The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs
Now in paperback, a “balanced, engrossing account” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) of the Bay of Pigs Crisis drawing on long-hidden CIA documents and delivering the vivid truth of five pivotal days in April 1961.
THE BRILLIANT DISASTER is a remarkably gripping account of America’s Bay of Pigs crisis, drawing on long-hidden CIA documents and delivering, as never before, the vivid truth—and consequences—of five pivotal days in April 1961.
At the heart of the Bay of Pigs crisis stood President John F. Kennedy, and journalist Jim Rasenberger traces what Kennedy knew, thought, and said as events unfolded. He examines whether Kennedy was manipulated by the CIA into approving a plan that would ultimately involve the American military. He also draws compelling portraits of the other figures who played key roles in the drama: Fidel Castro, who shortly after achieving power visited New York City and was cheered by thousands (just months before the United States began plotting his demise); Dwight Eisenhower, who originally ordered the secret program, then later disavowed it; Allen Dulles, the CIA director who may have told Kennedy about the plan before he was elected president (or so Richard Nixon suspected); and Richard Bissell, the famously brilliant “deus ex machina” who ran the operation for the CIA—and took the blame when it failed. Beyond the short-term fallout, Rasenberger demonstrates, the Bay of Pigs gave rise to further and greater woes, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and even, possibly, the assassination of John Kennedy.
Written with elegant clarity and narrative verve, The Brilliant Disaster is the most complete account of this event to date, providing not only a fast-paced chronicle of the disaster but an analysis of how it occurred—a question as relevant today as then—and how it profoundly altered the course of modern American history.
at the last moment Grayston Lynch, the CIA case officer, decided to join the frogmen. He believed he needed to get a firsthand appraisal of the beach before he could confidently give the signal for the landing to proceed. The problem in those very first minutes of the landing was not military resistance; this turned out to be fairly minimal, as the CIA had predicted. Rather, the first troubling obstacle was a small aquatic anemone with a hard calcium shell classified by marine biologists as
wire malfunction, maybe, or a message from the gods. Lynch told one of the frogmen to sit on the light to cover it, but it was too late. Almost at once, a military jeep came racing down a road running parallel to the beach. The frogmen could see the vehicle’s headlights sweeping over the mangrove and sand. Then they heard the long squeal of brakes as the jeep slowed. Directly ahead of them, the jeep turned to face the sea, bathing them in its headlights. Inside the jeep were two Cuban
represent,” began Raúl Roa in the General Assembly of the United Nations, “that the Republic of Cuba was invaded this morning by a mercenary force which came from Guatemala and Florida and which was organized, financed, and armed by the government of the United States of America.” Roa went on to blast the United States in a sermon that, for all its fire and brimstone, never strayed far from fact. “These crimes and depredations have been sanctified, paid for, and blessed by the State Department,
Americans were in favor of the deal, with 57 percent opposed. Milton Eisenhower was personally “bombarded” by “viciously critical” letters and phone calls lambasting him for capitulating to Communists. And when Castro made clear that by “tractors” what he really had in mind were Caterpillar bulldozers, some began to suggest that the Cubans might use the machines to build sites for missiles that could be launched against Americans. As one letter writer put it to his New Jersey congressman, “When
14, 1961. 198 No sooner did Frederick H. Boland: United Nations, General Assembly, Official Records. 199 President Kennedy’s public schedule: The President’s Appointments, April 15, 1961. 200 “We are also a revolutionary country”: New York Times, April 16, 1961. 200 He named Philip Bonsal: Washington Evening Star, April 16, 1961. 200 “Mr. President,” Bundy said: Schlesinger, Journals, 111. 200 “bound to be all right”: Goldstein, 43. 201 a “salvation” for Jacqueline: Anthony, 162–63; see