Kennedy, after the humiliation of the Bay of Pigs, looked and saw around him a hostile and threatening world. The Visigoths were at the gate. There was only one solution: gird for a long struggle and take the offensive. But this was not the world as it existed in 1961; it was a construct of fact, fear, and fantasy. The pragmatist was basing his decisions on the Book of Revelations according to Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles. The question was not whether some communist societies were odious. Many were, and are. Yet is it not possible that threats from outside the communist world-whether real or imagined-increase the rigidity of totalitarian rule? Nor was the question whether or not some new nations would go communist. Some no doubt would. Yet was it not-and is it not-the question for Washington policy-makers to determine the threat to American national security in the foreign policy of other nations, not in their method of governance? And is it not likely that a simplistic vision of communism as an evil force will make more difficult the cool assessment of facts essential to a rational foreign policy? Kennedy's speech to the newspaper editors seems to indicate not a cool assessment of the facts, but rather an alarmist, dogmatic view of the world, with perhaps a touch of machismo.
(The author is neither qualified for nor disposed to a psychoanalytic evaluation of Kennedy, but machismo, that assertion of masculinity usually attributed to Latin Americans but so applicable to North Americans as well, certainly seems a characteristic of John Kennedy and his brothers. What more normal time for such an assertion of masculinity than after a humiliating defeat at Bay of Pigs and after being charged with throwing in the towel on Laos?)
One can only wonder what Kennedy and his advisers-McNamara, Rusk, Bundy, Rostow, et al.-learned from this adventure in counterrevolution, for they were soon to plunge into intervention in Vietnam and into the frightening Berlin crisis, and these same advisers after Kennedy's death counseled Lyndon Johnson when he intervened in the Dominican Republic and when he extended the escalation in Vietnam.
Although it seemed a transient episode during Kennedy's administration, the Bay of Pigs was profoundly revealing. It demonstrated that Kennedy, like his predecessors, like his society, was excessively preoccupied with communism, that he was an interventionist prepared to violate national sovereignty in an attempt to strike it down. It demonstrated that Kennedy lacked prudence, an essential quality in the nuclear age. Although it has long been fashionable to scorn Eisenhower as lethargic and a bumbler, it is difficult to believe that he would have approved the Bay of Pigs. Even though planning was begun in his administration, Eisenhower was a careful man, and even if he had been prepared to entertain the plan in principle, he almost certainly would have dismissed it as absurd in practice. But even if the planning had not been an exercise in gross incompetence, even if it had not demonstrated a profound ignorance of revolution, even if it had not revealed a political attitude that would lead to more dangerous adventures, even if it had not led directly to the Cuban missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs would have still left an indelible stain on Kennedy's record. It was wrong.
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