Ahead Of Bay Of Pigs, Fears Of Communism

Fifty years ago today, a brigade of around 1,500 CIA-trained soldiers stormed the beach in Cuba's Bay of Pigs. It was the opening phase of a secret mission to overthrow Fidel Castro. Of course, things didn't go as planned, and the lessons learned could apply to U.S. foreign policy today.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKENDS ON ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Guy Raz is away. I'm Noah Adams.

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Today, April 17th, marks exactly 50 years since one of the biggest disasters in American foreign policy: the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961.

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Mr. JIM RASENBERGER (Author, "The Brilliant Disaster"): You know, I think the thing that you have to keep in mind when you ask yourself how did this ever happen is the extraordinary fear of communism in the United States in the late '50s and early '60s.

ADAMS: Historian Jim Rasenberger has written a book about that time.

Unidentified Man #1: Under communism, virtually everything belongs to the state.

ADAMS: And he says it all started when the American government began to think Fidel Castro, leader of the revolution in Cuba, was looking more and more like the communists of the Soviet Union.

Mr. RASENBERGER: It wasn't just a fear that communism was spreading, but that communists had nuclear weapons.

Unidentified Man #2: Always remember, the flash of an atomic bomb can come at any time, no matter where you may be.

ADAMS: And it was against this backdrop that the United States under President John F. Kennedy launched a secret operation run by the CIA to invade Cuba and overthrow the Castro regime.

Mr. EDUARDO BAREA: My name is Eduardo Barea. I am 76 years old.

ADAMS: Eduardo Barea was a 25-year-old Cuban exile when the CIA recruited him to pilot a B-26 bomber in airstrikes launched two days before the invasion.

Mr. RASENBERGER: These airstrikes began on the morning of April 15th, when they tried to take out Fidel Castro's air force and were partly successful. And then they were all planning to do these follow-up airstrikes.

Mr. BAREA: The advisor received orders to stop the bombs...

Mr. RASENBERGER: When these were canceled, it was very dispiriting to the brigade pilots.

Mr. BAREA: Every pilot was surprised because it no make sense. That gave Castro 48 hours before the invasion that was on the 17th of April to be prepared.

Unidentified Man #3: In Cuba tonight, thousands of militiamen are walking sentry duty beside sandbag fortification.

Mr. RASENBERGER: In many ways, the pilots that I spoke to seem even more upset now than the men who fought because they were interrupted in what they were trying to do. They found themselves with nothing they could do about it.

Unidentified Man #4: The beaches were not prepared by air or artillery bombardment.

ADAMS: In a moment, more from Jim Rasenberger about why those canceled airstrikes were a tipping point in the disaster that he says set off the Vietnam era.

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