Catastrophic Mistakes of John F. Kennedy President

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John F. Kennedy is regarded by many Americans as being one of the best presidents in the United States’s history. He had charisma, and this gave him the general approval of the American people. Yet when the activity of his presidency is examined, it is evident that he made several potentially catastrophic mistakes that could have caused the death of a nation. Due to the gross negligence of foreign affairs that directly caused both the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the subsequent Cuban missile crisis, it is clear that, while a charming frontman, Kennedy maintained a subpar presidency that does not deserve the level of commendation that it gets.

In order to fully understand Kennedy and what made people overlook his errors, it is important to first examine what made Kennedy gain such popularity with the general public. What made people so enamored with him that they were willing to overlook the many flaws that marred his time in office? There were many reasons for the public to accept him: he was young, attractive, came from a wealthy family, served in the U.S. Navy, and was a published author. Perhaps what resonated with the public the most, though, after he served in office from 1961 to 1963, was his untimely assassination, which abruptly ended his term. To many, he died a hero while serving his country in the best way he knew how. Furthermore, while still active as president, he enhanced his image by being the first president to allow press conferences to be televised live. He valued direct communication with the public. In these ways, he successfully appealed to the common people.

In regards to Kennedy’s presidency, critics and supporters alike both agree that the Bay of Pigs and subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis were great blunders that tarnished Kennedy’s reputation. The Bay of Pigs was a part of America’s agenda to interfere in Cuba and free the Cuban people from Fidel Castro’s oppressive Communist regime. Approved by President Eisenhower during his term and then re-approved by Kennedy at the start of his own, the original plan was to send in an invasion of Cuban refugees trained and supported by the U.S. military to intervene and hopefully end the regime.

The U.S. government hoped to employ a method of “plausible deniability” in their aid of the Cuban exiles, essentially avoiding any overt show of American support; instead, they planned to fix the situation in Cuba in a more indirect manner. This plan was already deeply flawed to begin with: how could America’s role be even remotely hidden if the arms, planes, and supplies were of U.S. origin? Furthermore, because the exiles were trained in two pro-U.S., anti-Castro countries in Central America (Nicaragua and Guatemala) Castro was well-aware of the U.S.’s plans and even warned his Cuban supporters about the possibility of a U.S.-led attack.

Evidently, there was no element of secrecy in America’s potential intervention. When the invasion started to falter, as the exiles came under attack from the Cuban military and no popular uprising against Castro transpired as was planned, Kennedy pulled the plug on the plan, fully aware that the mission would end in disaster as the Cuban refugees would have no more U.S.-backed support. The unknowing refugees were trapped on the beach, killed, or even captured, and the United States had to pay for Cuba to release these prisoners of war.

Another grand mistake that Kennedy made during this process seemed a direct attack against his own administration. Through some confusion, miscommunication, or the like, Kennedy had first given the final approval for the invasion on April 4, 1961. Although, on April 17, 1961, Kennedy essentially took back his approval when he refused to authorize a direct U.S. air assault against the island or provide any backup ground forces. When members of the CIA witnessed his lack of resolve, they were incredibly disappointed with him; some were even angry: ‘We were screwed by Kennedy,’ declared the CIA’s chief of the Western Hemisphere branch Jacob Esterline, one of the principal minds behind the invasion. ‘They [the Kennedy administration] made me send these men to their slaughter. I will never forget this as long as I live.’

The effects of the Bay of Pigs fiasco were not limited to Kennedy’s own administration, though. Castro executed twelve of the trained Cuban refugees for committing human rights violations, and nine others died of asphyxiation on a truck taking them from the Bay of Pigs to Havana after the failed invasion. About 1,200 of the remaining exiles were put on trial for treason and sentenced to several decades of prison time. The larger impact of the debacle was the hit that the Kennedy administration took in public relations.

The administration’s relationship with Latin America was soured because of their involvement with the invasion, and further, the U.S. appeared to the rest of the world as weak and unreliable for its unwillingness to support the invaders. In an address to the public at a democratic dinner in October of 1960, Kennedy stated that “Hopefully events may once again bring us an opportunity to bring our influence strongly to bear on behalf of the cause of freedom in Cuba. But in the meantime we can constantly express our friendship for the Cuban people – our sympathy with their economic problems – our determination that they will again be free.

At the same time we must firmly resist further Communist encroachment in this hemisphere – working through a strengthened organization of the American States – and encouraging those liberty-loving Cubans who are leading the resistance to Castro.” With this claim, he implied that he would not rest until Castro was taken out of power. This was his promise to the Cuban people and the world at large. Yet Kennedy’s actions proved that the U.S. actually had very little regard for fighting Communism around the globe.

Perhaps the greatest ramification of the Bay of Pigs was that it made anti-American nations believe that it was possible to defy to U.S.- and it was this ideology that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Bay of Pigs made Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, specifically, feel as though he had the upper hand on Kennedy. As a supporter of Communism and a close ally of Fidel Castro, he resented Kennedy for attempting to interfere with Cuba’s political system. Khrushchev further contended that the U.S.’s goal in attacking Cuba was to increase its own economic gains by exploiting the Cuban people. In a letter addressed to Kennedy on April 22, 1961, Khrushchev wrote:

“You try to justify the organization of a military attack on Cuba, committed for the sole reason that the way of life chosen by its people is not to the taste of the ruling circles of the United States and the North American monopolies operating in Latin America, by talk about the United States Government’s adherence to the ideals of ‘freedom,’ But, one may ask, of what freedom are you speaking?… [T]hat freedom under which Cuba would dance to the tune of her more powerful neighbour and foreign monopolies would again be able to plunder the country’s national wealth, to wax rich on the sweat and blood of the Cuban people. But it is precisely against such ‘freedom’ that the Cuban people accomplished their revolution when they threw out Batista.… The Government of the United States is now fulminating against Cuba. But this indicates only one thing—your lack of trust in your own system.… And this is understandable, as it is a policy of exploitation, a policy for the economic enslavement of under-developed countries. You have no confidence in your own system, and therefore fear that Cuba’s example may prove contagious for other countries.”

Through this letter, Krushchev shared his frustrations with the Kennedy administration, listing all of his grievances against American interventionism. Because Khrushchev was himself a Communist leader, in this letter, he failed- or neglected- to address the fact that Communism in Cuba was failing. Instead, he chose to blame America for trying to intervene, unwavering from the belief that Cuba was thriving with Communism and needed no intervention.

Accordingly, while America thought it was employing interventionism to save the Cuban people from a dying system that was causing poverty and unemployment, with Cuban citizens lacking basic human necessities such as electricity and running water, Khrushchev accused Kennedy of trying to liberate Cuba so that America could create and maintain a monopoly that would only benefit themselves. Khrushchev took his claims even further, even going so far as to declare that the U.S. only wanted to end Communism in Cuba so that it would not be able to spread the ideals of Communism to other countries.

Shortly after writing this furious letter, Krushchev began secretly supplying nuclear missiles to Cuba. Kennedy’s advisors gave him two main differing opinions on how to handle the situation: some argued to take the missiles out in an air strike and follow it up with an invasion of Cuba, and others suggested sending warnings to both Cuba and the Soviet Union. Kennedy came up with a compromise between the two plans of action: to order a naval quarantine of Cuba that would allow the U.S. to censor the supplies that came in and out of the island. He followed this with a letter to Khrushchev urging him to remove the missiles.

This began a troubling series of personal communications from Khrushchev, both conciliatory and hostile in tone. A first correspondence contained a vow to disarm the missiles in exchange for a public agreement not to invade Cuba. A second communication linked the removal of missiles in Cuba to the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey. The unpredictability of the situation was frightening for many American people. As consumer advocate Ralph Nader recalled about the situation in a video interview, “That was really a scary few days because the public was in the dark.

These moves could be made instantly, with missiles coming into the United States, because they’re positioned just 90 miles off the shore of Florida. And as the hours went by, we thought– some of us were thinking of the end in a way.” After a period of back and forth, the Soviet Union finally agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba, but the damage had already been done to American morale. This situation put the United States and the Soviet Union infinitely close to a nuclear war over Cuba, and this threat to homeland security along with the fear it inspired in the American people was yet another fault of Kennedy’s presidency.

Kennedy’s administration had a few triumphs, but it also had great tragedies when it came to foreign policy. Hence, while Kennedy may have been charming and well-liked by the public, this was not indicative of his presidential success. The Cuban Missile Crisis introduced to the world the prospect of an imminent nuclear annihilation. If Kennedy had not been able to muster an agreement with Khrushchev, World War III would have arrived, and with it, weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, it was Kennedy’s indecisiveness about the Bay of Pigs invasion that led to the missile crisis in the first place. Even after his death, the calamitous consequences of his mistakes remained prominent; these heavy burdens were picked up and dutifully carried by President Lyndon B. Johnson day by day for the rest of the term. There have been many outstanding presidents in America’s history, but historians and the American public should think twice before naming John F. Kennedy among the greats.

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Catastrophic Mistakes of John F. Kennedy President. (2021, Jun 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/catastrophic-mistakes-of-john-f-kennedy-president/

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