Yet the final decision rested with Kennedy, who ultimately approved the plan even if he wasn't as well informed as he would have liked, and it was carried out 50 years ago today. When it failed, some critics blamed the absence of adequate air cover. Others said the invasion never should have occurred at all.

Kennedy didn't blame the previous administration, although it always seemed to me he had a legitimate case for doing so.

Instead, he took responsibility, observing, "Victory has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan."

That was not the end of it. The cumulative effect of the Bay of Pigs and other operations undoubtedly played a role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro became more paranoid about U.S. attempts to overthrow his government, and Cuba entered into a partnership with the Soviets, building the bases that would house the missiles.

That event required delicate negotiations before it was finally resolved in the United States' favor.

What began today definitely did not end in America's favor — and, I suppose, whether what has happened in the last half–century has been to America's benefit is a matter of opinion.

Cuba, after all, still exists. The men who invaded the Bay of Pigs on this day 50 years ago failed in their mission, and most paid for that with their lives — some right away, others after lengthy captivity.

But Cuba's former communist ally, the Soviet Union, no longer exists. Someday in the future, some (or all) of the small countries that once formed the Soviet Union may re–group — but today (and for the last two decades) that menacing presence half a world away that forced generations of Americans to go through "duck and cover" drills in their elementary schools is not there anymore.

There have been other changes since the invasion.

Michael Vasquez of the Miami Herald observes that Miami's St. Thomas University came into existence because the Universidad Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Havana closed down the day of the invasion.

Back in Havana, ABC News reports, the emphasis is on how the tiny island of Cuba stood up to the big, bad United States — and has continued to do so for half a century.

Prensa Latina, Cuba's official news agency, says the "mercenary aggression" at the Bay of Pigs exposed American "lies" for what they were.

Outside of Cuba and south Florida, though, I haven't heard of much being said on this occasion. Communism long ago stopped being perceived as a global threat, and modern attention is on Islam and the Middle East, dirty bombs (not missiles).

I'm not really sure what to make of that. Does what happened at the Bay of Pigs on this day in 1961 have any meaning anymore?

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