"In a forthcoming book, Senator Edward M. Kennedy invokes the leadership of his brothers during the Cuban missile crisis to launch a sharp new attack on President Bush," headlined the Boston Globe last week, "declaring that Bush should have followed the example of President John F. Kennedy and his attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy. … He accuses the president of engaging in an ‘unprecedented level of secrecy’ about government operations, and bemoans the Republican ‘culture of corruption’ in Washington."
The book’s title is "America Back on Track" and its release date is absolutely priceless. Kennedy and his publishers possess either an extremely morbid sense of humor or an extremely masochistic one. The book — hailing JFK’s "principled leadership" and "honesty" — hit stores not just on the very week that marks the 45th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion — but on the very day.
Sen. Kennedy has lobbed it over home plate. So let’s by all means recall Teddy’s brother’s administration’s implied "lack of secrecy and corruption." Most importantly, let’s scrutinize his sainted brother’s bold "leadership." The timing couldn’t be better.
"The Republicans have allowed a communist dictatorship to flourish eight jet minutes from our borders," accused John F. Kennedy during his famous debate with Richard Nixon during the 1960 Presidential campaign. "We must support anti-Castro fighters. So far these freedom fighters have received no help from our government."
Two weeks before that crucial debate in October 1960, JFK had been briefed by the CIA (on Ike’s orders) about Cuban invasion plans (what would later be known as the Bay of Pigs invasion). So JFK knew perfectly well the Republican administration was helping Cuban freedom fighters. But since the plans were secret, he knew perfectly well Nixon couldn’t rebut.
Which is to say, to blindside his Republican opponent Kennedy relied on that opponent’s patriotism. Let’s face it, Republicans are at a woeful disadvantage here. Nixon bit his tongue. He could easily have stomped Kennedy on it. But to some candidates national security (and those freedom-fighters lives) outweighs debating points.
Four months later, 1,400 of those very Cuban freedom-fighters that "we must support" were slugging it out with 51,000 Castro troops, squadrons of Stalin tanks and his entire Air force at a beachhead now known as the Bay of Pigs. (For details see "Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant," chapter 11.) JFK was no longer a candidate. He was now commander in chief.
It was time to put up or shut up. He’d already done plenty of putting up by hemming and hawing about the planed invasion from the moment he entered office. Then by forcing the CIA and military planners to change the landing site. Then by holding up his approval of an invasion a year in the making till 24 hours before the planned D-day. Then by canceling 80% of the pre-invasion air strikes. All this was to somehow hide the U.S. logistical role (this massive secret!)
JFK and his Best and Brightest were ashamed of that role. James Burnhams nailed this mindset in a famous passage from his book "Suicide of The West": "The liberal cannot strike wholeheartedly at the communist for fear of wounding himself in the process."
And despite what Camelot’s press agency (the MSM and Ivy League academics) have written, those pre-invasion airstrikes were the vital element of the invasion as planned under Eisenhower. The Cuban invasion was born under a Republican administration, with Vice President Nixon its main booster. The man who saw through Alger Hiss was also the first to see through Fidel Castro.
After the cancellation of the air strikes, the invading freedom-fighters and their supply ships found themselves completely defenseless against Castro’s air force. They were sitting ducks and under a constant hail of rocket fire. Here was a final chance for President JFK to stand with them, as promised by candidate JFK.
The U.S. carrier Essex was stationed 30 miles off the Cuban coast, dozens of deadly Skyhawk jets on deck and primed for action. Their pilots were frantic, banging their fists, kicking bulkheads and screaming in tears of desperate rage against the sellout of their freedom-fighting brothers on that heroic beachhead.
Simply give the nod, Mr. Commander in Chief, and they’d roar off to a chorus of whoops and cheers.
Now with air cover, the freedom-fighters ammo ships might survive a run on the beachhead. The invaders could reload, refuel and keep blasting forward. Their planes could fly in from Nicaragua. Then, perhaps, Cuba’s liberation: firing squads silenced, families reunited, tens of thousands of emaciated prisoners staggering from dungeons and concentration camps.
We see it on the History Channel almost weekly, after GI’s took places like Manila and Munich. In 1961 newsreels might have captured such scenes without crossing oceans. Castro’s prison camps and jails held from 250,000 to 300,000 prisoners — the highest political incarceration rate on earth at the time, perhaps the highest in history. If men who voluntarily took up arms and put their lives on the line to smash Castro’s regime don’t qualify as freedom fighters, then I surely learned the English language in vain.
And 45 years ago this week, 1,400 of them were hard at it on the beaches surrounding Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. Thousands more were waging a desperate, heroic and equally lonely guerrilla war in Cuba’s hills. The original plans called for the two groups of freedom-fighters to link up after the invasion. The Best and Brightest nixed that when, barely a month before d-day, they abruptly ordered the stunned military planners to change landing sites.
"Where are the PLANES?" kept crackling over the invasion ships’ radios. That was their commander, Pepe San Roman, roaring into his radio from the beachhead between artillery concussions. Soviet Howitzers were pounding two thousand rounds into the desperately embattled men (and boys.) "Send planes or we CAN’T LAST!" San Roman yelled while watching the Russian tanks close in, his ammo deplete and his casualties pile up.
The pleas made it to Navy Chief Admiral Arleigh Burke in Washington, D.C., who conveyed them in person to his commander in chief.
JFK was in a white tux and tails that fateful night of April 18, 1961, having just emerged from an elegant Beltway ball. For the closing act of the glittering occasion Jackie and her charming beau had spun around the dance floor, to the claps, coos and titters of the delighted guests. In the new President’s honor, the band had struck up the Broadway smash "Mr. Wonderful."
"Two planes, Mr. President!" Burke sputtered into his commander in chief’s face. The fighting admiral was livid, pleading for permission to allow just two of his jets to blaze off the carrier deck and support those desperately embattled freedom-fighters on that shrinking beachhead.
"Burke, we can’t get involved in this," replied Mr. Wonderful.
"We put those boys there, Mr. President!" the fighting admiral exploded. "By God, we ARE involved!"
Interesting match here. In one corner, the man who blasted half the Imperial Japanese fleet to fiery rubble and sent it to the bottom of the Pacific at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
In the other, the man who managed to get his PT boat Karate-chopped in half by a Japanese destroyer, a feat of nautical ingenuity that still has naval men scratching their heads — and one that almost got him court-martialed. Only some heavy political pressure saved Mr. Wonderful in 1944.
Alas, politics prevailed again that night of April 18, 1961. Mr. Wonderful refused to help the freedom fighters. The advice from his Best and Brightest again prevailed. The election was over, you see. Now his "leadership" was on full display.
"Can’t continue," crackled the final message from San Roman a few hours later. For three days his force of mostly volunteer civilians with one day’s ammo had battled savagely against a Soviet-trained and -led force 10 times their size, inflicting casualties of 30 to 1. To this day their feat of arms amazes professional military men. Morale will do that to a fighting force. And there’s no morale booster like having watched Castroism ravage your homeland and families.
Pigs will flap their wings through interstellar space before Hollywood (or the MSM) deigns to depict that battle accurately. But to get an idea of the odds faced by those freedom-fighters, the desperation of their battle and the damage they wrought, you might revisit Tony Montana during the last 15 minutes of Scarface.
"Russian tanks overrunning my position" … San Roman on his radio again … "destroying my equipment." Crackle … crackle … crackle. … "How can you people do this to us?" Finally the radio went dead.
"Tears filled my eyes," writes CIA man Grayston Lynch, who took that final message. "I broke down completely. Never in my 37 years have I been so ashamed of my country."
Eighteen months later a guilt-stricken JFK ransomed the remaining freedom-fighters back from Castro’s dungeons. Their battlefield and prison ordeal — brought on by JFK’s famous "leadership"– was over. But JFK’s "culture of secrecy," (remember, the very thing Senator Edward Kennedy blasts in Bush’s administration) was far from over.
"I will never abandon Cuba to Communism!" That was JFK addressing the recently ransomed freedom- fighters and their families in Miami’s Orange Bowl, Dec. 29, 1962. "I promise to deliver this Brigade banner to you in a free Havana!" Apparently those men and their families hadn’t been subject to enough lies, to enough betrayal. The grieving mothers, widows, and newly fatherless children — they hadn’t been through enough either. In Camelot’s eyes they deserved more shameless lies and swinishness.
Here’s Nikita Khrushchev himself regarding the deal he’d cut with JFK barely two months before JFK boomed out his Cuban liberation promises in the Orange Bowl.: "We ended up getting exactly what we’d wanted all along. Security for Fidel Castro’s regime and American missiles removed from Turkey. Until today, the U.S. has complied with her promise to not interfere with Castro and to not allow anyone else to interfere with Castro (emphasis added). After Kennedy’s death, his successor Lyndon Johnson assured us that he would keep the promise not to invade Cuba."
"We can’t say anything public about this agreement," said Robert F. Kennedy to Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin when closing the deal that ended the so-called Missile Crisis. "It would be too much of a political embarrassment for us."
Yet JFK (whose administration we’re told was untainted by any "culture of secrecy and corruption") addressed those Cuban men, their families and compatriots with a straight face. As CIA man Grayston Lynch writes, "that was the first time it snowed in the Orange Bowl."
Sen. Kennedy should really be more careful about what administration he accuses of maintaining a "culture of corruption and secrecy," and especially about the one he hails as an exemplar of nobility.