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On April 17, 1961, approximately 1500 Cuban exiles trained and supported by the United States launched an ill-fated invasion against Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs in southwest Cuba. The Bay of Pigs invasion occurred early in the presidency of John F. Kennedy and constituted one of the great foreign policy missteps of the United States during the Cold War. In his new book in the "Pivotal Moments in American History" series of Oxford University Press, Howard Jones offers a succinct and sobering account of the Bay of Pigs and its aftermath. Written with quiet restraint, Jones's book has much to teach about American interventionist tendencies in Cuba and elswhere. Howard Jones is University Research Professor of History at the University of Alabama. He has written extensively on American history.

Jones shows the many tangled threads in the Bay of Pigs story. Following Castro's ascension to power in Cuba and his increasing hostility to the United States, the Eisenhower Administration authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to plan and conduct what became the Bay of Pigs invasion. With the momentum the plan had gathered, the new president, Kennedy, allowed the proposed overthrow of Castro to continue. Kennedy was indeed an active participant and changed the original plan in several respects. In addition to the invasion by the Cuban exiles, the plan had several components that Jones documents well in his study. The CIA engaged in dealings with the Mafia in a plan to assassinate Castro before the invasion. The invasion also relied popular insurrection in Cuba to displace the Castro regime after the exile force had established a beachhead. In the event the initial landing did not immediately succeed, the plan was for the invading force to assume guerilla tactics by joining with local fighters in the Escambray Mountains of Cuba.

Jones details how and why the plan failed at every level. He is critical of the plan at the outset for its interference with the internal affairs of a foreign nation, including the assassination of its leader, which had not committed acts of war against the United States. He also shows well how various parts of the Executive Branch, from the President and his immediate advisors, to the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the State Department tended to work against each other and to avoid responsibility for the unfortunate events that occurred in Cuba in April, 1961. The United States badly underestimated the resolve of the Castro regime, overestimated the likelihood of a popular uprising, and did not know the strength of Castro's air force.

Beyond these concerns, Jones points to other factors which doomed the invasion from the outset. The primarily failing was the confusion between political and military goals in the invasion. Eisenhower had entrusted planning to the CIA rather than to the military in an attempt to minimize the public exposure of the United States. Through Kennedy, the policy was one of "plausible deniablity" of the United States's activites. This "plausible deniability" proved impossible to maintain for an operation of the scope of the Bay of Pigs. Furthermore, political considerations irreparably compromised the military aspects of the plan. The invasion site was moved to the Bay of Pigs from a site about 100 miles east in the interest of secrecy. With its coral reefs, swamps, and lack of access to the mountains, the Bay of Pigs proved a poor alternative site. Probably more importantly, President Kennedy called off and limited supportive United States air strikes which were designed to neutralize Castro's air force. Castro's planes performed well during the invasion. Without air support, the amphibious landing, difficult at best, was doomed. Without support from the United States, the Cuban invasion quickly failed.

Jones also describes the aftermath of the failed invasion, with further attempts by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to assassinate Castro and to mount a direct United States military attack on Cuba. The Bay of Pigs invasion led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis in the autumn of 1962, which came perilously close to nuclear confrontation between the United States and the USSR. In 1975, following the investigations of a Senate Committee, President Gerald Ford issued an Executive Order forbidding at last the use of assassination as a political weapon of the United States. Jones sees parallels between the Bay of Pigs invasion and subsequent attempts by the United States to intervene in the internal affairs of nations unfriendly to the United States. He writes at the conclusion of his study (p. 174):

"[A]s history has repeatedly shown, intervention is far more complicated than it appears at the outset. The United States in April 1961 had embarked on the slippery slope toward a high-risk policy of forceful regime change that did not work in Cuba, nor in Vietnam, nor in Iraq, and remains shaky in Afghanistan."

Jones has written a thoughtful detailed study of the Bay of Pigs that will be of interest to readers who wish to reflect upon and understand the foreign policy of the United States.

Robin Friedman
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VINE VOICEon March 24, 2016
John F. Kennedy inherited the Bay of Pigs plan from Dwight Eisenhower, who, in one of his last official acts, had ordered the CIA to rub out the Cuban revolution. Tiny Cuba was no threat to the U.S., but Castro had nationalized American property and Washington feared that Castro-ism could spread to other parts of Latin America. The CIA's plan involved landing a brigade of 1,500 anti-communist Cubans on a beach in Cuba and then waiting for the population to rise up against Castro. The plan looked straightforward on paper. In reality, the CIA had bad intelligence on Cuba and no experience with amphibious invasions. Within days, the invaders were overwhelmed by Castro's vastly superior forces.

The fiasco exposed an amazing level of dysfunction in the U.S. government. Incredibly, Kennedy was adamant that U.S. fingerprints be kept off the operation, yet he didn't ask hard questions of the CIA and he went along with the plan because the "experts" told.him it would succeed. Grown ups in the State Department and the military who should have been deeply involved were instead marginalized by the CIA on spurious security grounds. It is likely the CIA itself suspected that the plan was unworkable but went ahead anyway in the expectation that Kennedy would send in the Marines rather than accept a humiliating defeat. Few officials cared about international law or gave a hoot about lying to the American public. Duplicity, scheming, and miscommunication are rife in DC. Ordinarily they are a source of low comedy, but not when they are part of aggression against a small country. The U.S. defeat at the Bay of Pigs solidified Castro's hold on power. The U.S. got what it deserved.

Howard Jones' "The Bay of Pigs" is sensible, workmanlike history, based on declassified archives. It is clear-eyed about the moral and intellectual limitations of the U.S. national security bureaucracy. I took off one star only because the book neglects the Cuban side of the story. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Cubans died defending their revolution against the onslaught of the CIA. They deserved to have their story told.
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HALL OF FAMEon August 26, 2008
The Bay of Pigs operation has gone down in history as one of the pivotal acts of the Cold War. It was a military disaster and an embarrasment. It angered a generation of Cuban-Americans. It, apparently, made Castro more paranoid than he already was. It helped to engender the Cuban Missle Crises and it marked the high water mark of CIA sponsored swashbuckling. It has forever frustrated Kennedy lovers into finding ways to claim that the new president had no idea about it and that it was foisted upon him by Eisenhower's men, so that JFK's legacy would not be tarnisher either by failure or by the kind of reckless pre-emption that those who love Kennedy so often condemn in other Presidents.

But for all the words spilled over the Bay of Pigs it has rarely been given a fare shake or a full accounting. Most of the books on the operation either examine one part of it or are old and dated.

This book provides a full background of the invasion, its planning and its aftermath and meaning. It provides an inside look at the Kennedy administration and the decisions not to provide air support and the subsequent failure of the invasion. It gives a very fair account of what happaned and is not bogged down by rhetoric or politics. This is an important and timely contribution to the stroy of the Bay of Pigs, America and the Cold War.

Seth J. Frantzman
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University of Alabama historian Dr. Howard Jones has written an excellent one volume history of the U.S. government's attempts to eliminate Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the 1960s. The book is titled The Bay of Pigs and Jones does a great job of writing a compelling and accurate portrayal of the disaster that was the Bay of Pigs operation but this book is so much more than that. Jones places the Bay of Pigs in the context of the Eisenhower and then Kennedy administration's overall anti-Castro policies. He discusses at length the various options debated by American policymakers in the White House.

The details of what happened at the Bay of Pigs are well known and have been told elsewhere but Jones makes great use of the CIA's release of documents collectively known as the "family jewels" to revise the picture on the depth of CIA involvement in what culminated at the Bay of Pigs.

Another thing that I found particularly helpful is that Jones doesn't stop the story after the defeat of the Cuban exiles. In discussing the subsequent policies advocated by both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations until 1965 Jones makes it quite clear that hardly anybody in the White House seemed to learn the proper lessons of the disaster at the Bay of Pigs. Jones, I think makes it clear that absent the escalating war in Vietnam and problems elsewhere on the globe the United States may have blundered in to a second Bay of Pigs, except this one would have been backed up by the U.S. military.

Jones gets a little conspiratorial when he discusses the potential connection between the Kennedy administration's Cuba policy and the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Although even there he makes use of new evidence released by the CIA in the 1990s. It's just a shame that many of the documents were still at least partially classified. Until the release of those documents without redacted sections and the availability of documents in Cuba, Jones work stands as the best one volume history available.

Lastly, the page for the Kindle edition of this book states it has real page numbers. I purchased my copy in June 2012 and my copy includes location numbers, not page numbers. Ordinarily Amazon sends purchasers an email when a book is updated so I don't think it's been updated since my purchase, this appears to be an error on the Amazon web page for this book. The lack of page numbers in my copy is outshone by the inclusion of marks at the bottom of the Kindle screen that lets the reader know in a very rough way the length of the chapter. I really appreciate that because it enables me to at least make a guess as to whether or not I'll be able to finish a chapter before bed.
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on April 7, 2013
Jones strings together the details of the Bay of Pigs, taking readers from the White House, to training bases in Guatemala, to the landing in Cuba, and weaves together a compelling, brief, readable narrative. He also has broken down the reasons for the failure well enough to intrigue those who already know about the operation.

In brief, the success of the endeavor depended on an uprising in Cuba, which in turn depended on a successful landing, which in turn depended on adequate air cover. The choice of landing site away from a population center also limited the options to raise a resistance movement, and limited the possibility of having the landing force join the guerillas in mountains too far away. The invaders were not apparently trained in guerilla warfare, but everyone in US government had been led to believe they were. Of course, no one expressed any reservations until it was over; what's perhaps worse is that no one had any reservations to begin with.

Jones also spends some time covering the aftermath, the finger pointing within government, and the assassination attempts on Castro. No one wanted to take responsibility for the fiasco, with the CIA blaming the Joint Chiefs (and vice versa), and everyone blaming JFK (and vice versa). Yet, how anyone realistically expected about 1500 invaders to take on the entire army and militia of Cuba remains a mystery, and that no one stopped it at any point perhaps means they were all responsible.

Some of the prose was awkward, and Jones is not a strong military historian, because some of the tactical details of the landing were a little slack in follow through. One detail I found interesting is that the invaders had loaded a ship with (among other things) 5 new M-41 tanks. Whether these all made it to the beach, how the crews were picked and trained, whether the tanks were all loaded into one ship, and whether they could have engaged Castro's T-34s, are the kind of details that military history enthusiasts will find undeveloped here. Tactical maps of the beaches would also have helped the narration. More research from the Cubans themselves, both pro- and anti-Castro, would also have helped, as a look at the (English and US-based) sources reveals. As a result, at times the book feels half complete. Fifty years on, it's time for a more complete telling of this pivotal Cold War battle.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 4, 2008
"(They had a) good plan, poorly executed." Such was the rather generous assessment of Cuban President Fidel Castro in the aftermath of the U.S. government's covert attempt to overthrow him in mid-April 1961. The fact of the matter is that with the benefit of hindsight most historians and military analysts agree that the Bay of Pigs was an unmitigated disaster. Author Howard Jones revisits this shameful episode in American history with his new book "The Bay of Pigs". If you have not studied this operation in detail before than you will find this one to be a real eye-opener.

On January 1, 1959, revolutionary forces led by a young, charismatic Fidel Castro finally succeeded in toppling the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro's increasingly anti-American stances quickly became a source of concern for the Eisenhower administration. President Eisenhower finally concluded that for national security reasons Castro would have to be eliminated. The covert plan being drawn up by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and the CIA called for the simultaneous elimination of Castro by assassination and the invasion of the island nation by U.S. trained Cuban exiles to establish a provisional government. The idea was to encourage a popular insurrection in Cuba that would legitimate the entire operation. Time ran out on the Eisenhower administration and so when John F. Kennedy took office in January of 1961 he inherited the problem. President Kennedy had already become convinced of the wisdom of overthrowing Fidel Castro.

Events were moving rather quickly now and Castro seemed to be rapidly aligning himself with the Soviet Union. Time was of the essence as the preponderance of evidence indicated that the U.S.S.R. was beginning to ship all kinds of military hardware to Castro. It became abundantly clear that the longer the U.S. waited the more difficult the task at hand would be. The operation was finally set for April 17, 1961. "The Bay of Pigs" chronicles in great detail how the actual plan was devised and who the key players were. Howard Jones also discusses at great length the reasons why President Kennedy seemed so reluctant to approve any direct involvement of U.S. armed forces in the actual invasion of Cuba. For the President, the idea of "plausible deniability" was an overriding concern and was ultimately the reason the operation was moved from Trinidad to the Zapata Peninsula. It was also the reason why the President made the decision to cancel the air support that for all intents and purposes doomed the operation.
I was just 10 years at the time of the Bay of Pigs operation. Over the years I have read any number of references to just how bitter the Cuban-American community was at President Kennedy for the way he mishandled the invasion and abandoned the ground forces who were left to fend for themselves without any of the promised air support. Some have even suggested that disgruntled Cuban exiles may have played a role in his assassination. But I had never come across a great many details surrounding this debacle.

After reading "The Bay of Pigs" this has all come into focus for me and I realize that those who were abandoned on the beaches at Zapata had every right to be livid at the way the situation was handled by the Commander-in Chief. The noted author and head of Cuban Studies at the University of Miami Brian Latell has opined that "The Bay of Pigs" is "more thoroughly researched than any previous work on the subject, it is also succinct, nuanced and exquisitely balanced in its treatment of the president and the CIA." I would concur. There are lessons to be learned from the entire Bay of Pigs affair. Our participation in such activities only serve to reduce America's standing in the rest of the world. It is a lesson our leaders never seem to learn. History buffs and general readers alike will appreciate "The Bay of Pigs". This is a well written and carefully documented book. Recommended!
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on January 10, 2012
As with all of his works, Howard does a superb job of detailing the event and then letting the reader draw his/her conclusions. This is what truly draws me to this author! To say he makes political statements is baseless and inane, especially given his expertise in the subject matter. I think what the past poster fails to realize is that that was one of those most politically charged time periods in our history. We had a beloved president who a lot of so called experts didn't think should be president. That said, we also had a president who took us through the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, involved us in Vietnam, and then was assassinated. This was all in three years, so writing about Kennedy in any capacity is going to lend itself to political characterizations because he was so sensational. To write a book otherwise would not be doing Kennedy or timeperiod justice. However, Howard doesn't fall prey to getting absorbed in this phenomenon, while still giving an easy to follow, well developed account of the Bay of Pigs.

I agree with the others that the CIA was coming off of an American sensationalism decade and employed swashbuckling techniques in dealing with Castro, which was met with utter humiliation and near war. This was the foreshadowing that America would get it's comeuppance in many theaters going forward. With Howard's skill as a writer, he gets the reader to these types of conclusions without having to go over the top or belabor points. If you're solely looking for a non-charged, regurgitation of fact, this probably isn't the book for you. If you're looking for fact based analysis with thoughtful insight that drives the reader forward, you've come to the right author.
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on January 18, 2015
Very good description of the 'battle for America'... And why and how America lost the trust of their allies elsewhere else..
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on October 15, 2014
identified contributing factors to failure where it belonged across myriad of people and organizations. quality consistent with other books in this series. quick moving and informative
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on November 18, 2008
The detailed review of what happened is great, but the book is not terribly well written/edited. The book continually repeats itself, even using the exact same phrases several times. I think it could be greatly condensed and still convey all the information and viewpoints in fewer pages. Perhaps the topic is not worthy of an entire book, but something more like a long Wikipedia entry?
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