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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Throughout the history of the United States, we have seen how the morals and believes that presidents behold are what shape many of their decisions and policies. These decisions and policies have the ability to shape not just American lives but the entire world. Most importantly, these policies have a way of impacting other decisions in their future.  Among those decisions, is John F Kennedy's approval to invade Bay of Pigs on the south coast of Cuba. this decision not only impacted the United States but it later impacted the decisions that Kennedy would later go on to make.  

John F Kennedy was born in Massachusetts on May. 29th 1917, Before becoming presidents Kennedy was part of the House of Representatives and the US Senate, he would later go on to become the 35th president of the United States. He was born into a wealthy family and his grandfather John E Fitzgerald was a congressman and mayor of Boston, therefore one can say the Kennedys came from a long line of congressional background. He was known as Jack by many and was one of nine siblings, all which achieved great things later in life. One of his sisters would go on to found the Special Olympics, and one of his brothers would be known as the most powerful senators in American History. It is important to note that their father Joe Kennedy was not like most fathers at the time, Joe Kennedy, “knew what his kids were up to all the time.” He instilled in them fierce competition and made them believe that winning was everything. One of John Kennedy's mentioned that this fire to win led them to think that there was no other way succeed and that the only time she says John Kennedy get emotional was when he lost. This is important not just because it would shape Kennedy and his decisions but also because it would have a way of allowing Kennedy to bounce back once he lost. Kennedy was intelligent and excellent in school but only in what interested him, he had charisma, he was charming and was “blessed with a radiant smile”. After college, he was sent to the South Pacific with the US Navy which he was later awarded the purple heart.

Kennedy went on to serve in the House of Representatives for Boston from 1946 to 1952. Later running for Congress. He is still to date the only American president to win a Pulitzer Prize for his biography on eight senators Profiles in Courage. On November 8th, 1960 Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States over Richard Nixon. Kennedy went on to be the second youngest president after Theodore Roosevelt. During his presidential inaugural address, he emphasized citizenship and the idea of working together by saying the famous words, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” this iconic phrase still live on today. Kennedy had a strong effect on foreign affairs during his short term, he created the Peace Corps, which by the end of the century would reside in 135 countries with over 170,000 volunteers. His main emphasis was to alleviate poverty and suffering in Latin America. Which is what leads us the to the Bay of Pigs Invasion happening on April 15th, 1961.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

The reasons for his decisions for Bay of Pigs Invasion began at the start of his presidential campaign. He campaigned under the claim that Dwight D Eisenhower and the Republican party had made the United States “fall behind” the Soviet Union. This included technology, since the Soviets had launched the Sputnik, in economic growth, and had opened a missile gap between the Soviets and the Americans. Kennedy also argued that the administration had allowed the Soviets to gain ground on the Caribbean (Cuba). One of his main promises being that he would “play a more active role in Cuba and not so subtle hints at the elimination of the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.” This would go on to cause the failure of the Bay of Pigs. These statements would go on to affect his decisions in the futures since he will refuse to make a fail out of his promises and wants to maintain his credibility with the American people.

Before we understand how the decision to invite Bay of Pigs has decided it is important to recognize that key concepts Eisenhower believed to be crucial in his foreign policy model. He believed in the domino theory and increasing covert missions. The domino theory represented the expansion of communism and stopping the spread, and the covert missions were believed to limit and disguise failures meanwhile capitalizing on success.  The CIA, Central Intelligence Agency, began crafting plans, to overthrow the Cuban Government. The center of Kennedy's foreign policy was based on guerrilla warfare. The Guerrilla warfare tactic consists of fast passed, hit and run techniques carried out by small-space mobile groups usually composed of irregular forces such as rebels. Before the inauguration of President Kennedy Eisenhower made clear what he suggested his top priorities were, one of them being that he overthrow dictator Fidel Castro whatever means necessary.

On the first days of his presidency, Kennedy was being taunted by Castro. Seeing how had the Soviet support he was making it very clear and obvious, bringing into question Kennedy's campaign promises to the American people about being tough on Cuba. Kennedy had run on this rhetoric of getting rid of Castro and instilling democracy and people/ Americans were waiting and hoping for something to happen. Yet, as history has it, Castro during the same time was emphasizing an anti-American rhetoric since Castro was considered a charismatic leader by the working class Cubans, he was able to convince large groups of people to hate the idea of anti-American communism was just a propaganda that the United States was using to prove their power. What Kennedy did not know was that Eisenhower had a plan being formed before leaving office, that would allow him to remove Castro from power. The Bay of Pigs was a plan created by the CIA, ordered by Eisenhower. On the March of 1960, Eisenhower began authorizing the CIA director at the time Allen Dulles to begin his creation of a plan to overtake Fidel Castro. It is important to take into account that what Eisenhower would order as a plan would not be the same things that Kennedy would later want in the attack. Right before Eisenhower left office, on January of 1961 Fidel Castro removed 80% of the American Embassy in Cuba to leave because they believed them to be spies. This caused him to sever ties with Cuba nearly 20 days before leaving office. By the time Kennedy gets to the office he had inherited what some will consider a “Cuban problem” and had a plan and a 600-man army for his use, thanks to the plan that was being formed by the CIA.

Once President John F Kennedy gets to the White House it is important to understand that the main topic of discussion was Cuba, he believed that doing nothing would not just signify a sign of weakness but he would lose his credibility at home and abroad. He wanted to emphasize that American power was strong enough to overtake communism some 80 miles away from home. Making the Bay of Pigs his first opportunity to show that, and to prove that he was a winner. What was believed to be the cause of failure to the plan was the idea of deniability by Kennedy and the administration. There were too many people working secretly and not necessarily communicating in an honest manner, this operation was bound to be doomed from the start.

The Bay of Pigs is said to have failed for three main reasons which I will further discuss, faulty CIA planning, President Kennedy's poor decision before and during, and the limited role of the military in planning and executing. One important difference between the original plan from Eisenhower and the plan that Kennedy wanted was that Kennedy hoped for a something quite and at night, in order to disguise any form of United States Military. His reasoning for this was because he feared Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet Union would retaliate by sending forces to Berlin. Yet keeping this a secret caused the people working to formulate a plan understaffed and geared with improper information due to the high secrecy and low efforts in communication. Their landing site would be La Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) and he warned that ships be offloaded at night to decrease any sound in order to come off as secretive and unrecognized.  The biggest problem was that this was not a secret, everyone knew it he receives letters from senators saying that it was known everywhere that it would happen, which could cause major failure, and that we would be unable to “disassociate” ourselves from this. There were even newspaper headings that foreshadowed an attack on Cuba. Most importantly, Kennedy had run a campaign as aforementioned on the grounds that his soul and number one priority would be to remove Castro from power. Hence, there was no way around it, if they attacked everyone would know it was the United States.

What would be the ultimate result to all of these mistakes would end up being multiple lives lost. On the early morning of 1962 April 17th, fourteen hundred Cuban exiles would try to overthrow Fidel Castro. Due to the lack of policy, and thorough planning, over 100 men would be killed and the rest would be captured and held in Cuban. The held prisoners would remain in Cuba until 1962 when they are released in return for 53 million dollars’ worth of food and medicine.  

Effects of Bay of Pigs in Future Policy

The Bay of Pigs could in many ways be the wakeup call that Kennedy receives when getting to the office. With this wakeup call Fred Greenstein in his book The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to Barack Obama describes Kennedy to have had the "capacity for self-correction that has not always been manifested by American Presidents.  The Bay of Pic invasion became Kennedy's introduction to foreign policy decisions. This failure made him reluctant in other policies seeing as he refused to take any action that could make him seem weak. After the failed plan, Cuba and Castro gain full force and increased their tides with the Soviet Union. This would lead Kennedy to assign a committee made up of Army Chief, General Maxwell Taylor, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy to detail the cause of the failure of Bay of Pigs. This policy analysis would of one to initiate a cover program in Cuba which would be named Operation Mongoose.operation Mongoose was meant to do what the Bay of Pigs had not done, remove Fidel Castro from Cuba. Operation Mongoose would also go on to fail. President Kennedy could not truly understand how so many smart people in one room failed to see the plan as a failure, he took the blame and then moved on to make sure it would not happen again. After Bay of Pigs, he began restructuring his policy decision starting with his staff. He saw himself as unable to count on any expert, therefore he resulted in tightening his inner circle. Part of his staff consisted of Robert Kennedy, Theodore Sorensen, McGeorge Bundy, and Maxwell Taylor, and he would apply his communication term which I would later discuss which would later go on to still be applied in policy decision making today

David Burden in his Book John F Kennedy and a New Generation Discusses many of the policies and reason why many of the decision were made during the Kennedy administration. Interestingly enough, he argues that the Kennedys turned against the CIA due to the failure of the Bay of Pigs. This lesson he mentions would be what prevents them from sending US troop to Laos. This great failure would go one to shape John Kennedy's administrative advisors are early mentioned and could cause him to really more on his own personal Judgment. This would allow him to more successfully deal with the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962. Thomas Paterson, in his book Kennedy's Quest for Victory, Discusses the four main reason why the Bay of Pigs failed, these four points would be the foundation for the mistakes he would avoid later on in his presidency. First, he wanted a victory in the Cold War by removing Castro. Second, along with his personality he wanted to win he wanted action. Thirdly, he was afraid of what others might think, by other I refer to the nation, making him seem weak. Lastly, he felt he had to get something done and felt some form of urgency.

Besides losing his trust on the CIA, after taking the blame for Bay of Pigs Kennedy was determined to show other countries, especially the Soviet Union, that he had power. Many described the character of President Kennedy as the "damned liveliest thing I have ever seen", other mentioned that he had “the Midas touch and could not lose”. Yet after losing, one of her president aids confessed that "Nobody in the White House wanted to be soft… Everybody wanted to show they were just as daring and bold as everybody else". It was as if after Bay of Pigs the administration and Kennedy wanted to prove that they were not weak and that they could cultivate that winning mentality that Kennedy carried. The projected a different attitude than many people perceived them to be, the projected “boldness and activism”. They felt that they were the right people to demonstrate that the Americans were strong, with their cockiness that came off as a certainty.

Even though, many accounts have overemphasized that Kennedy learned from his battle in Bay of Pigs, and took many drastic measures to reassure that it would not occur again there were many historians that compared this mistake too many that have been made after the Bay of Pigs. In The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, Jim Rasenberger goes as far as to say that even though many believe presidents and politicians to learn from history the truth he confesses is that “we do not learn the lessons of history very well.” Rasenberger stands by this idea that we didn't just continue to make similar mistakes in Cuba but the United States would go on to make similar mistakes in "Latin America, in Southeast Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa”, his reasoning for this is that he believes that many of these times the United States has forcefully intervene in problems that did not benefit us, not only long-term but also short term.

Positive Effect and Decision Making

In all of this research it is important to understand that even though Bay of Pigs was a huge mistake which would go down as one of the worst policy decision, it also allowed president Kennedy to learn from these experiences. Morten Hansen a professor at the University of California, wrote in an article on the Harvard Business Review about the positive outcomes that came from his failed plan. In his article, “How John F. Kennedy Changed Decision Making for Us All”, Hansen Discusses four main ideas that Kennedy instituted in order for his team to make decisions from that day forward. The first was, that each of the team members were to focus on problems concretely and as a big picture approach not just their area of expertise. Second, there is to be a free discussion, in hopes of avoiding, “the status-laden meetings in the White House”. Third, each of the members would be placed in subgroups and work on alternative plans. Lastly, the team would meet without Kennedy’s attendance this was done in order for everyone to feel comfortable disagreeing not just agreeing with the president. Interestingly enough this idea behind decision making is still used today not just in the oval office but in business school classrooms and executive offices.

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