The Bay of Pigs
by Haynes Johnson
Norton, 368 pp., $5.95
Mr. Haynes Johnson’s The Bay of Pigs is the story of “Brigade 2506,” the CIA-trained task force of Cuban exiles which was sacrificed in April 1961 in a futile attempt to invade the island and overthrow the Castro regime. The book is based on extensive interviews with four leaders of the Brigade: Manuel Artime, who had been hand-picked by the CIA as the political leader of the venture, José San Roman, the Brigade’s military commander, Erneido Oliva, his second-in-command, and Enrique Ruiz-Williams, an artillery officer. Mr. Johnson also interviewed numerous other members of the Brigade and managed to obtain highly interesting inside information from Washington sources which, in his own words, “cannot be revealed, but…are irrefutable.”
The Bay of Pigs is not, and does not purport to be, a complete history of the invasion and of the events that led up to it. Mr. Johnson deliberately steers clear of the subject of émigré politics; the reader is mercifully spared an account of the various political groups in Miami, their complicated maneuvers and intrigues, their combinations and internal disputes. Of course this also means that one of the main charges against the CIA, that they picked the wrong leaders for the invasion, is not discussed. Mr. Johnson’s opinion of these leaders is far more favorable than that of other authors who have dealt with the subject. Nevertheless, his picture of Manuel Artime clearly shows up the political immaturity of the man.
It is one of the great virtues of Mr. Johnson’s book that although he does not hesitate to express very definite opinions and judgments, he does not force them on the reader by twisting and suppressing evidence. He presents the facts in such a way as to enable the reader to form an opinion independent of, and sometimes contradictory to, his own. Thus he compares the men of Brigade 2506 to the Hungarian freedom fighters of 1956, but his own account does not bear out this comparison. The Hungarians, armed only with submachineguns, rifles, and home-made Molotov cocktails, first drove the Russian occupiers out of their capital city and then fought stubbornly for six days, from November 4th to November 8th, against a superbly equipped invading army of Soviet élite troops. They expected nothing more than Western diplomatic pressure to dissuade the Soviets from coming back, and only in their death-struggle did they appeal for armed help.
The men of Brigade 2506, on the other hand, volunteered to fight on the assumption that a foreign power, the United States, would give them all the help they needed. Mr. Johnson makes this very clear, and indeed, one of his main points is that they were promised full backing, and were then let down. Again and again he quotes them as saying: “We thought Uncle Sam was behind us” (p. 37); “Everybody was convinced that the United States was behind us” (p. 42); or, “Most of the Cubans…just trusted the Americans so they were going to …