The Bay of Pigs invasion remains one of the darkest marks on American foreign policy. The failed military action damaged the country’s global reputation and allowed Cuba’s communist government to cement its rule over the nation’s people. Even worse, it almost led to a nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union.
Fidel Castro was a communist and a close ally of the Soviet Union, so when he took over Cuba, folks in the U.S. were worried. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began making plans to remove Castro from his position as dictator of Cuba. The agency decided the best way to do this would be to work with Cubans who fled the country when the communists took over. These exiles started training with the CIA to learn how to launch a guerilla war against Castro.
Guerilla warfare is a form of military strategy that involves small groups of soldiers, armed civilians, or others using tactics that involve ambushes, sabotage raids, hit-and-run maneuvers, and other less traditional ways of fighting. The plan was that these exiles would sneak back into Cuba, recruit others to their cause, and eventually overthrow the dictator.
Many of Kennedy’s military advisors warned against launching an attack from water with only 1,200 lightly armed fighters. Nevertheless, Kennedy decided to order the assault. April 17, 1961, the rebels traveled to the Bay of Pigs and the strategy fell apart right away. The landing force was confronted with Castro’s armed forces, who were there waiting for them. To make things worse, the locals didn’t join the fight. The assault resulted in the deaths of 100 invaders, and the remaining fighters were captured.
The United States’ failure was a complete disaster. Castro used the failed invasion to get more military support from the Soviet Union. This led directly to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost caused a full-on nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Bay of Pigs invasion further illustrates the difficult decisions that a president must make as the commander in chief of the United States Armed Forces. While it is easy to look back and see that this particular action was not a good idea, it is more difficult to understand the flaws in the plan when one is in the moment. Every military decision carries great risk; if a president chooses wisely, they can prevent a larger conflict. If they choose wrongly, it could lead to negative outcomes that impact the nation for decades to come.