Obama, Cuba, Bay of Pigs: The Lessons

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President Obama is in Havana, Cuba, the first sitting American president to visit the country in almost 90 years, and the first since the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1962.

The Bay of Pigs invasion is a constant reminder on the importance of allowing a divergent opinion to thrive, however unpopular that opinion may be.

It is my hope we can draw lessons from the Bay of Pigs Invasion and while at it, desist from blindly being entrenched in positions and opinions just because such opinions are popular within the majority.

What is the Bay of Pigs Invasion?

In the early 1960’s the Kennedy administration made an attempt to place a small brigade of Cuban exiles secretly on a beachhead in Cuba with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the government of Fidel Castro. Kennedy’s advisers included some of the most intelligent men ever to participate in the councils of government and in their thinking, this move was as brilliant and strategic as it could be.

In 1961, about 1400 Cuban exiles, aided by the USA Navy, Air Force, and the CIA invaded the swampy coast of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Nothing went as planned. On the first day, not one of the 4 ships containing reserve ammunition and supplies arrived; the first two were sunk by Castro’s Air Force, and the other two fled. By the 2nd day, the brigade was completely surrounded by 20,000 troops of Castro’s well-equipped army. By the 3rd day, about 1,200 members of the brigade, comprising almost all who had not been killed, were captured and ignominiously led off to prison camps. It was a disaster.

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What Kennedy and his advisers had bet on, was the illusion of invulnerability. To arrive at the decision, Kennedy’s advisers embraced the mantra: “if our leader and everyone else in our group decides that it is okay, the plan is bound to succeed.” To this end, any differing opinion was trashed. How could any other person be right anyway!

There was one man however, who from the get go was opposed to this invasion. His name was Arthur Schlesinger. He made his opposition to this invasion known to the administration, but instead of taking a keen look at the reasons that made him oppose this invasion, the administration saw him as a ‘sellout.’ In fact, at a birthday party for his wife, Robert Kennedy took Schlesinger aside and asked him why he was opposed. The president’s brother listened coldly and then said:

“You may be right or you may be wrong, but the president has made his mind up. Don’t push it any further. Now is the time for everyone to help him all they can.”

Robert Kennedy was simply telling Schlesinger to lay off. He was behaving like a “mindguard.” Just like a bodyguard protects high officials from injurious physical assaults, a “mindguard” protects them from the thoughts that might damage their confidence in the soundness of policies to which they are committed to.

In the end, it turned out that Schlesinger was right; the minority were right while the majority had been wrong!

Are you a Schlesinger or a mindguard!

Have a beautiful week friends.