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I've been reading about the US's history with Cuba following the recent death of Castro, and the failure of the Bay of Pigs seems very odd to me. The only reason I can think of for carrying out such a weak and chancy invasion is that Eisenhower must have believed he could keep the US involvement a secret. Otherwise, I don't see the sense in attempting an overthrow only to fail and be internationally embarrassed. He had the power to eliminate Castro with a proper invasion, I just don't understand why he would choose to do it half way rather than go in with full force if he was going to do it at all.
Can someone explain?
I read the Wikipedia article on this and learned what happened, but not why they did it the way they did.
An invasion by US armed forces would have worked, but would also have been deeply illegal, since it would have been a war of aggression. It would also likely have precipitated a war with the Soviet Union, and Cuba wasn't worth that risk.
The plan seems to have started as one for a counter-revolution within Cuba with outside support, and been expanded into a plan for overt military action without that being properly thought through. The forces that landed, composed of Cuban exiles, were too small for the job and didn't have enough supplies or support. They also assumed they would have support from the population, but actually, most of them were pro-Castro.
Wikipedia's summary of the CIA internal report on the fiasco covers the matter reasonably well.
The Invasion of Cuba
Most published accounts and studies of the Cuban Missile Crisis tend to concentrate, almost exclusively, on the debates and decisions of the Kennedy White House during those harrowing days of late October 1962. Major aspects of the crisis, strangely overlooked, are just beginning to come to light. One is the preparation for war, against both Cuba and the Soviet Union, that took place in a period just short of two weeks and turned much of southern Florida into a D-Day—like staging area. The result would prove to be the largest short-term mobilization of men and equipment since World War II—exceeded in size only by Desert Storm. Nor have the plans for the invasion of Cuba, which came so close to happening, been revealed until now the exact tactical details of Operational Plans 312, 314, and 316-62 remain classified. Fortunately for the world, the trains (and planes) could be stopped, and were. This would not be another 1914.
The following account is adapted from Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Its author, Dino A. Brugioni, a renowned expert in the analysis of aerial photography, was a key player in the crisis. Working at the time for the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) of the Central Intelligence Agency, he was one of the people who confirmed the presence of Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba.
Brugioni tells the story, as it unfolded day by increasingly tense day, of that mobilization and the preparations to invade Cuba and destroy the missile sites if the Soviets refused to back down. If the operation was unbelievably swift and for the most part efficient, remember that in 1962 the United States armed forces had reached a Cold War peak of morale and readiness. But that extraordinary mobilization did not come off without some typically American glitches.
Throughout the summer of 1962 the CIA had maintained close surveillance over the heavy volume of Russian shipping exiting the Baltic and Black seas bound for Cuba. The dramatic increase in Soviet cargoes and the arrival of numerous “technicians” at Cuban ports became a paramount intelligence concern. A U-2 mission over the island on August 29 revealed that the Soviets were constructing an islandwide SA-2 surface-to-air-missile (SAM) defense network. Soon after, the discovery of Komar guided-missile patrol boats and coastal cruise-missile sites to defend against an amphibious landing alerted the U.S. government to more sinister possibilities.
The emerging picture of a Soviet military buildup in Cuba particularly worried John McCone, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Of the SA-2 missiles he stated: “They’re not putting them in to protect the cane cutters. They’re putting them in to blind our reconnaissance eye.” McCone insisted that the number of U-2 flights over Cuba be increased, and he expressed to top policymakers his concern that the Soviets might introduce offensive missiles in Cuba. On September 4 and 13 President Kennedy issued warnings to the Soviets that “the gravest issues” would arise if they installed surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) in Cuba. In official statements and high-level meetings with U.S. officials, the Soviets stated emphatically that they would not deploy offensive weapons in Cuba.
On Monday, October 15, interpreting a U-2 mission flown over Cuba the day before, NPIC discovered two medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) sites under construction in the San Crist0bal area. When the president was briefed on October 16, he ordered the island completely covered by U-2 missions. Interpreting the photographs these flights brought back, the center found four additional MRBM sites and three intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) sites under construction. (The MRBMs could reach just beyond Washington, D.C., the IRBMs could hit all parts of the United States except the extreme Northwest.) NPIC also spotted four mobile Soviet combat groups.
General Maxwell D. Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), saw the secret Soviet move into Cuba with nuclear missiles as a major effort to change the strategic balance of power. It was an attempt to erase in one stroke the U.S. nuclear superiority to the Soviets. That superiority, according to a top-secret estimate, was at least 7 to 1. (In meetings with Americans in Moscow two years ago, Soviet officials stated that the ratio was closer to 15 to 1—or greater—in favor of the United States.) Taylor and the other members of the JCS recommended a preemptive air strike, an airborne assault, and an invasion to wipe out the missile bases. As Dean Acheson, then a senior adviser with the National Security Council (NSC), put it—and Taylor agreed—one does not plan a military operation of the magnitude of the Soviets’ with the expectation that it will fail.
The NSC debated three courses of action: a “quarantine” (actually a blockade) of Cuba, air strikes against the missile sites, and an invasion. The president chose the quarantine. At the same time, preparations were set in motion for the alternatives. Acheson began to press for a declaration of war against Cuba. He wanted to make it plain to the Soviets that “their bayonets had struck steel instead of mush.”
To the intelligence community, the Soviet-Cuban venture had the Khrushchev stamp: a gamble—bold, large, premeditated, but not carefully thought through. That gamble would become a colossal Soviet blunder. Militarily, as General Taylor would remark, the Soviets chose the wrong issue and the wrong battlefield.
JCS contingency plans for air strikes, a quarantine, and the invasion of Cuba had been completed by the summer and were known as Operational Plans 312, 314, and 316 respectively. Practice for these operations had already been scheduled to take place with an amphibious brigade landing exercise from October 15 to 20 on Vieques Island, off Puerto Rico. At the last moment the exercise had been canceled because of bad weather. But thousands of marines were still on their ships, ready for a real landing.
During the same period the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force were engaged in exercises called “Three Pairs” and “Rapid Roads” in central Texas. Units of the 82nd Airborne Division, the attacking force, were waiting at the James Connally Air Force Base at Waco, Texas, when ordered to return to their home base, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Tactical Air Command (TAC) fighters that were to support the 82nd Airborne were sent to airfields in Florida. The 1st Armored Division, which was to be the aggressor force in the exercise, was told to return to base at nearby Fort Hood and await orders.
The JCS, through Admiral Robert Lee Dennison, commander in chief, Atlantic (CINCLANT), began alerting naval Task Forces 135 and 136 to head for the Caribbean. Commanding officers were told to round up their men as inconspicuously as possible. Task Force 135 consisted of two attack carrier groups built around the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise and the USS Independence, along with 15 screening destroyers. It was to proceed to positions off the southern coast of Cuba. Task Force 136, the blockading force, consisted of the aircraft carrier Essex and cruisers Newport News and Canberra, along with an underway replenishment group and nineteen destroyers. The quarantine line was marked by twelve destroyers on an arc 500 miles from Cape Maisf.
Lieutenant General Hamilton Howse, commanding general of the Strategic Army Command (STRAC) and the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, ordered the commanders of the 101st Airborne Division, the 1st Infantry Division, the 2nd Infantry Division, the 1st Armored Division, and the 82nd Airborne Division to report to his headquarters immediately. He briefed them on October 19, a Friday, with aerial photos provided by NPIC and ordered them to bring their commands to kill alert status.
The 82nd and 101st airborne divisions stationed at Fort Bragg and at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, were alerted for immediate movement to intermediate staging areas in southern Florida. The 1st Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, and the 4th Division at Fort Lewis, Washington, were also alerted to possible movement. The 2nd Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, would be moved to New Orleans for embarkation. The 1st Armored would be sent to Fort Stewart, Georgia. The commanders assembled their staffs and gave detailed instructions for the movement of men and matériel from their commands to Georgia or Florida.
One of the first priorities was to establish an impenetrable air-defense umbrella over forces gathering in Florida. Just ninety miles and five minutes of jet flying time from Havana, Key West would become one of the principal bases of the crisis. Rear Admiral Rhomad Y. McElroy, the Key West commander, cleared Key West International Airport and the nearby U.S. naval air station at Boca Chica of all utility and support aircraft in order to accommodate the navy and marine strike, reconnaissance, and defense aircraft that had already begun arriving from bases along the East Coast. Naval Squadron VF-41, transferred to Key West from Oceana, Virginia, on October 6, was already patrolling along the Florida Keys and the north shore of Cuba. All leaves were canceled at the base.
Meanwhile, military aircraft of all types, from fighters to reconnaissance planes packed with computers and sophisticated listening equipment, began to converge on other Florida air bases. By the evening of October 19, hundreds of fighters were lined up wingtip to wingtip, ready for action.
Army air-defense battalions, equipped with Hawk and Nike Hercules SAMs, were given the highest priority for rail, air, and truck movement. From as far away as Fort Lewis, equipment was moved southward to defend the Florida airfields that were most vulnerable to Cuban attack. The Hawk surface-to-air missiles battalion at Fort Meade, Maryland, was ordered to proceed posthaste by road to Key West. The loading was quickly accomplished, but it was evident that there had been little regard for weight or orderliness in the packing of the equipment. The unit selected U.S. Highway 1 as the fastest route to Florida. As the convoy moved through Virginia, a state highway patrolman noticed that a number of the trucks appeared to be overloaded. He signaled the convoy to follow him to the weighing station. There his suspicions were confirmed. The military officers protested vehemently that they had an important defense mission to perform in Florida—they couldn’t yet say what it was—and that precious time was being wasted. The patrolman remarked that military convoys were always in a hurry. He calmly proceeded to write out a ticket—a warning to the U.S. Army to be more careful in future loading of convoys.
The great mobilization was under way. Ammunition and supplies were moving by rail and road from all parts of the country. Truck after truck left the Letterkenny Ordnance Depot in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and began to roll to Florida loaded with ammunition. Several ordnance plants were placed on three-shift, seven-day weeks to produce 20rn strafing ammunition required for the fighter aircraft. The war plans called for the use of napalm as well as conventional ammunition. Hundreds of napalm drop tanks began arriving at the naval and tactical airfields, where they were stacked, according to one observer, like “mountains of cordwood.” Ammunition for naval gunfire against Cuban installations was also shipped to bases in Florida. Food rations came from such inland storage depots as Bonner Springs, Kansas. Army boat units, which would be needed for an invasion, were ordered to go to Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades in Florida.
Military hospitals, especially those along the East Coast, previously devoted primarily to treating service dependents, were prepared to receive war casualties. Blood supplies were monitored, and troops not involved in the movement to Florida were asked to give blood. One hospital unit was sent to Florida on chartered buses. Presuming that this movement was another exercise, the buses had stopped at several liquor stores along the way. When it arrived in Florida, the unit itself was a casualty.
Billeting of the troops arriving in Florida was already becoming a problem. At some airfields the bachelor officers and enlisted men’s quarters were operated on the “hot bunk” principle: Three men would be assigned to each bunk with someone sleeping in it at all hours. Mess halls remained open around the clock. Later, after the president announced that missiles were in place in Cuba, the owner of the Gulfstream Park at Hallandale, Florida, invited the army to bivouac some of the troops of the 1st Armored Division at the racecourse. The army accepted, and soon military police were placed at all entrances parking lots became motor pools, and the infield was used for storage and mess. Troops were billeted on the first and second floors of the grandstand. Weapons and duffel bags were stacked next to the betting windows. Church services were held in the photo-finish developing rooms.
According to Contingency Plan 316, the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions would be the first to land on Cuba. Large numbers of transport aircraft would have to be diverted to support the operation more than 800 Lockheed Hercules flights would be needed to execute the invasion plan. Plans for deployment of the airborne divisions had been rehearsed and tested again.
Drops would be made at altitudes of from 700 to 900 feet. Airborne commanders knew conducting military operations on Cuba in October would not be easy. It was the season of rain and hurricanes, clouds and high winds, certainly not the best jump weather. Some drop zones would be in valleys containing sugarcane fields and cattle ranches. By the end of October, the cane fields would reach their maximum heights of seven to ten feet. The cane stalks not only posed a landing hazard for the parachutists but also presented problems in rallying and maneuvering—and provided the Cubans with sites that were ready-made for conducting guerrilla operations and harassing the airborne troops.
Those troops were issued a number of instructions about the treatment of any prisoners. They were specifically told that “Sino-Soviet bloc personnel” were to be carefully handled and taken into protective custody. At this point the United States was still trying its utmost to avoid a direct confrontation with the Soviet Union.
To assure proper interrogation of prisoners of war, Spanish-speaking military intelligence personnel were assigned to both division and regimental headquarters. Crash courses on interrogation techniques were offered to the airborne divisions. Prisoners of war were one thing, but it soon developed that the State Department had no specific plan for the handling of Cuban refugees. Although there were generalized plans for the occupation and a military government, there was no detailed plan for the recruitment of indigenous Cuban administrators. Nor were there plans to prevent starvation, disease, or civil unrest. When asked whether it had the funds to deal with such likely calamities, the State Department replied that “none had been budgeted.” This enormous potential for trouble would never really be solved—and other matters were more pressing.
One of the first issues President Kennedy raised during the crisis had been whether U.S. dependents at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Station on the southeastern end of Cuba should be evacuated. At the time there were over 2,800 women and children living on the base. The navy had strong feelings that the Soviets and Cubans might regard removal of the dependents as a sign of weakness rather than a matter of practicality. More to the point, it might also tip them off that the United States knew about the missiles, and the Soviets and Cubans might respond by upgrading their military and naval defenses. But Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara had insisted that the dependents be removed. It had not yet been established that McNamara was reflecting the president’s views. In an attempt to convince McNamara of the value of keeping the dependents at Guantanamo, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Paul Nitze, and the Second Fleet commander, Admiral Alfred G. Ward, met with him. Ward was in charge of the blockade—and the navy’s role in any invasion. Nitze pointed out various reasons why it would be inadvisable to pull out the American civilians. After listening patiently, McNamara stood up and said. “Mr. Secretary, you have your instructions to get the dependents out of Guantanamo Bay. Please carry out those instructions.”
Shortly after 11:00 A.M. on October 21, the Sunday-morning routine at Guantanamo was interrupted by phone calls and messengers hurrying to the buildings where families were housed. Each family was told to pack one bag per person and be prepared to evacuate within 15 minutes’ notice. Loading on aircraft and naval vessels was completed before 4:00 P.M. At this point the Cuban military threat was spelled out to them only in the most general way.
If the Cubans thought the Americans were showing signs of weakness by evacuating service dependents from Guantanamo, they were soon to see an impressive display of strength as cargo aircraft began landing on the airfield. By the evening of the next day, 3,600 marines and 3,200 tons of equipment had been airlifted by the Material Air Transport Service. In a glaring overestimate of U.S. strength, Soviet intelligence reported that “the garrison had been increased from 8,000 to 18,000 personnel from the 2nd Marine Division, and reinforced by 150 tanks, 24 antiaircraft missile systems and 70 recoilless guns. The number of airplanes had been increased to 120.” The actual U.S. defense force deployed to Guantanamo, including men and equipment already in place, comprised 5,750 marines, a Hawk missile battery, 155 tanks, several battalions of 105mm artillery pieces, three gunfire support ships, two marine air-attack squadrons, and a patrol squadron. Two aircraft carriers were in the area to render support.
The Guantanamo reinforcement was largely a deception, and it worked. While the United States regarded this as a defensive operation, the Soviets and Cubans saw the “uninterrupted intensive reconnaissance along Cuban shores and approaches” as proof that Guantanamo was “actively being prepared as a bridgehead for military operation.” But for the moment, the marines’ function was to secure the Guantanamo defensive perimeter once fighting started, it was to take on the Cuban artillery dug in on the surrounding hills. Only when the main amphibious and airborne forces established themselves on the island would the marines consider moving out.
Kennedy had originally intended to make his speech to the nation that evening, but politics dictated that he inform Congress first, and it proved impossible on such short notice to round up everyone who was out campaigning.
This was the day, a Monday, when the “Cuban Missile Crisis” became public. Planes had been dispatched to bring back ranking senators and congressmen. Even so, their briefing took place little more than an hour before the president’s speech, and there was considerable anger that he had waited until the last minute to inform them. Just before Kennedy went on the air at 7 P.M., U.S. jet fighters scrambled into the sky from bases in Florida. The action was termed an airborne alert—a precautionary measure” in the event of a rash action by the Cubans.” Not just the Cubans: As the president made clear, any offensive action by them would be considered an offensive action by the Soviet Union.
As Kennedy was speaking, the secretary of defense placed the entire U.S. military establishment on DefCon (defense condition) 3 status (DefCon 5 was all normal DefCon 1 meant war). In accordance with JCS directives, Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-47 bombers were dispersed to more than thirty predesignated civilian airfields in the United States. At two SAC bases in Spain, three in Morocco, and three in England, B-47 bombers were loaded with nuclear weapons and prepared for takeoff. Simultaneously, a massive airborne alert was begun by U.S.—based B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers. The B-52s were loaded with nuclear weapons and ordered to fly under continuous command control, either far out over the Pacific, deep into the Arctic, or across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. There the planes would wait for instructions either to proceed to the Soviet Union or to return to their home bases. In addition, fighter-bombers at American bases in England, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines were placed on alert and armed with ordnance, including nuclear, for striking targets in the Soviet Union or in Eastern Europe.
There were three intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) systems in the SAC inventory at the time: Atlas, Titan I, and Titan II. A fourth system, the solid-fuel Minuteman, would enter the inventory during the later days of the crisis. There were also 60 Thor IRBMs in England, 30 Jupiter IRBMs in Italy, and 15 in Turkey. Late in the evening General Curtis LeMay, chief of staff of the air force, notified McNamara that 91 Atlases and 41 Titans were being readied for firing. Nine missile-carrying submarines capable of firing 144 Polaris missiles had left their bases and taken up stations in the North Atlantic. Matador and Mace cruise missiles deployed in tactical wings were brought to combat status in West Germany they could strike strategic targets in Eastern Europe.
Fifteen minutes before the president’s address, the nation’s railroads were also put on alert. The Pentagon asked the Association of American Railroads for the immediate use of 375 flatcars to move air-defense and air-warning units to Florida. That evening the 1st Armored Division began the 1,100-mile trek from Texas to an intermediate staging base at Fort Stewart. This division alone would require 3,600 flatcars, 190 gondola cars, 40 boxcars, and 200 passenger cars. In all, over 5,000 men, 15,000 vehicles, and thousands of tons of supplies would be loaded on 38 trains, some up to 150 cars long. At the height of the crisis, normal rail movement in the Southeast practically came to a halt. Another 10,000 men would be airlifted in 135 commercial flights.
The president authorized the use of low-level aerial photoreconnaissance and of the navy’s F8U Crusaders later, air force RF-IOI Voodoos began flying from Florida at treetop level over the Cuban missile sites. The low-altitude photography, transferred immediately to Washington for analysis, added a new dimension to NPIC’s reporting. Each piece of missile equipment could be identified precisely and its function in the missile system determined. Rather than taking the interpreter’s word as they had with the U-2 photography, policymakers now could see clearly what the interpreters had seen and were reporting.
The JCS ordered DefCon 2—maximum alert before war with the optimum posture to strike either Cuba or the USSR or both. With this change of status, 1,436 U.S. bombers loaded with nuclear weapons and 134 ICBMs were now on constant alert: One-eighth of the bombers were in the air at all times, and air crews were waiting near the rest of the bombers, prepared for takeoff on a moment’s notice.
Both the White House press secretary and the news desk at the Pentagon were being besieged by reporters demanding to know more about the reported buildup for an invasion of Cuba. Although the president felt that the Washington press would exercise control in reporting military infonnation, he was appalled by reports that local television crews throughout the United States had stationed themselves near military bases and were making public the sort of details that would never have been leaked during World War Il and the Korean War.
Kennedy decided that a nationwide reporting guideline had to be established for the news media, and he asked the Department of Defense to draft it. While he made it clear he was not imposing censorship, he did want to restrict information on the deployment of forces, degrees of alert, defenses, dispersal plans, vulnerabilities, and air- and sea-lift capabilities.
Late that evening, the president called McNamara to confirm when U.S. forces would be ready to invade Cuba. The secretary replied, “In seven days.” When Kennedy pressed him on whether all the forces would be well prepared, McNamara replied that they would be “ready in every respect in seven days”: Wednesday, October 31, Halloween.
Photo interpreters at NPIC had identified four camps suspected of housing Soviet armored combat groups. All were in the vicinity of the missile sites, which would tend to indicate that their main function was to protect them. But other intelligence analysts had maintained that they were simply camps where Cubans were being trained to handle Soviet arms—or that they were temporary equipment transfer points, places where, as one U.S. general put it, “The Cosmoline was removed.” NPIC kept insisting that these were more likely to be Soviet combat facilities, since the equipment observed was parked in neat formations, characteristic of the Soviet army, rather than in the haphazard ones typical of Cuban installations. That equipment, of the most sophisticated recent vintage, included T-54 tanks, assault guns, tactical rocket launchers, antitank weapons, and personnel carriers. It wasn’t until October 24 that the intelligence community agreed with the photo interpreters that these were Soviet installations and that they did house combat troops, as many as 1,500 each.
The next day a low-altitude reconnaissance aircraft brought back absolute confirmation. At the Santiago de las Vegas installation, Soviet groundforce-unit symbols and insignias were seen implanted in the flagstone and flowers in front of garrison areas. One unit proudly displayed the Elite Guards Badge, the Soviet equivalent of the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation. These four camps were quickly targeted, and ordnance, including nuclear, was selected for their destruction in the event of an invasion.
That day, too, the continuing Soviet denial that offensive missiles were in Cuba was exposed as a lie when Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, confronted the Soviet ambassador with aerial photographs of the missile sites during a Security Council meeting.
Throughout the crisis, President Kennedy was concerned that an American move on Cuba would provoke a countermove by the Soviets on Berlin. Close watch of Soviet forces was maintained in the Soviet Union and East Germany, but there was no indication of preparations for offensive action. The Soviets were obviously concerned that any such indication might provoke a first-strike response by alerted U.S. forces. Soviet U.N. ambassador Valerian Zorin told a group of neutral African and Asian U.N. delegates that “The Americans are thoroughly mistaken if they think we shall fall in their trap. We shall undertake nothing in Berlin, for action against Berlin is just what the Americans would wish.”
Khrushchev’s overall behavior during this week appeared unsure and erratic. He continued to lie about the missiles after their presence had been established beyond doubt. Even as he attempted to pacify the United States, his soldiers at Cuban bases were working frantically to bring the missiles to an operational status. After ordering his ships to turn around, he threatened to run the blockade using submarines. He threatened to fire missiles but took no overt offensive action that might cause the United States to further increase its alert status. U.S. military leaders knew that Khrushchev could be ruthless when desperate. The JCS was wary of what direction the crisis would take, determined, as Admiral Ward later put it, that they were not going to be “the Kimmels and Shorts of this generation”—a reference to Admiral Husband Kimmel and Major General Walter Short, who were relieved of their commands after Pearl Harbor.
To ensure the success of possible amphibious landings in Cuba, Ward decided that exercises should be conducted in Florida in as realistic a manner as possible. A number of projected landing areas in Cuba were at or near resort areas, so Hollywood Beach, near Fort Lauderdale, was selected to simulate the Havana beach area. In the predawn chill the sea off Fort Lauderdale was rough, and it was late morning before the marines climbed down nets from the ships offshore into the bobbing personnel landing craft. The bigger LSTs (landing ship tanks) prepared to move toward the shore to disgorge tanks and armored personnel carriers.
The littoral behind the landing zone, situated along the central portion of Hollywood Beach, was dense with hotels, motels, restaurants, and bars. By the time the men and equipment hit the beach, the sunbathers had already gathered under their umbrellas. The tanks, armored personnel carriers, and infantrymen soon joined the crowd on the narrow beach. Instead of obeying the instructions of a forward observer who was installed on the roof of a jai alai court, some of the marines began fraternizing with bikini-clad girls on the beach others posed for tourists’ cameras in their combat gear while an even greater number headed for the bars. Admiral Ward later characterized the exercise as about the closest thing to the Keystone Kops that he had ever seen. He never reported the Hollywood Beach fiasco to his superiors but, instead, emphasized that the landing exercises the same day at Hutchinson Island, Fort Pierce, and near Fort Everglades had gone as planned.
At 6:00 P.M. on October 26, the White House began to receive transmission of a long, rambling polemic from Khrushchev—which did, however, give a glimmer of hope. The Soviet premier hinted that he was prepared to withdraw his missiles if Kennedy would agree not to invade Cuba.
This was the day that would be referred to as “Black Saturday” by both the president and members of the National Security Council. Khrushchev remarked that “a smell of burning hung in the air. ”
Just before 10:00 A.M., Soviet personnel fired an SA-2 surface-to-air missile and downed a U-2 reconnaissance plane flown by Major Rudolf Anderson, who was killed. The order to fire was apparently given by General Igor D. Statsenko, commander of the Soviet forces in Cuba. The intelligence community could come up with no reason why the Soviets, who had been tracking the U-2 flights, would select this moment to down one. Most feared that the Soviets were escalating the crisis.
JCS Contingency Plan No. 312 directed CINCLANT to be prepared to strike a single SA-2 SAM site, or all Cuban SAM sites, within two hours of a U-2 shootdown. The established policy, agreed to by the president, was that any SAM site that fired at a U-2 was to be immediately neutralized. Sixteen armed F-100 Super Sabre fighters stood by at Homestead Air Force Base in southern Florida on 30-minute alert to attack any firing SAM site.
When word that Anderson had been shot down reached General LeMay, he ordered the F-100s readied to strike. The White House, realizing that there was a standing order for this operations procedure, frantically contacted LeMay and asked if the fighters had been launched. LeMay replied that they were being readied. He was admonished not to launch the fighters until he received direct orders from the president. Angered, LeMay hung up. “He chickened out again,” he said. “How in the hell do you get men to risk their lives when the SAMS are not attacked?” When an aide said he would wait at the phone for the president’s order, LeMay disgustedly replied, “It will never come!”
The crisis had entered a new phase. A fragile and volatile situation existed that could explode into a major conflict with little or no warning. The CIA now believed that all the MRBM sites in Cuba were operational. Pilots returning from low-altitude flights reported that antiaircraft weapons were firing on them. Analysis of the aerial photography revealed that antiaircraft weapons were being installed around the MRBM sites. There was also a desperate effort by the Soviets to camouflage and conceal those sites. And hundreds of trenches were being dug to protect them from ground assault.
That afternoon ExCom (the Executive Committee of the NSC) discussed what retaliatory action should be taken. It decided that, beginning the next morning, all low-flying reconnaissance aircrafts would have armed escorts. That afternoon, too, McNamara ordered 24 troop-carrier squadrons of the air force reserve, along with their associated support units, to active duty. Besides paratroopers, these squadrons would drop supplies to the ground units that would be placed ashore in an invasion of Cuba. And LeMay announced to McNamara that 1,576 bombers and 283 missiles stood poised to strike the seventy principal cities of the Soviet Union.
In the evening the CIA briefed the president in depth on the startling events of the day. He had already responded to Khrushchev’s message of the previous evening with the suggestion that he would be willing to make a pledge not to invade Cuba if the Soviets met his conditions. But Kennedy decided it was time to deliver an ultimatum. The president’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, was sent to meet with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, warning him that the United States had to have a commitment by the next day that the missiles would be removed, or the United States would remove them by force.
At that moment in Florida, 156 tactical aircraft were ready to strike Cuba. They were backed up by almost 700 more strike planes that were on the ground or at sea. The air force and the navy were prepared to conduct continuous air strikes until all the SAM, MRBM, and IRBM sites, as well as the Cuban air force, had been destroyed. If an invasion of Cuba were ordered, a total of 1,190 sorties could be flown the first day.
U.S. planning for the invasion of Cuba and possible war against the Soviet Union was now going so well that the date had been moved forward: It could come as early as Tuesday, October 30. Military leaders openly admitted, however, that an invasion of Cuba would be as bloody as Korea. The estimate of total U.S. casualties for the first few days of the combined airborne and amphibious operation was about 1,000 a day. The invasion would be opposed by 75,000 Cuban regular troops, 100,000 militia, and 100,000 home guards—not to mention Soviet personnel, then estimated at 22,000. (The Soviets later maintained that there were almost 40,000 in Cuba at the height of the crisis.)
The aerial and naval bombardment of the island would begin early Tuesday morning. The 82nd Airborne Division would be dropped farther inland than the 101st. The 82nd’s objective was to seize the San Antonio de los Bafios military airfield and the José Martf International Airfield just outside Havana. The 101st would also take the military airfields at Mariel and Baracoa, along with the port of Mariel. There would be airdrops of humanlike dummies to confuse the enemy. These, however, would not be ordinary dummies: They would be armed with recorded tapes to create the sounds of firefights.
There were a total of ten battalions of marines afloat in the vicinity of Cuba. They would come ashore at a number of famous beaches on Cuba’s northern shore between Havana and Matanzas and link up with the 82nd Airborne Division. (The Soviets and Cubans suspected the invasion would come ashore at these beaches and had deployed cruise missiles along the coast they also had dug defensive trenches along those beaches.) Once the beaches and the port of Mariel were secured, the 1st Armored Division would come ashore. They would move along the major highways and isolate Havana then they would head for the missile sites. Other units of the 1st Armored would strike southward to cut the island in half.
That morning at nine o’clock, Washington time, the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Intercept Service, while listening to Radio Moscow, began picking up an extraordinary message: It was an open letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy. The Soviets were clearly so alarmed by the speed with which events were moving that they elected to bypass the usual method of sending such a high-level message. Even in the time it would take to encode, decode, translate, and deliver the message, the crisis might have escalated out of control and the invasion might already have begun. So the Soviets decided to broadcast Khrushchev’s letter to the president on the radio. “The Soviet government,” the message read, “has ordered the dismantling of bases and the dispatch of equipment to the USSR… I regard with respect and trust the statement you have made in your message… that there would be no attack or invasion against Cuba.”
Less than 48 hours remained before the invasion was set to begin.
U.S. military leaders greeted the end of the crisis with relief. No one relished the prospect of heavy casualties—not to mention the threat of nuclear war. The main responsibility now fell on the intelligence community to monitor the dismantling of the missile sites and verify the removal of the missiles from the island. “The military posture of the United States,” Admiral Ward noted in his diary a week later, on November 4, “continued to be one of increased readiness.” Ships carrying 12,000 marines from the West Coast were on their way, while sizable units of the 2nd Marine Division remained at sea off Florida. Air force and army units were poised for an assault, as were the carriers Enterprise and Independence.
But by now only Fidel Castro remained belligerent. He threatened to fire on the U.S. reconnaissance planes. Anastas Mikoyan, the first deputy secretary, was dispatched from Moscow to pacify the Cuban leader. When Castro told him that the Cuban people were prepared to fight as they had at the Bay of Pigs, Mikoyan replied, “You won’t have a ragtag brigade against you this time. You will have the full might of U.S. forces. If you want to fight, you can fight—but alone.” Mikoyan tightened the screws. He threatened to return immediately to Moscow and cut off all economic aid to Cuba. Grumbling, Castro backed down.
After the Soviet missiles had been removed from Cuba, but before the troops assembled in the southeastem United States were disbanded, Maxwell Taylor wanted the president to see firsthand the military machine that had been assembled for the projected invasion. On November 26, accompanied by the JCS and the chain-nan of the House Arrned Services Committee, Kennedy arrived at Fort Stewart and reviewed just one of the three brigades of the 1st Arrnored Division. He looked on, incredulous, at the armor arrayed before him. That incredulity only grew as he traveled south that day, ending up on a pier at the Key West naval base. At Fort Stewart he recited a poem, supposedly found in a British sentry box at Gibraltar:
God and the soldier all men adore, In time of danger and not before. When the danger is past, And all things righted, God is forgotten and the old Soldier slighted.
The president added, “The United States forgets neither God nor the soldier upon which we now depend.”
But three decades later we have almost forgotten the great invasion that never happened—forgotten it, perhaps, because we never really knew how awesome it would have been. MHQ
DINO A. BRUGIONI worked for the National Photographic Interpretation Center during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He is the author of Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis (Random House, 1992).
Photo: Abbie Rowe/John F. Kennedy Library
This article originally appeared in the Winter 1992 issue (Vol. 4, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: The Invasion of Cuba.
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The Plan, and Why It&aposs Called the Bay of Pigs Invasion
The plan called for an initial air strike to wipe out Castro’s small air force, followed by the amphibious landing of 1,400 Cuban expatriates at the Bay of Pigs,ਊn inlet of the Gulf of Cazones on the southern coastline of Cuba. The ex-pats had been trained by the CIA in Guatemala and Florida. Once the insurgents established a beachhead, a provisional government of exiled Cubans would fly there from Miami, declare themselves the country’s rightful leaders and invite the United States to send in troops to assist in the operation to depose Castro.
When the plan, codenamed Operation Zapata, was presented to John F. Kennedy just weeks after he took the oath of office, the newly inaugurated president ultimately gave it his approval. Jim Rasenberger, author of The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, doesn’t believe that military planners pressured the new president into making a decision against his better judgment. “I think Kennedy knew very well what he was getting into, but he was in a tough place,” he says.
During the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy had repeatedly called for American intervention in Cuba. “Incredibly, Kennedy got elected by outflanking Richard Nixon as an anti-communist hawk. He beat up the Eisenhower administration for allowing Castro to come to power and not doing anything about it. So he became president in large part because of his anti-communist rhetoric, and he didn’t want to look like a hypocrite or soft on communism.”
Castro&aposs soldiers at Playa de Giron in Cuba, after thwarting the ill-fated Bay of Pigs amphibious invasion.
Bay of Pigs invasion: Kennedy’s Cuban catastrophe
In 1961, US-backed exiles made a disastrous attempt to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Mark White examines President Kennedy's role in the Bay of Pigs invasion and asks, was his mishandling of the operation as excusable as his supporters would have us believe?
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Published: April 17, 2018 at 9:00 am
“Let me tell you something,” President John F Kennedy told confidant Clark Clifford in April 1961. “I have had two full days of hell – I haven’t slept – this has been the most excruciating period of my life. I doubt my presidency could survive another catastrophe like that.”
That catastrophe was the failed attempt by a group of Cuban émigrés, with the backing of the US government, to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, an inlet on the island’s south coast, 90 miles south-east of the capital Havana. Their aim was to provoke an uprising that would bring about the overthrow of Fidel Castro, the left-wing leader who had seized power in an armed revolt in 1959.
Castro had found himself on a collision course with the United States almost from the moment he seized power. Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy’s immediate predecessor in the White House, had looked on with growing alarm as the Cuban revolutionary developed an ever-closer relationship with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower had already used the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to topple ‘undesirable’ governments in Iran and Guatemala. In 1960, in the final year of his presidency, he turned to the CIA again.
The agency came up with a plan to train, fund and equip in Guatemala a group of Cubans who had fled their homeland out of disgust at Castro’s policies, and then to assist them in an amphibious invasion. The operation was to be backed by strikes on Castro’s air force.
To proceed with the plan to topple the Cuban leader, or place it on the back burner? That was the dilemma facing Kennedy when he replaced Eisenhower in the White House in January 1961. Having grappled with this thorny issue in meetings with senior advisers in the early weeks of his presidency, Kennedy decided to give the invasion his blessing as long as it could be carried out as unobtrusively as possible – and with America’s role in the operation concealed.
With this in mind, he asked the CIA to replace their preferred invasion site – Trinidad on Cuba’s south coast – with one that was less populated and less conspicuous. The location they came up with was the more sparsely populated Bay of Pigs.
Events then began to unfold quickly. By mid-March, Kennedy’s top military advisers – the joint chiefs of staff – had given the revised plan their blessing. The date of the attack itself was set for April.
Kennedy hoped the invasion would help the United States seize the initiative in the Cold War. Instead it turned out to be a humiliating disaster. Prior to the assault, an air strike by B-26 bombers on Cuba’s main airfields on 15 April failed to destroy all of Castro’s air force. Then, when the Cuban exile fleet approached Cuba, coral reefs damaged the boats. Worse still, Castro rapidly mobilised his militia of 200,000 men and, on learning of the invasion on 17 April, dispatched sizeable forces to the beachhead. He also ordered the rounding up of 100,000 Cubans who were thought to oppose his leadership – and, in doing so, dashed Kennedy’s hopes that the attack would spark an anti-Castro uprising.
Meanwhile, JFK dealt the operation another blow when he cancelled a second air strike on Cuba’s airfields, fearing that it would reveal US involvement to the world. This enabled Castro to use the planes that had survived the initial air strike, as well as field artillery, to attack the invading Cuban exiles. On 19 April the CIA-backed Cuban exile force started to surrender. The Bay of Pigs invasion had failed.
That the United States had been behind the operation was soon reported by the press and revealed in the United Nations. Unaccustomed to setbacks in what had so far been a charmed political life, Kennedy was devastated by the Bay of Pigs disaster. An adviser who peeped into the White House bedroom as the operation was failing observed JFK crying in the arms of his wife Jackie. He called his father for advice every hour, yet did not receive the paternal support he had anticipated. “Oh hell,” Joseph Kennedy told his son,“if that’s the way you feel, give the job to Lyndon [Vice President Johnson].”
An understandable error?
The Bay of Pigs raises some important historical issues. Why did Kennedy support a plan that failed so badly? Did he have good reason for thinking that the operation would prove successful? Was it the case, as Kennedy supporters have often claimed, that although the Bay of Pigs was a serious error on JFK’s part, it was an understandable one, as virtually all of his advisers had urged him to authorise the operation?
Kennedy decided to go ahead with the invasion for a variety of reasons. First of all, it reflected his own foreign policy ideology, which was based on the idea that democracies like the United States must develop considerable military power and show an uncompromising toughness when dealing with aggressive dictatorships, such as Castro’s Cuba and Nikita Khrushchev’s Russia. This conviction derived from Kennedy’s analysis as a student at Harvard of the British appeasement of Nazi Germany. To a young JFK, the lessons of the 1930s were clear: confront totalitarian dictators, don’t mollycoddle them.
That is precisely what Kennedy planned to do by ordering the Bay of Pigs invasion. He also believed that if Castro were to remain in power he would promote a series of communist revolutions throughout Latin America. In the mind of the new president, Castro’s Cuba represented a dangerous and unacceptable extension of Russian influence in America’s own backyard.
Kennedy, moreover, had taken a strong stand against Castro in the 1960 presidential campaign, railing against his Republican rival Richard Nixon for being part of an administration that had failed to prevent the Cuban revolutionary from coming to power. JFK pledged to take robust action to overthrow Castro if elected president and so, once he’d won that election, felt compelled to honour his promise and support the CIA plan.
Another factor almost certainly lay behind Kennedy’s decision to approve the Bay of Pigs plan: the belief that it would work because Castro would be assassinated. In 1975 a US Senate investigation into alleged attempts by the CIA to kill foreign leaders established that the agency devised at least eight plots to murder the Cuban leader in the early sixties. The CIA even went to the lengths of recruiting mobsters such as John Rosselli and Sam Giancana to help them do the job.
In one such attempt – planned for the period before the Bay of Pigs invasion – a Cuban was to pass on poison pills to an official in the Cuban government, who would see to it that the pills were dropped into Castro’s drink. Another plot (the details of which remain shady) involved a Cuban exile arranging for poison to be put in Castro’s food at a restaurant he frequented.
What is not certain is whether Kennedy knew of, and endorsed, the CIA’s attempts to kill Castro, or whether the president was left in the dark. The CIA practice of ‘plausible deniability’ – whereby presidential briefings about assassination attempts are not recorded in official documentation so that his knowledge is plausibly deniable – makes the issue even murkier.
A number of Kennedy advisers have since claimed that the president’s strong moral code makes it unthinkable that he would have backed CIA plans to kill Castro. Looking at this another way, however, it seems very probable that Kennedy knew about and approved the CIA assassination plots. For one thing, just before the Bay of Pigs, he asked a senator – who was also a close friend – to produce a memorandum on the assassination of Castro. For another, he told a journalist later in the year that he had been “under terrific pressure from advisers… to okay a Castro murder”.
Furthermore, Kennedy found the world of espionage, with its illicit manoeuvring and moral compromises, not reprehensible but intriguing. He loved Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, and during the 1960 presidential campaign had even met Fleming and asked his advice on how best to handle Castro. When Kennedy was informed that America had its own James Bond, William K Harvey, who had succeeded in building a tunnel under East Berlin, he was determined to meet the legendary CIA operative. As one Kennedy aide recalls, the “pistol-carrying, martini-drinking adventurer was found and sent over to the White House”.
Rather than being troubled by the notion that CIA agents were trying to assassinate Castro, Kennedy probably viewed it as the kind of covert and unsavoury tactic that a president had to employ because it served the national interest, in this case the removal of a hostile communist leader from the western hemisphere.
Knowledge of the CIA’s attempts to kill Castro certainly makes Kennedy’s decision to order the invasion more comprehensible. Mathematically, the Bay of Pigs never made sense. How could a Cuban exile army of 1,400 defeat Castro’s forces which, bolstered by his strong militia, could number close to a quarter of a million? What JFK most likely calculated was that Castro’s assassination would throw Cuba into turmoil. In that context, the small Cuban exile force could prove effective in determining Cuba’s political future.
Ignoring good advice
However, the fact of the matter is that Kennedy should have questioned CIA and military officials more thoroughly as to the potential shortcomings of the plan. He should have taken on board British intelligence information he received early in his presidency that suggested Cubans were unlikely to react to a Cuban exile invasion by rising up against Castro. Finally, he should have listened more carefully to those US officials who opposed the operation.
That there were numerous dissenters within the US administration was an embarrassing fact that Kennedy’s supporters often concealed. The Bay of Pigs was a mistake on JFK’s part – it was argued – but an understandable one given that almost all of his advisers backed the operation. But that was not so. Chester Bowles, Adlai Stevenson, Dean Rusk, Charles Bohlen, Richard Goodwin and Arthur Schlesinger, among others, expressed deep reservations about the invasion plan, as did Arkansas senator J William Fulbright. Veteran Democrat Dean Acheson pulled no punches in telling the president: “It was [not] necessary to call [the accountancy firm] Price, Waterhouse to discover that 1,500 Cubans weren’t as good as 25,000 Cubans. It seemed to me that this was a disastrous idea.” Kennedy could and should have listened to these voices of dissent.
The Bay of Pigs invasion represented the nadir of Kennedy’s presidency. It was emblematic of the excessively hard-line policies he often carried out before the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962.
He not only tried to topple Castro through the CIA-engineered assault on the Bay of Pigs but continued thereafter to work for his overthrow by launching another top-secret CIA programme directed against Cuba, Operation Mongoose. He also deepened America’s involvement in Vietnam and needlessly increased military spending at a time when the US had a huge lead in nuclear weapons over the Soviet Union.
Sobered by the dangers of the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy later adopted a more conciliatory approach to international affairs, signing the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and urging the United States in his famous speech at American University to change its attitude towards the Russian people and the Cold War. The maturity displayed by Kennedy in the final year of his presidency, so lacking in his handling of the Bay of Pigs operation, makes the tragedy of his assassination in November 1963 even greater.
From the Bay of Pigs to the Cuban Missile Crisis
The Bay of Pigs invasion took place in a period when Cold War tensions were at their height. Of course, friction between the United States and the Soviet Union had been ongoing since the end of the Second World War, and would continue through the Kennedy era until 1989 when the Soviet empire in eastern Europe crumbled and the Berlin Wall came down.
However, never did war between the superpowers seem more likely than it did in the early 1960s. The summer of 1961 was dominated by a major Soviet-American crisis over Berlin.
At a stormy summit meeting in Vienna, Nikita Khrushchev told Kennedy that the United States had to get out of West Berlin within six months. JFK refused, and the crisis ended only after Khrushchev sealed off communist East Berlin by building the Berlin Wall. The following year Khrushchev triggered the most dangerous episode in the entire Cold War – the Cuban missile crisis – by deploying nuclear warheads in Cuba.
The consequences of the Bay of Pigs invasion for the Cold War were profound. One of Khrushchev’s main motives for sending nuclear weapons to Cuba was to deter a US invasion of the island he thought likely as Kennedy had already sanctioned a similar sort of attack in April 1961. In short, without the American-backed invasion, the Cuban missile crisis would most likely not have taken place.
Paradoxically, the Bay of Pigs fiasco gave Kennedy some of the insights he would need to manage the missile crisis as well as he did. Essentially the failed invasion attempt made him more wary of accepting uncritically hard-line advice from military and CIA officials. This played a major role in his decision to reject their recommendation to order a risky and dangerous air strike on the Soviet missile sites in Cuba.
Mark White is a professor of history at Queen Mary, University of London. His books include Missiles in Cuba: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro, and the 1962 Crisis (Ivan R Dee, 1997).
US imperialism in Cuba, 1898-1901
An account of how the United States effectively took over Cuba following the Spanish-American war, by Stephen Kinzer.
The euphoria that gripped Cubans in the last days of 1898 was almost beyond imagination. Their country had been racked by rebellion for thirty years, the last few filled with terrible suffering. That summer, as their uprising reached a crescendo, American troops had arrived to help them deliver the death blow that ended three centuries of Spanish rule. Now, with the victory finally won, Cuban patriots and their American comrades were preparing for the biggest party in the island’s history.
Leaders of “revolutionary patriotic committees” in Havana planned a full week of festivities, to begin on New Year’s Day. There would be grand balls, boat races, fireworks, public speeches, and a gala dinner in honor of the victorious rebel commanders. Thousands of Cuban soldiers would march through the streets to receive the cheers of a grateful nation.
Just as the celebration was to begin, however, the newly named American military governor of Cuba, General John Brooke, made a stunning announcement. He forbade the entire program. Not only would there be no parade of Cuban soldiers, but any who tried to enter Havana would be turned back. Furthermore, the general declared, the United States did not recognize the rebel army and wished it to disband.
This abrupt turnaround outraged Cuban patriots, especially the thousands who had fought so long and tenaciously for independence. The United States snatched their great prize, independence, away from them at the last moment. As years passed, they and their descendants would watch in mounting frustration as their new overlord used various means, including the imposition of tyrants, to keep control of Cuba.
Cubans were among the first people to feel the effect of the profound changes that reshaped the American psyche at the end of the nineteenth century. This was the moment when, with remarkable suddenness, Americans ceased to be satisfied with holding territory on the North American mainland. They became consumed with a grand new idea, that of a United States whose influence extended around the world. In the words of the historian Louis Pérez, 1898 was “a watershed year, a moment in which outcomes were both defining and decisive, at once an end and a beginning: that special conjuncture of historical circumstances that often serves to delineate one historical epoch from another.”
Territorial expansion was nothing new to Americans. They had been pushing westward ever since the first settlers arrived at Jamestown and Plymouth. In the process they appropriated a great continent, killing or displacing nearly all of its native inhabitants. During the 1840s, in their first burst of imperial war, they seized half of Mexico. Many came to believe that the United States had a “manifest destiny” to occupy and settle all the land bounded by Canada, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The idea of going farther, though, was something quite new.
In the months after the 1893 revolution in Hawaii, that country’s new leaders sought annexation to the United States, but President Grover Cleveland—who had succeeded Benjamin Harrison in March of that year—would not hear of it. He was quite right when he declared that most Americans rejected the seizure of faraway lands “as not only opposed to our national policy, but as a perversion of our national mission.” Five years later, this consensus evaporated. Almost overnight, it was replaced by a national clamor for overseas expansion. This was the quickest and most profound reversal of public opinion in the history of American foreign policy.
The foundation for this remarkable turnaround was laid by a handful of visionary writers and intellectuals. In 1893 one of them, Frederick Jackson Turner, published one of the most provocative essays ever written by an American historian. He used as his point of departure the national census of 1890, which famously concluded that there was no longer a frontier in the United States. That “closed the first period of American history,” Turner declared, and left the country with a stark choice. It could either declare itself satisfied with its present size, something it had never done before, or seek territory beyond North America. In his paper and subsequent articles, Turner left his readers with no doubt as to which he believed would be the wiser choice.
For nearly three centuries the dominant fact in American life has been expansion. With the settlement of the Pacific Coast and the occupation of the free lands, this movement has come to a check. That these energies of expansion will no longer operate would be a rash prediction and the demands for a vigorous foreign policy, for an inter-oceanic canal, for a revival of our power upon the seas, and for the extension of American influence to outlying islands and adjoining countries, are indications that the movement will continue.
The philosopher-sailor who translated calls like this into a plan of action was Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, director of the fledgling Naval War College. His book The Influence of Sea Power upon History argued that no nation had ever become great without control of foreign markets and access to the natural resources of foreign countries. To achieve that control, he asserted, a nation must maintain a navy powerful enough to protect its merchant fleet and force uncooperative countries to open themselves to trade and investment. A navy with such ambition needed a network of supply bases around the world. Applying these arguments to the United States, Mahan urged that it not only speedily build a canal across Central America but also establish bases in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and wherever else it wished to trade.
“Whether they will or no, Americans must now begin to look outward,” Mahan wrote. “The growing production of the country demands it.”
Mahan was the toast of Washington during the 1890s. He appeared before congressional committees and developed close friendships with powerful politicians. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, a leading expansionist, considered his writings to be secular scripture. Theodore Roosevelt wrote a glowing review of his book and corresponded with him on questions of sea power and the annexation of distant islands. These three—Lodge in Congress, Roosevelt in the executive branch, and Mahan in the minds of men—became the Holy Trinity of American expansionism.
They and others of like mind laid out their case in different ways. Some argued that the United States had to take new territories in order to prevent European powers, or perhaps even Japan, from taking them. Others stressed the missionary aspect of colonialism, the obligation of more “advanced” races to civilize the world. Military commanders realized that a more forceful American military posture would give them greater power and bigger budgets. The most persuasive of these arguments, though, always came back to a single, essential point.
By the end of the nineteenth century, farms and factories in the United States were producing considerably more goods than Americans could consume. For the nation to continue its rise to wealth, it needed foreign markets. They could not be found in Europe, where governments, like that of the United States, protected domestic industries behind high tariff walls. Americans had to look to faraway countries, weak countries, countries that had large markets and rich resources but had not yet fallen under the sway of any great power.
This search for influence abroad gripped the United States in 1898. Spreading democracy, Christianizing heathen nations, building a strong navy, establishing military bases around the world, and bringing foreign governments under American control were never ends in themselves. They were ways for the United States to assure itself access to the markets, resources, and investment potential of distant lands.
Although the American economy grew tremendously during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, much of the country’s fabulous new wealth enriched only a few thousand captains of industry. Conditions for most ordinary people were steadily deteriorating. By 1893, one of every six American workers was unemployed, and many of the rest lived on subsistence wages. Plummeting agricultural prices in the 1890s killed off a whole generation of small farmers. Strikes and labor riots broke out from New York to Chicago to California. Socialist and anarchist movements began attracting broad followings. In 1894, Secretary of State Walter Gresham, reflecting a widespread fear, said he saw “symptoms of revolution” spreading across the country.
Many business and political leaders concluded that the only way the American economy could expand quickly enough to deal with these threats was to find new markets abroad. Among them was President Cleveland’s Treasury secretary, John Carlisle, who warned in his annual report for 1894 that “the prosperity of our people depends largely on their ability to sell their surplus products in foreign markets at remunerative prices.” Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana came to the same conclusion. “American factories are making more than the American people can use American soil is producing more than they can consume,” he asserted. “Fate has written our policy for us. The trade of the world must and shall be ours.”
Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean and the last great bastion of what had once been a vast Spanish empire in the Americas, was in turmoil during the second half of the nineteenth century. Patriots there fought a ten-year war of independence that ended with an inconclusive truce in 1878, and rebelled again in 1879–80. Their third offensive broke out in 1895. Its chief organizer was an extravagantly gifted lawyer, diplomat, poet, and essayist, José Martí, who from his New York exile managed to unite a host of factions, both within Cuba and in émigré communities. His success persuaded two celebrated commanders from the first war, Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo, to come out of retirement and take up arms again. After careful planning, the three of them landed on the island in the spring of 1895 and launched a new rebellion. Martí, who insisted on riding at the head of a military column, was killed in one of the rebels’ first skirmishes. His comrades posted his last, unfinished letter on a pine board at their campground. In it he urged his compatriots not only to free their country from Spain but also “to prevent, by the independence of Cuba, the United States from spreading over the West Indies and falling, with that added weight, upon other lands of our America.”
The rebel army made steady progress, and the Spanish commander, General Valeriano Weyler, adopted radical tactics to blunt its advance. He ordered his troops to force huge numbers of Cubans into fortified camps, where thousands died, and declared much of the countryside a free-fire zone. Rebels responded by burning farms, slaughtering herds of cattle, and destroying sugar mills. Soon much of the population was starving, bitterly angry, and more passionate than ever in its support for independence.
In the spring of 1897, William McKinley, a Republican who was supported by midwestern business interests, succeeded the anti-imperialist Democrat Grover Cleveland as president of the United States. Like most Americans, McKinley had long considered Spanish rule to be a blight on Cuba. The prospect of the Cubans governing themselves, however, alarmed him even more. He worried that an independent Cuba would become too assertive and not do Washington’s bidding.
McKinley had reason to worry. Cuban rebel leaders were promising that once in power, they would launch sweeping social reforms, starting with land redistribution. That struck fear into the hearts of American businessmen, who had more than $50 million invested on the island, most of it in agriculture. Early in 1898, McKinley decided it was time to send both sides in the conflict a strong message. He ordered the battleship Maine to leave its place in the Atlantic Fleet and head for Havana.
Officially the Maine was simply making a “friendly visit,” but no one in Cuba took that explanation seriously. All realized that she was serving as a “gunboat calling card,” a symbol of America’s determination to control the course of events in the Caribbean. For three weeks she lay quietly at anchor in Havana. Then, on the night of February 15, 1898, she was torn apart by a tremendous explosion. More than 250 American sailors perished. News of the disaster electrified the United States. All assumed that Spain was responsible, and when the navy issued a report blaming the disaster on “an external explosion,” their assumptions turned to certainty.
Many Americans already felt a passionate hatred for Spanish colonialism and a romantic attachment to the idea of “Cuba Libre.” Their emotions had been fired by a series of wildly sensational newspaper reports that together constitute one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the New York Journal and a string of other newspapers across the country, had been attracting readers for months with vivid denunciations of Spanish colonialists. Like countless others who have sought to set the United States on the path to war, he knew that he needed a villain, an individual on whom he could focus the public’s outrage. The king of Spain was at that moment a fourteen-year-old boy, and the regent, his mother, was an Austrian princess, so neither of them would do. Hearst settled on General Weyler, and published a series of bloodcurdling stories that made him the personification of evil.
“Weyler, the brute, the devastator of haciendas, and the outrager of women . . . is pitiless, cold, an exterminator of men,” ran one such account. “There is nothing to prevent his carnal, animal brain from running riot with itself in inventing tortures and infamies of bloody debauchery.”
The moment Hearst heard about the sinking of the Maine, he recognized it as a great opportunity. For weeks after the explosion, he filled page after page with mendacious “scoops,” fabricated interviews with unnamed government officials, and declarations that the battleship had been “destroyed by treachery” and “split in two by an enemy’s secret infernal machine.” The Journal’s daily circulation doubled in four weeks. Other newspapers joined the frenzy, and their campaign brought Americans to near-hysteria.
With such intense emotion surging through the United States, it was easy for McKinley to turn aside repeated offers from the new Spanish prime minister, Práxedes Sagasta, to resolve the Cuban conflict peacefully. Sagasta was a modernizing Liberal who understood that his country’s colonial policies had brought its empire to the brink of collapse. Immediately after taking office in 1897, he replaced the hated Weyler, and then tried to placate the rebels by offering them home rule. The rebels, sensing that victory was at hand, rejected his offer. That made Sagasta all the more eager to sue for peace, and several times during the spring of 1898 he offered to negotiate a settlement with the United States. Dismissing these overtures as insincere, McKinley and his supporters said that they had lost patience with Spain and were determined to resolve the Cuban situation by force of arms.
Behind their tough talk lay an obvious fact. Negotiations would most likely have led to an independent Cuba where neither the United States nor any other country would have military bases. This was hardly the outcome McKinley wanted, and it would have horrified expansionists like Roosevelt, Lodge, and Mahan. Lodge went so far as to warn McKinley that if he did not intervene, he would kill Republican chances in that year’s election.
“If the war in Cuba drags on through the summer with nothing done,” he told the president, “we shall go down to the greatest defeat ever known.”
Years later, the historian Samuel Eliot Morison surveyed Spain’s efforts to resolve the Cuban crisis peacefully and concluded, “Any president with a backbone would have seized this opportunity for an honorable solution.” Such a solution, however, would have denied the United States the prizes it sought. They could be won only by conquest. McKinley understood this, and on April 11 he asked Congress to authorize “forcible intervention” in Cuba.
This step alarmed Cuban revolutionary leaders. They had long believed that, in General Maceo’s words, it would be “better to rise or fall without help than to contract debts of gratitude with such a powerful neighbor.” The rebels’ legal counsel in New York, Horatio Rubens, warned that American intervention would be taken as “nothing less than a declaration of war by the United States against the Cuban revolution” and vowed that rebel forces would resist any American attempt to take the island “with force of arms, as bitterly and tenaciously as we have fought the armies of Spain.”
Protests like these had a great effect in Washington, where the cry of “Cuba Libre” still stirred many hearts. Members of Congress were reluctant to vote for McKinley’s war resolution as long as the Cuban people opposed it. They had refused to annex Hawaii after it became clear that most Hawaiians were against the idea. Now, five years later, Americans were showing the same reluctance. Many were uncomfortable with the idea of sending soldiers to aid a movement that did not want American help. To secure congressional support for intervention in Cuba, McKinley agreed to accept an extraordinary amendment offered by Senator Henry Teller of Colorado. It began by declaring that “the people of the island of Cuba are, and of right ought to be, free and independent” and ended with a solemn pledge: “The United States hereby disclaims any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for the pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.” The Senate approved it unanimously.
That promise, which came to be known as the Teller Amendment, calmed the rebels’ fears. “It is true that they have not entered into an accord with our government,” wrote one of their leaders, General Calixto García, “but they have recognized our right to be free, and that is enough forme.”
On April 25, Congress declared that a state of war existed between the United States and Spain. Members of the House of Representatives celebrated their vote by breaking into rousing choruses of “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as they left the chamber. “A spirit of wild jingoism seems to have taken possession of this usually conservative body,” McKinley’s secretary wrote in his diary.
A nation that was still recovering from the bitter divisions of the Civil War finally had a cause everyone could embrace. President McKinley called for 125,000 military volunteers, and more than twice that number poured into recruiting stations. The New York Journal suggested that heroic athletes like the baseball star Cap Anson and the boxing champion “Gentleman” Jim Corbett be recruited to lead an elite unit. Not to be outdone, the rival New York World published an article by Buffalo Bill Cody headlined, “How I Could Drive the Spaniards from Cuba with Thirty Thousand Braves!” Theodore Roosevelt announced that he would quit his post as assistant secretary of the navy to raise and lead a fighting unit.
“It was a war entered without misgivings and in the noblest frame of mind,” the military historian Walter Millis wrote thirty years later. “Seldom can history have recorded a plainer case of military aggression yet seldom has a war been started in so profound a conviction of its righteousness.”
Events moved quickly in the weeks that followed. Roosevelt ordered Commodore George Dewey to proceed to Manila Bay, in the Philippines, and destroy the Spanish fleet that had been deployed there. This Dewey did with astonishing ease in a single day, May 1, after giving his famous command “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”
Six weeks later, American soldiers landed near Santiago on Cuba’s southeastern coast. They fought three one-day battles, the most famous being the one in which Roosevelt, dressed in a uniform he had ordered from Brooks Brothers, led a charge up Kettle Hill, later called San Juan Hill. On July 3, American cruisers destroyed the few decrepit Spanish naval vessels anchored at Santiago. Spanish forces soon ended their resistance, and the Cuban and American commanders, Generals Calixto García and William Shafter, prepared to accept their formal surrender. Before the ceremony, though, Shafter astonished Garcia by sending him a message saying he could not participate in the ceremony or even enter Santiago. That was the first hint that the United States would not keep the promise Congress had made when it passed the Teller Amendment.
On August 12, barely two months after the American landing, diplomats representing Spain and the United States met at the White House and signed a “protocol of peace” that ended the war. Just 385 Americans had been killed in action, barely more than Sioux Indians had killed at Little Big Horn in the country’s last major military engagement, twentytwo years before. About two thousand more died later of wounds and disease, but even that number was less than had fallen in single afternoons during intense battles of the Civil War. It had been, in the words of the American statesman John Hay, “a splendid little war.”
With victory won, the time had come for the United States to begin its withdrawal and, in the words of the Teller Amendment, “leave the government and control of the island to its people.” Instead it did the opposite.
In the United States, enthusiasm for Cuban independence faded quickly. Whitelaw Reid, the publisher of the New York Tribune and the journalist closest to President McKinley, proclaimed the “absolute necessity of controlling Cuba for our own defense,” and rejected the Teller Amendment as “a self-denying ordinance possible only in a moment of national hysteria.” Senator Beveridge said it was not binding because Congress had approved it “in a moment of impulsive but mistaken generosity.” The New York Times asserted that Americans had a “higher obligation” than strict fidelity to ill-advised promises, and must become “permanent possessors of Cuba if the Cubans prove to be altogether incapable of self-government.”
These pillars of American democracy were arguing quite explicitly that the United States was not obligated to keep promises embodied in law if those promises were later deemed to have been unwisely made. Over the next year, they and others justified this remarkable argument through a series of propositions. All were calculated to soothe the public conscience, and all were largely or completely false.
The first of these propositions was that American fighters, not Cubans, had expelled the Spanish from Cuba. Newspaper reporters told their credulous readers that when the U.S. Army arrived, it found the Cuban rebel force “in desperate straits,” “threatened with collapse,” and “bogged down in a bitter stalemate.” Quite the opposite was true. After three years of continual fighting, Cuban rebels had won control of most of the island, forced the hungry and disease-plagued Spanish army to withdraw into guarded enclaves, and made plans to attack Santiago and other cities. They were headed toward victory when the Americans landed.
The second myth that Americans were led to embrace was that Cuban revolutionaries were cowardly laggards who had watched in bewildered admiration while Americans defeated the Spanish army. “This ally has done little but stay in the rear,” one newspaper correspondent reported from the front. Another found that the Cubans “made very weak allies.” A third wrote that the rebel army “did little or no fighting” and “has borne no testimony to its desire to free Cuba.”
This was another piece of self-deception, but understandable. Few American correspondents had been in Cuba to watch as rebels built their power over a period of years, won broad popular support, and waged a highly successful guerrilla war. To most of these journalists, the war began only when American forces landed in the spring of 1898. None understood that Cuban units had secured the beaches where American soldiers landed near Santiago even the American naval commander there, Admiral William Sampson, said afterward that the absence of Spanish troops on the beaches “remains a mystery.” Other Cubans served as scouts and intelligence agents for the Americans, although they indignantly refused repeated demands that they work as porters and laborers.
To most Americans, war consisted of set-piece battles in which armies faced off. They loved reading about charges like the one at San Juan Hill, in which few Cubans participated. The long war of attrition that Cubans had waged unfolded far from the view of American officers and correspondents. Most of them did not realize that this campaign played a decisive role in the victory of 1898.
Once Americans convinced themselves that Cubans were cowards who had no idea of how to organize an army, it was easy for them to conclude that Cuba was incapable of ruling itself. The American press never focused on the revolutionary leaders, some of whom were highly educated, experienced, and sophisticated. Instead they portrayed the rebel force as an ignorant rabble composed largely of blacks who were barely removed from savagery. As a result, McKinley and his allies in government and business had no trouble portraying them as equal to the Hawaiians in ignorance and stupidity.
“Self-government!” General Shafter snorted when a reporter asked him about it. “Why, these people are no more fit for self-government than gunpowder is for hell.”
Within days of the Spanish surrender, American officials began telling the Cubans that they should forget the promise of independence embodied in the Teller Amendment. President McKinley declared that the United States would rule Cuba under “the law of belligerent right over conquered territory.” Attorney General John Griggs told the vice president of Cuba’s provisional government that the U.S. Army in Havana was an “invading army that would carry with it American sovereignty wherever it went.”
The confusion many Cubans felt as they heard these statements turned to indignant anger when General Brooke refused to allow their liberating army to participate in the celebration planned for the first days of 1899. Many were dumbfounded. “None of us thought that [American intervention] would be followed by a military occupation of the country by our allies, who treat us as a people incapable of acting for ourselves, and who have reduced us to obedience, to submission, and to a tutelage imposed by force of circumstances,” General Máximo Gómez wrote. “This cannot be our fate after years of struggle.”
Most Americans had little regard for Cubans, so it was natural that they would reject such protests. Many went even further. They were angry that Cubans had not fallen on their knees to thank the United States for liberating them. News correspondents reported that instead of embracing American soldiers, the Cubans seemed “sour,” “sullen,” “conceited,” “vain and jealous.” One wrote of his astonishment to find that they were not “filled with gratitude towards us.” None seemed willing or able to understand how logical it was for Cubans to feel this way. They took the Cubans’ resentment as further proof of their ignorance and immaturity.
Cuban patriots had for years promised that after independence, they would stabilize their country by promoting social justice. Americans wanted something quite different. “The people ask me what we mean by stable government in Cuba,” the new military governor, General Leonard Wood, wrote in a report to Washington soon after he assumed office in 1900. “I tell them that when money can be borrowed at a reasonable rate of interest and when capital is willing to invest in the island, a condition of stability will have been reached.” In a note to President McKinley, he was even more succinct: “When people ask me what I mean by stable government, I tell them, ’Money at six percent.’”
On July 25, 1900, General Wood published an order calling for the election of delegates to a Cuban constitutional convention. Fewer than one-third of the qualified voters turned out, and even they refused to support many of the candidates the Americans sponsored. General Wood described the thirty-one delegates as “about ten absolutely first class men and about fifteen men of doubtful qualifications and character, and about six of the worst rascals and fakirs in Cuba.”
That autumn, Secretary of War Elihu Root, who had been a leading corporate attorney in New York, and Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Committee on Relations with Cuba, wrote the law that would shape Cuba’s future. The Platt Amendment, as it came to be known, is a crucial document in the history of American foreign policy. It gave the United States a way to control Cuba without running it directly, by maintaining a submissive local regime. Washington would go on to apply this system in many parts of the Caribbean and Central America, where to this day it is known as plattismo.
Under the Platt Amendment, the United States agreed to end its occupation of Cuba as soon as the Cubans accepted a constitution with provisions giving the United States the right to maintain military bases in Cuba the right to veto any treaty between Cuba and any other country the right to supervise the Cuban treasury and “the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence [or] the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property and individual liberty.” In essence, the Platt Amendment gave Cubans permission to rule themselves as long as they allowed the United States to veto any decision they made.
Members of Congress could not avoid realizing that by passing the Platt Amendment, they would be reneging on the pledge they had made to Cuba less than three years before. Each had to ask himself a painful question that the New York Evening Post framed in a pithy editorial: “Given a solemn and unmistakable promise of independence to Cuba, how can I lie out of it and still go to church to thank God that I am not as other men are?” Senators resolved this dilemma without evident difficulty. On February 27, 1901, they approved the Platt Amendment by a vote of forty-three to twenty. Republicans cast all the affirmative votes. Later the House of Representatives joined in approval, also on a party-line vote. President McKinley signed the amendment into law on March 2. That plunged Cuba into what one historian called “a storm of excitement.”
Havana was in turmoil on the night of March 2. A torchlight procession delivered a petition of protest to Wood at the Governor’s Palace, and another crowd of demonstrators sought out the convention delegates and urged them to stand firm in their opposition to American demands. Similar demonstrations occurred on the following night. Outside the capital, municipal governments throughout the island poured out a flood of protest messages and resolutions, while public meetings were epidemic. On the night of March 5, speakers told a procession in Santiago that if the United States held to its demands, the Cubans must go to war once more.
Cuban delegates to the constitutional convention had to decide whether to accept the Platt Amendment. American officials assured them that the United States wished no direct influence over Cuba’s internal affairs, and also warned them that if they did not accept the Platt Amendment, Congress would impose even harsher terms. After long debate, much of it conducted behind closed doors, the Cuban delegates agreed, by a vote of fifteen to fourteen, to do what the United States wished. A year later, in an election the Americans supervised, Tomás Estrada Palma, who had lived for years in the town of Central Valley, New York, was chosen as the first president of the Republic of Cuba. General Wood, the military governor, wrote in a private letter what every sentient Cuban and American knew: “There is, of course, little or no independence left Cuba under the Platt Amendment.”
The Right and Wrong Questions About the Iraq War
These &ldquoknowing what we know now &hellip&rdquo questions are driving me crazy. They should make you mad too.
First some operating principles, then a little history lesson. The principles:
1) No one ever again—not a news person nor a civilian, not an American nor one from anyplace else—should waste another second asking, “Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq?” Reasons:
a) It’s too easy. Similarly: “Knowing what we know now, would you have bought a ticket on Malaysia Air flight 370?” The only people who might say Yes on the Iraq question would be those with family ties (poor Jeb Bush) those who are inept or out of practice in handling potentially tricky questions (surprisingly, again poor Bush) or those who are such Cheney-Bolton-Wolfowitz-style bitter enders that they survey the landscape of “what we know now”—the cost and death and damage, the generation’s worth of chaos unleashed in the Middle East, and of course the absence of WMDs—and still say, Heck of a job.
b) It doesn’t tell you anything. Leaders don’t make decisions on the basis of “what we know now” retrospectively. They have to weigh evidence based on “what we knew then,” in real time.
2) The questions reporters and citizens should ask instead. There are two of them.
a) Based on “what we knew then,” how did you assess the evidence, possible benefits, and possible risks of invading Iraq? What were your views as of early 2003? This is a straightforward-rather-than-tricky, for-the-record query. It’s a prelude to the much more important question:
b) Regardless of whether you feel you were right or wrong, prescient or misled, how exactly will the experience of Iraq—yours in weighing evidence, the country’s in going to war—shape your decisions on the future, unforeseeable choices about committing American force?
Question 2(b) is the essential question, on this topic, for candidates aspiring to become president. In assessing answers to this question:
—Minus points to any candidate who tries to bluff through with the tired “I don’t do hypotheticals” cliché. That might apply if you’re a military commander declining to say exactly when and where you’ll attack. But if you want to be president you need to explain the mindset with which you’ll approach still-undefined (that is, hypothetical) challenges.
—Plus points to any candidate who wrestles honestly with the question of what he (or she) has learned from being wrong (or right) about Iraq.
Now, the little history lesson. I am reinforcing a point already made in different ways by Peter Beinart for The Atlantic, Steve Benen for the Maddow Show blog, Greg Sargent in the WaPo, and Paul Krugman in the NY Times. But it is so very important, and in so much danger of being swamped by the current “Knowing what we know. ” bomfog, that I feel I have to weigh in.
- The “knowing what we know” question presumes that the Bush Administration and the U.S. public were in the role of impartial jurors, or good-faith strategic decision-makers, who while carefully weighing the evidence were (unfortunately) pushed toward a decision to invade, because the best-available information at the time indicated that there was an imminent WMD threat.
- That view is entirely false.
- The war was going to happen. The WMD claims were the result of the need to find a case for the war, rather than the other way around. Paul Krugman is exactly right when he says:
The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that.
This is blunter than I usually sound. Why am I putting it this way? I laid out as many details as I could in my book Blind Into Baghdad, and in an Atlantic article with the same name and one called “Bush’s Lost Year.” But here is a summary of things I saw first hand:
• I was in Washington on the morning of September 11, 2001. When the telephones started working again that afternoon, I called my children and parents, and my then-editors at The Atlantic, Michael Kelly and Cullen Murphy. After that, the very next call I made was to a friend who was working inside the Pentagon when it was hit, and had already been mobilized into a team planning the U.S.-strategic response. “We don’t know exactly where the attack came from,” he told me that afternoon. “But I can tell you where the response will be: in Iraq.” I wrote about this in The Atlantic not long afterwards, and later in my book. My friend was being honest in expressing his own preferences: He viewed Saddam Hussein as the basic source of instability in the region. But he made clear that even if he personally had felt otherwise, Iraq was where things were already headed.
• Four days after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush held a meeting of his advisors at Camp David. Soon after that meeting, rumors emerged of what is by now settled historical fact: that Paul Wolfowitz, with the apparent backing of Donald Rumsfeld, spoke strongly for invading Iraq along with, or instead of, fighting in Afghanistan. (For an academic paper involving the meeting, see this.) The principals voted against moving into Iraq immediately. But from that point on it was a matter of how and when the Iraq front would open up, not whether.
• Anyone who was paying attention to military or political trends knew for certain by the end of 2001 that the administration and the military were gearing up to invade Iraq. If you want a timeline, again I refer you to my book—or to this review of Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, which describes Bush’s meetings with General Tommy Franks in December, 2001, to draw up invasion plans. By late 2001 forces, weapons, and emphasis were already being diverted from Afghanistan in preparation for the Iraq war, even though there had not yet been any national “debate” over launching that war.
• Want some proof that we, at The Atlantic, took seriously the fact that the Iraq decision had already been made? By late February, 2002, our editors were basing our coverage plans on the certainty of the coming war. That month I started doing interviews for the article that ran in the November, 2002 issue of the print magazine but which we actually put online in August. It was called “The Fifty-First State” and its premise was: The U.S. is going to war, it will “win” in the short term, but God knows what it will then unleash.
• All this was a year before the invasion, seven months before Condoleezza Rice’s scare interview (“We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”), also seven months before Rumsfeld’s “trained ape” quote (“There's no debate in the world as to whether they have these weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that”), and six months before Dick Cheney’s big VFW scare speech (“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction”). It was long before the United States supposedly “decided” to go to war.
In the late summer of 2002, the public began hearing about the mounting WMD menace as the reason we had to invade Iraq. But that was not the reason. Plans for the invasion had already been underway for months. The war was already coming the “reason” for war just had to catch up.
Everyone who was around then knows it. You can look it up. And we had damned well better not forget it, in a fog of faux remorseful “Knowing what we now know. ” sanitized history.
THE BAY OF PIGS INVASION: A FAILURE OF MILITARY STRATEGY
LeMay saw immediately that the invasion force would need the air cover of U.S. planes, but the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, under Kennedy’s order, had cancelled that the night before. LeMay saw the plan was destined to fail, and he wanted to express his concern to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. But the Secretary of Defense was not present at the meeting.
Instead, LeMay was able to speak only to the Under Secretary of Defense, Roswell Gilpatric. LeMay did not mince words.
“You just cut the throats of everybody on the beach down there,” LeMay told Gilpatric.
“What do you mean?” Gilpatric asked.
LeMay explained that without air support, the landing forces were doomed. Gilpatric responded with a shrug.
The entire operation went against everything LeMay had learned in his thirty-three years of experience. In any military operation, especially one of this significance, a plan cannot depend on every step going right. Most steps do not go right and a great deal of padding must be built in to compensate for those unforeseen problems. It went back to the LeMay doctrine—hitting an enemy with everything you had at your disposal if you have already come to the conclusion that a military engagement is your only option. Use everything, so there is no chance of failure. Limited, half-hearted endeavors are doomed.
The Bay of Pigs invasion turned out to be a disaster for the Kennedy administration. Kennedy realized it too late. The Cubans did not rise up against Castro, and the small, CIA-trained army was quickly defeated by Castro’s forces. The men were either killed or taken prisoner. All of this made Kennedy look weak and inexperienced. A short time later, Kennedy went out to a golf course with his old friend, Charles Bartlett, a journalist. Bartlett remembered Kennedy driving golf balls far into a distant field with unusual anger and frustration, saying over and over, “I can’t believe they talked me into this.” The entire episode undermined the administration and set the stage for a difficult summit meeting between Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev two months later. It also exacerbated the administration’s rocky relationship with the Joint Chiefs, who felt the military was unfairly blamed for the fiasco in Cuba.
This was not quite true. Kennedy put the blame squarely on the CIA and on himself for going along with the ill-conceived plan. One of his first steps following the debacle was to replace the CIA director, Allen Dulles, with John McCone. The incident forced Kennedy to grow in office. Although his relationship with the military did suffer, the problems between Kennedy and the Pentagon predated the Bay of Pigs Invasion. According to his chief aid and speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, Kennedy was unawed by Generals. “First, during his own military service, he found that military brass was not as wise and efficient as the brass on their uniform indicated . . . and when he was president with a great background in foreign affairs, he was not that impressed with the advice he received.”
LeMay and the other Chiefs sensed this and felt that Kennedy and the people under him simply ignored the military’s advice on the Bay of Pigs Invasion. LeMay was especially incensed when McNamara brought in a group of brilliant, young statisticians as an additional civilian buffer between the ranks of professional military advisers and the White House. They became known as the Defense Intellectuals. LeMay used the more derogatory term “Whiz Kids.” These were people who had either no military experience on the ground whatsoever or, at the most, two or three years in lower ranks.
In LeMay’s mind, this limited background could never match the combined experience that the Joint Chiefs brought to the table. These young men, who seemed to have the President’s ear, also exuded a sureness of their opinions that LeMay saw as arrogance. This ran against his personality—as LeMay approached almost everything in his life with a feeling of self-doubt, he was actually surprised when things worked out well. Here he saw the opposite—inexperienced people coming in absolutely sure of themselves and ultimately making the wrong decisions with terrible consequences.
You can also buy the book by clicking on the buttons to the left.
The Second Intervention (1906-1909) in Cuba by the United States
It did not take long for political problems to develop. When Estrada Palma's term was up in 1906 he ran for reelection. Opponents claimed his reelection was fraudulent and rebelled to prevent Estrada Palma from continuing as president. Estrada Palma called for U.S. intervention to end the rebellion.
Charles E. Magoon was established as military governor of Cuba by the U.S. Because this was to be a temporary occupation Magoon did not undertake as much public improvement as had Leonard Wood. Magoon did however command the construction of a sewage system for Havana. He tried to create a body of law that would ensure that the legislation enacted would be fair and reasonable. Similarly he tried to create systems of municipal laws, municipal taxation and a civil service to maintain government operations. Likewise he tried to create a system of laws for the courts.
On the negative side Magoon spent lavishly and left Cuba in debt. He called for elections in 1908 and the winner of the presidency was José Miguel Gómez. Gómez had been the leader of the rebellion against Estrada Palma. Gómez governed from 1909 to 1913.
Gómez narrowly prevented another U.S. intervention in 1912. This incident stemmed from a development during the 1908 election. In that year some black Cubans organized a racially defined political party, called Agrupación Independente de Color (AIC) (Independent Colored Association). The Cuban Senate about 1912 passed legislation which prohibited political parties defined by race. The AIC rebelled and the image of a black rebellion alarmed the U.S. which then invoked the Platt Amendment and landed U.S. Marines at several points around Cuba. To head off this incipient intervention the Gómez government acted swiftly and harshly. It captured the rebels and executed the leaders.
Why did the US invade Cuba in such a weak manner? - History
By Peter Kross
From 1959 to 1961, the United States turned its focus to two of the most charismatic, ruthless, and despotic rulers in the Caribbean region, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Over the next two years, the United States government turned to the Central Intelligence Agency to devise a plan to kill both of these men, a task the agency relished. In the case of Fidel Castro, the CIA came up with hair-brained schemes to kill the Cuban leader, including using members of the American mafia to carry out the assassination. In the case of the Rafael Trujillo assassination, the CIA would ship arms and ammunition to certain anti-Trujillo elements in the Dominican Republic that were willing and able to assassinate their ruthless leader.
In the end, the Castro assassination plots failed despite many attempts on his life. As far as the fate of Trujillo was concerned, the outcome was a lot different, with the conspirators having much better luck than their compatriots in Cuba.
Rafael Trujillo’s Rise to Power
In the years since the establishment of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 by U.S. President James Monroe, the United States considered the Caribbean an “American lake,” an area of strategic importance to Washington. It was the policy of succeeding American presidents to prevent other powers, mostly from Europe, from gaining a foothold in Latin America. If it meant making marriages of convenience with less than stable leaders in the region to protect U.S. interests, so be it.
The United States had a longstanding political and economic relationship with the Dominican Republic going back to the early 1900s. In 1906, the Dominicans signed a 50-year treaty with the United States to give the larger country control over the republic’s customs department. U.S. Marines occupied the Dominican Republic in 1916 and stayed for four years. At the time of the American withdrawal, Trujillo was in charge of the Dominican National Guard. Only a few years before, Trujillo had been a member of group of dissidents who opposed Horacio Vasquez, the leader of the National Party. The group fomented a revolt in the country.
After the rebellion ended, the young Trujillo joined a rag-tag group of thieves and robbers called “The 44.” When the Americans landed in the Dominican Republic, Trujillo was one of hundreds of young men of military age who were given training by the United States, and he was part of the National Guard that battled the rebels in the countryside. Trujillo was a brutal soldier who took every opportunity to torture his prisoners without any retribution from his superiors. When Vasquez became president, he appointed Trujillo as a colonel in the National Guard and later chief of police, a post with unlimited power.
In 1930, a coup was initiated by the rebels whose leader, Estrella Urena, became the provisional president until elections were held. Trujillo pledged not to run for president but changed his mind. Backers of Trujillo killed opposition leaders, ransacked opponents’ homes, and kidnapped anti-Trujillo newspaper reporters. Through a campaign of widespread terror and intimidation on the part of his backers, Trujillo was now president of the Dominican Republic, a post he would hold for almost 30 more years.
Feud With Castro
In the decades to come, Rafael Trujillo ruled the country with an iron fist, taking over for his personal gain such industries as oil refining, cement manufacturing, and food production, pocketing large amounts of cash for years to come.
In 1956, Castro was planning a revolt in Cuba whose goal was the removal of the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Secretly, Trujillo offered Batista military supplies to stop Castro but there was never any lasting relationship between the two dictators. Trujillo referred to Batista as “that shitty sergeant,” and said, “I’m going to oust the bastard.” But Trujillo had no love for Castro either. Trujillo sent arms and ammunition to anti-Castro dissidents then living the Miami area. On New Year’s Eve 1959, Castro and his band of revolutionaries ousted the hated Batista, and Castro proclaimed himself the leader of Cuba.
On June 14, 1959, an abortive invasion to topple Trujillo began. On that day, a plane with Dominican markings left Cuba and landed at the Cordillera Central in the Dominican Republic. On board were 225 men led by a Dominican named Enrique Jimenez Moya and a Cuban named Delico Gomez Ochoa, both of whom were friends of Castro. The invasion force was composed of men from various Latin American countries and Spain. Some Americans also participated. As soon as the invaders landed, they were met by soldiers of the Dominican Army, and 30 to 40 men escaped.
A week later, another group of invaders boarded two yachts and was escorted by Cuban gunboats to Great Inagua, in the Bahamas, heading for the Dominican coast. Instead, the group was spotted by Dominican soldiers who blasted the yacht to pieces. Trujillo ordered his son, Ramfis, to lead the hunt for the invaders, and soon they were captured. The leaders of the invasion were taken aboard a Dominican Air Force plane and then pushed out in midair, falling to their deaths.
The plot was, in reality, tactically directed by many opposition leaders inside the country. Trujillo blamed Castro for the plot, and secretly Castro was behind the entire affair. In time, Trujillo set up a plan to invade Cuba (which never took place) and had his followers loot the Cuban embassy in the capital city of Ciudad Trujillo. Cuba subsequently severed all diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic.
Rafael Trujillo’s Attempt on Romulo Betancourt’s Life
Another Caribbean leader who hated Trujillo was Romulo Betancourt, the president of Venezuela. In 1951, an attempt to kill Betancourt took place in Havana when someone tried to stab him with a poisoned syringe. The behind-the-scenes culprit was none other than Trujillo. By 1960, Betancourt was publicly criticizing Trujillo, calling him a crook and a scoundrel. In retaliation for his slurs, Trujillo planned an elaborate assassination attempt against Betancourt.
That same year, while Betancourt was driving through the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, during the annual Army Day parade, a powerful bomb exploded in his motorcade. The bomb had been placed in a green Oldsmobile parked near the parade route and contained 65 kilos of TNT. The blast exploded right under the car carrying Betancourt and his party. The car was sent flying across the street. One person in the auto was killed, and Betancourt suffered severe burns to his hands.
Left: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Trujillo both supported attempts to overthrow each other. Right: Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo
Eisenhower’s Plot to Overthrow Trujillo
In Washington, the Eisenhower administration saw the assassination attempt by Trujillo against Betancourt as the last straw. President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that Trujillo was just as bad as Castro, and if left alone he would turn the Dominican Republic into another bastion of communism in the Western Hemisphere. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to mount a covert operation to help the anti-Trujillo elements in the country to overthrow the bothersome dictator.
In February 1960, Eisenhower approved covert aid to the Dominican dissidents, which was intended to lead to the removal of Trujillo and his replacement by a regime that the United States could support. In the spring of 1960, U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Joseph Farland made initial contact with dissident elements in the country. The dissidents asked for sniper rifles, but at that time they were not delivered. Right before he left for Washington, Farland introduced his successor, Henry Dearborn, to the dissident leaders and told them that in the future they were to work with Dearborn. The new ambassador told the leaders that the United States would covertly help the rebels in their efforts to oust Trujillo but would not take any overt action.
In June 1960, a meeting took place between Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Roy Rubottom and Colonel J.C. King, chief of the CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division. They discussed a request by a principal leader of the opposition for a limited number of arms to aid in the overthrow of the Trujillo regime. In July, their subsequent proposal was accepted, and the CIA sent 12 sterile rifles with telescopic sights along with 500 rounds of ammunition to the Dominican Republic.
In August 1960, the United States cut off diplomatic relations with Trujillo, leaving Dearborn as the sole U.S. representative in that nation. Dearborn was now the de facto head of the CIA in the Dominican Republic since all the regular CIA personnel had left the country. As Dearborn studied the political and military situation, he cabled Washington that the dissidents were “in no way ready to carry out any type of revolutionary activity in the foreseeable future, except the assassination of their principal enemy [Trujillo].”
In the meantime, the United States tried to aid in the peaceful removal of Trujillo by sending emissaries to persuade him to leave. The effort was to no avail.
Plans were now activated to effect the removal of Rafael Trujillo by any means necessary. A CIA memo concerning a limited invasion plan discusses “the delivery of approximately 300 rifles and pistols, together with ammunition and a supply of grenades, to a secure cache on the South shore of the island, about 14 miles East of Ciudad Trujillo.”
The dispatch also says that the cache would include “an electronic detonating device with remote control features, which could be planted by the dissidents in such a manner as to eliminate certain key Trujillo henchmen. This might necessitate training and introducing into the country by illegal entry, a trained technician to set the bomb and detonator.”
The Plot Under John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy, who became president of the United States in January 1961, continued the CIA’s covert effort to oust Trujillo. Before the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961, the Kennedy administration covertly sent machine guns, pistols, and carbines to the dissidents in the Dominican Republic.
Three .30-caliber M-1 carbines had been left in the U.S. embassy before the United States broke diplomatic relations with Trujillo, and on March 31, 1961, these guns were supplied to the dissidents. These particular carbines eventually found their way into the hands of one of Trujillo’s assassins, Antonio de la Maza. On April 10, four M3 machine guns and 240 rounds of ammunition were sent via diplomatic pouch to the Dominican Republic. They were received on April 19.
On February 15, 1961, Secretary of State Dean Rusk sent a letter to President Kennedy informing him of the developments regarding the Rafael Trujillo assassination plots. It read: “Our representatives in the Dominican Republic have, at considerable risk to those involved, established contacts with numerous leaders of the underground opposition … and the CIA has recently been authorized to arrange for delivery to them outside the Dominican Republic of small arms and sabotage equipment.”
After the Bay of Pigs disaster, the Kennedy administration tried to convince the dissidents not to kill Trujillo as the political climate was not conducive at that moment. However, the machine guns were dispatched to the U.S. consulate and were taken into possession by Dearborn. Two days before Trujillo’s murder, Kennedy sent a cable to Dearborn informing him that the United States did not condone political assassination in any form and that the United States must not be associated with the attempt on Trujillo’s life.
Dearborn’s pleas to the dissidents to call off the assassination proved, in the end, to be futile. On April 30, Dearborn told Washington via cable that the dissidents were going to kill Rafael Trujillo during the first week of May and had in their possession three carbines, four to six 12-gauge shotguns, and other small arms. The CIA, seeing the futility of further talks with de la Maza, ordered Dearborn to turn over the rest of the rifles.
Visiting the United States, Rafael Trujillo reviews a Marine Corps honor guard. Trujillo’s control of the Dominican Republic lasted for three decades. He alternated between serving as the country’s president and its top military official, but he always controlled the country’s politics.
How the Rafael Trujillo Assassination Actually Happened
On May 30, a spy who worked in the garage where Trujillo’s 1957 Chevrolet was parked, told the four main conspirators—La Maza, Salvador Estrella, Antonio Imbert, and Garcia Guerrero—that Trujillo was planning to meet his girlfriend, Mona Sanchez, that night. The men had in their possession revolvers, pistols, a sawed-off shotgun, and two semiautomatic rifles, some of which had been supplied by the CIA. The route that Trujillo was to take passed the Agua Luz Theater, on the highway that led to San Cristobal. The assassins were in position by 8 pm, waiting for Trujillo’s car to arrive.
At 10 pm, Trujillo and his chauffer got into the Chevrolet and proceeded to the girlfriend’s house. The assassins picked a section of the road that was the least traveled and when Trujillo’s car passed them, Imbert gunned his own car and took off after Trujillo. During the next few, hectic minutes, the assassins opened fire, riddling the car with almost 30 bullets. Trujillo’s chauffeur attempted to return fire with a machine gun.
Badly wounded, Trujillo scrambled out of the car, looking for the assassins. Meanwhile, De la Maza and Imbert doubled back. Trujillo had no chance. He was shot down by the two men and died on the spot. The conspirators put Trujillo’s body in the trunk of a car and parked it two blocks from the American consulate.
After the Rafael Trujillo assassination, the assailants fled to various parts of the country, hoping to evade the huge manhunt that was soon to descend upon them. Whatever hope the assassins had of a coup being initiated upon the death of Trujillo was for naught. His sadistic son and heir apparent, Ramfis, took over the presidency and rounded up all the conspirators. They were summarily executed, some of them being fed to sharks.
The Dominican Republic Unravels
After the assassination, Dearborn sent a message to Washington saying, “We don’t care if the Dominicans assassinated Trujillo, that is all right. But we don’t want anything to pin this on us, because we aren’t doing it, it is the Dominicans who are doing it.” Shortly thereafter, Dearborn and the remaining Americans left Santo Domingo.
Ramfis Trujillo’s time as the leader of the Dominican Republic was short lived. By September 1961, he was in a power struggle with Joaquin Balaguer, another Dominican politician. A possible coalition government was proposed, but soon rioting broke out in the streets and the country seemed on the verge of collapse. In the end, Ramfis Trujillo fled his homeland with millions of dollars of looted cash, never to return.
A series of riots took place in Santo Domingo in April 1965. American embassy officials cabled Washington saying that communist elements were trying to take power in the country. President Lyndon Johnson dispatched a force of 22,000 American troops to restore order. In reality, there was no communist revolt, and the American invasion was roundly criticized throughout Latin America.
In the final analysis, the United States did not want to participate in the events leading up to the Rafael Trujillo assassination, but did so partly due to the political climate of the Cold War. The United States feared that Trujillo would turn the Dominican Republic into another Cuba and reluctantly went along with the rebels’ demands to provide them with guns and ammunition. In an ironic twist, the United States succeeded in removing one dictator, Rafael Trujillo, by basically doing very little, while desperately trying to assassinate Castro of Cuba, and failing miserably. (Read more in-depth stories about the Cold War and 21th century military history inside the pages of Military Heritage magazine.)
Confronting and Ending the US Blockade Against Cuba
U.S. news reports rarely touch upon the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba. The blockade destroys people’s lives and threatens the island’s economy and Cuba’s economic development. Damning evidence appears in the Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s most recent report on adverse effects. Its authors refer to “the longest-lasting trade embargo in modern history.”
How long is long? It’s been in place for 60 years. If from there you go back only five 60-year chunks of time, you might have greeted the Puritans arriving in Boston. Meanwhile, “Cuba bashing is like ordering pizza … cheap and easy and everyone likes you for it.” – in the words of Cuba analyst and lawyer José Pertierra.
Here we try to account for the blockade’s long life we propose a new approach toward ending it.
Anti-blockade activists have generally operated on the assumption that if public and elected officials actually understood the horrors of the blockade, they would come together and finish it off. The blockade, it’s been variously pointed out, is illegal, cruel, immoral, bad for U.S. businesses wanting to sell to Cuba, bad for potential U.S. importers, bad for U.S. tourists, and bad for U.S. fans of Cuban culture, music, and sports. Yet no large, sustained protest movement ever materialized.
Fundamentally, it seems, blockade opponents have never confronted the reality of powerful forces mobilized against them. Masters of the blockade, with the machinery of government at their disposal, enjoy free rein. Well-crafted blockade regulations are in force. And the resistance movement is small its leadership, divided.
Dedicated activists often rely on what looks like magical thinking. They presume that if something ought to happen, it will happen. It’s a fantasy politics which New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (December 13) characterizes as “dreampolitik.” Currently, for example, Trump die-hards insist, despite the facts, that he won the presidency and that President-elect Biden has socialist leanings or enables socialists or communists.
Two other factors are crucial. One: many members of the public, sympathetic though they may be, are not yet prepared to take a stand in favor of ending the blockade. Moved by a prevailing narrative that associates social radicalism with societal destabilization, they may hold Cuba at arm’s length.
Another is the problem of how to overcome the legacy of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. Among other nefarious provisions, that legislation awarded Congress sole responsibility for changing blockade regulations, in particular, for closing it down.
Some suggest that inasmuch as the blockade hasn’t worked to cause regime change, it must disappear. They don’t realize that the blockade is programmed to last exactly as long as the revolutionary government lasts. “But you must “keep the foot on the snake, don’t let up.” That was New Jersey congressman Robert Torricelli’s advice in 1992 as he introduced new blockade legislation.
The foundational purpose of the blockade was to inflict suffering and distress upon the Cuban people to induce them to overthrow their government. The blockade serves as one of many tools for protecting global capitalism and maintaining U.S. hegemony abroad. There is bonus value. Its existence cements the loyalty of the Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan exile communities to rightwing candidates in U.S. elections.
The need is therefore great to radically alter the manner of resisting. Struggle against the blockade now takes place as a single issue, walled off from other good causes. It’s a side show in the three-ring circus of U.S. politics. However, if efforts to end the blockade were included in a multi-faceted program of progressive change, and if the fight proceeded on those terms, then the odds of finishing off the blockade would surely improve.
An anti-capitalist or left-leaning political party would be leading the charge. After all, the U.S. anti-Cuban blockade is a key part of the ceaseless U. S. war against communism.
Packaging a demand in class-struggle wrapping did the trick in bringing about universally available healthcare. Following World War II every industrialized capitalist country in the world, except one, established some kind of care system for all people. A socialist political party, labor party, or strong union movement was operating in each of those countries, except the United States. That’s the one country that does not allow for universally available healthcare. Its labor unions are weak and there’s no socialist party competing in elections.