What if the Bay of Pigs had led to a full-on U.S. war in Cuba?

The Bay of Pigs invasion was sunk before it even hit the beach.

The plan to dislodge Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government on the cheap and by proxy - utilizing an invading force of American-funded Cuban expats under cover of U.S. air support - died in committee.

The whole scheme was conceived by the CIA and greenlit under President Dwight Eisenhower - a man who knew a thing or two about amphibious invasions.


Initially, the plan to establish a guerrilla beachhead of capitalism in Castro’s Cuba wasn’t so farfetched. In 1960, there was still on-the-ground resistance to Castro’s revolution within Cuba, in the Escambray Mountains near the city of Trinidad, nearly 200 miles from Havana. The CIA and its Cuban expat force - consisting of around 1,300 men, known as Brigade 2506 - set about devising a plan to land here, link up with those would-be allies. The rough, mountainous terrain would inhibit the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, the strong anti-Castro sentiment in the region would lend itself readily to fomenting a rebellion, and Trinidad’s developed deepwater port would make supplying that counterrevolution much easier.

Vice-President - 1960 presidential candidate - Richard Nixon was even in on the plan, committed in principle to going the distance. He was an ardent anti-communist, after all, as he would demonstrate in Cambodia and Laos a decade later, he was unafraid of spilling a little civilian blood in service of the cause.

So far, so good.

As it turned out, John F. Kennedy won that election.  And John F. Kennedy - the same man who inaugurated his presidency by pledging, "we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty" - soon found himself hedging his bets on what had come to be known as Operation Pluto.

I like Kennedy just fine. I don’t know that the world would be a better place if he’d proceeded with plans to confront Castro directly in Trinidad. Is bloodshed the only way to show strength? Cuba may not be a socialist paradise, but let’s be honest - would they be a richer, healthier, more democratic nation under a U.S.-installed puppet regime?

Whatever Kennedy’s exact line of reasoning, he blanched. He called on the CIA to draw up alternative plans - plans that ultimately moved the invasion to a region of the country that held an airstrip more amenable to the takeoff and landing of U.S. warplanes.  In paper, that was a major plus - but unlike Trinidad, the area surrounding the Bay of Pigs contained no active anti-Castro partisan cells. Its terrain was far more hospitable to Castro’s forces - and it was much closer to his Havana stronghold. In every sense, the Bay of Pigs plan - dubbed Operation Zapata - was a suboptimal choice. It should have been Plan E or F, not Plan A.

In real life, that plan failed. Castro himself - chomping a cigar in the belly of a Soviet-made T-34 - led the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces to a decisive victory. Brigade 2506 was smothered on the beach. In a textbook case of a self-fulfilling prophecy, Kennedy called off U.S. airstrikes in light of how poorly the invasion was going. Those who didn’t die in vain were taken captive.

But hold up a minute --

What if Nixon had won?  Not just the election, but the invasion?  If Nixon had won the election of 1960, he may not have second guessed the Company’s game plan - he may have drowned any guilt on his conscience re: the subject of spilt blood with a glass or three of his favorite red wine.

That’s the rumor of what he did in real life, anyway, as U.S. bombers burnt the jungles of Southeast Asia to the ground in 1971…

What if he’d turned his attention to Southeast Cuba in 1961?

The United States might have been too hungover from Cuba to make to Vietnam...

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