Decision for Disaster: Betrayal at the Bay of Pigs, by Grayston L. Lynch, Brassey’s, $24.95.
A bang-up military adventure story, this book also contains a bitter, intriguing all-out attack on President John F. Kennedy and his handling of the ill-fated attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro’s Cuban regime in April 1961.
The author was one of two American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers who went ashore with the fifteen hundred-man brigade of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. He was also the first to pull a trigger in the aborted effort and a key witness in the Kennedy administration’s secret post-debacle review. The book grabs and retains the reader’s attention with fast-paced action, convincing tactical commentary, tales of bravery, a few accounts of cowardice, and the story of a brutal, tragic end to the enterprise.
The second half of the book is intensely interesting but becomes overblown. It is a point-by-point refutation of three accounts of the operation: two by Kennedy administration apologists–Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Theodore Sorensen–and the third by newsman Haynes Johnson. Here, Lynch attempts to demonstrate how after President Kennedy took the blame for the disaster, his political aides began a successful and deceitful campaign to lay the mess at the feet of the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He cites a number of widely held views that still exist about Bay of Pigs, common perspectives that were fabricated by Kennedy’s lieutenants. Lynch then attacks each one in turn. For example, Lynch proves the operational scheme was Kennedy’s own, not the Eisenhower administration’s. He shows that Kennedy then changed his own plan (considered marginal at best by the Joint Chiefs) by reducing critical pre-invasion air sorties by some 76 percent–without consulting or even informing his own military advisers. And the author tells of Kennedy aides lying to former president Eisenhower about the operation, thereby provoking the old soldier to condemn the CIA. All of this shocking portion of the book is written convincingly.
Unfortunately, Lynch does not stop there. He attempts to claim the operation had a chance of overthrowing Fidel Castro’s Marxist regime if only the originally planned eighty pre-invasion air sorties had been flown. And he fails to take CIA leaders to task for not recommending cancellation of the operation the minute they learned of Kennedy’s drastic cut in the number of air sorties planned. Grayston Lynch should have stopped while he was ahead.
However imperfect, this is a thought-provoking book and is highly recommended.