Veteran newsmen Szulc and Meyer set out to provide “the full, unvarnished story of the Cuban invasion, “Operation Pluto,” which they label “one of the great fiascos in military leadership, intelligence gathering, and psychological preparation and execution. Accordingly they provide a background summary of the Cuban Revolution and its relations with the United States. From the beginning, they say, Castro deliberately chose the United States as his political target. His psychological need for self-dramatization required a daring, provocative outlet, and our failure to appreciate the depth of emotion surrounding the revolution, and our reaction to executions, played into Castro’s hands. The evolution of his regime, the breakdown of understanding with Washington, and the formation of the antifidelista exile groups are well narrated.
The CIA rather than the Pentagon is the whipping boy of the book and the authors criticize it for believing that the Caribbean island could be another Guatemala, for displaying a naive misunderstanding of Cuba, and for working “in the dark” instead of with an open background of Congress and the U. S. Press. The President, meanwhile, is portrayed as “palpably aching for greatness” and “anxious to bring off a victory.” He was pledged by his campaign oratory to do something about Cuba, and therefore he concurred in the CIA’s erroneous conceptions.
In summarizing the development of the final operation, Szulc and Meyer in effect trace the roles of three forces: the CIA, the politicians, and the military. They make the unique assertion that CIA men worked too hard (as much as 12 hours per day!) and failed to benefit themselves, implicitly, by consulting with sophisticated, knowledgeable newsmen. Whereas the Eisenhower administration’s plan had envisioned “more direct American participation in the air operations,” Kennedy from the first insisted that the Cubans be on their own.’ The exile leadership accepted this critical variant, the authors suggest, because Cubans were historically accustomed to U. S. leadership and because they believed that what Washington started, she would see through to victory. Szulc and Meyer charge also that because the Joint Chiefs and the CIA failed to object that lack of air power would spell disaster, the President gave his approval.
In narrating Operation Pluto, the authors repeat the now familiar charges. They also deny that the press in any way compromised the invasion, suggesting instead that it failed to do enough to “act as an independent corrective on the blunders of government.” The President is given his share of culpability, for “Kennedy set the ground rules by proscribing any direct U. S. support.”
In assessing the unhappy results, Szulc and Meyer infer that disaster might have been averted if the JCS had earlier advised that success was improbable without U. S. air cover. While they defend the moral acceptability of assisting Cuban exiles, they lament the ineptitude of the invasion. They would prefer to overthrow Castro’s Communists through underground operations.
The authors claim that their book rests upon confidential interviews, as well as already published articles. They admit that it is a “second draft of history,” but that is their optimistic judgment. It is hardly more than the initial research notes. This little work of current history is nevertheless a valuable account which is imperative reading for students of both U. S. policy and Latin American affairs. It reflects the skillful analysis and understanding of the region for which Szulc has gained renown. It is too bad that it is marred by puerile statements concerning the Central Intelligence Agency.