BARRY GOLDWATER NARRATES APRIL 1961 MEETING WITH PRESIDENT JOHN F.KENNEDY
AS 1961 BEGAN, My good friend John F. Kennedy became President of the United States. His personal charm and eloquence lifted the spirits of millions of Americans. We conservatives were not, however, happy with what we saw and heard.
I was about to fly to Luke Air Force Base outside Phoenix on a chill April morning in 1961, when a sergeant climbed onto the wing and said the President wanted to see me as soon as possible. While driving across the city, I had a foreboding about the meeting. I began to suspect that the reason for the President's summons was the invasion of Cuba. The coming mission was known on Capitol Hill, and there was already speculation about it in the media. Why would he call me unless there was trouble? There was only one reason: He needed me to support him publicly.
The White House appeared quiet, even somber That seemed to be the President's mood when he entered the room. He appeared to be preoccupied, though he walked briskly We were relaxed in each other's company, because of years of private chats in the Senate. He bantered, "So you want this fucking job, eh?"
I laughed and replied, "You must be reading some of those conservative right-wing newspapers.
Kennedy grinned but quickly came to the point. He said grimly that the first phase of the invasion of Cuba by antiCastro Cuban forces had not gone as well as expected. Fidel Castro's air force had not, as planned, been completely demolished on the ground. Eight B-26s flown by Cuban exile pilots had made their surprise attack but had destroyed only half of the Cuban air, force. Three planes flown by the exiles had been lost.
Kennedy was clearly having second thoughts about U.S. participation in the action. He was questioning the planning for the invasion and further involvement. The President finally said he thought the whole operation might fail. He turned, sitting on the edge of his desk, and faced me directly He then asked what I would do in the situation.
I was stunned. The President was not a profile in courage, as portrayed in his best-selling book. He projected little of- the confidence and lofty resolve of his eloquent speeches. He was another man now that we were, in effect, on the shores of Cuba. He did not seem to have the old-fashioned guts to go on.
Kennedy could see the shock on my face. There could be no turning back now. Nearly 1500 men would soon be on the beaches at the Bay of Pigs. We had helped put them wher they were. The commander does not abandon men he has sent to fight. The President had a professional and moral responsibility to those men.
Slowly, so the words would sink in, I reminded the President that our Navy and its fighter planes were standing ready in nearby waters. They could be launched to protect thc next attack of B-26s. We must destroy all of Castro's planes on the ground. Then the exiles could fight their way from the beaches and spread out across the terrain.
I told Kennedy that our action was moral and legal and would be understandable to the entire free world. The United States could not tolerate Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. Every great nation must be willing to use its strength. Otherwise, it's a paper tiger. Whether we agree or not, power belongs to those who use it.
Kennedy still seemed to equivocate. I didn't understand how he could, or why he would, abandon those men. They would be killed or captured without a chance of accomplishing their mission or even defending themselves.
I remember the moment well. Kennedy continued to search my face and eyes for an answer. This was also a crucial moment for me. For the first time, I saw clearly that I had the toughness of mind and will to lead the country. Others might be more educated or possess greater speaking and social skills, but I had something that individuals of greater talent did not have. I had an unshakable belief in, and willingness to defend, the fundamental interests of my country. It was not a boast. It was simply a matter of personal principle.
I told the President, "I would do whatever is necessary to ensure the invasion is a success." I repeated, "Whatever is necessary" The President seemed to relax. My voice had risen. It was clear and emphatic.
Kennedy replied, "You're right." I left the Oval Office fairly sure that the B-26s, escorted by U.S. Navy fighters, would soon blow holes to lead those freedom fighters off the beaches toward Havana. I was wrong.
The brigade left Guatemala. The B-26s were first to destroy Castro's air force on the ground and then support the landing group with air coven Kennedy gave the go-ahead for the first air strike with the B-26 bombers launched from Central America. Then, for reasons he never explained, he canceled the follow-up attacks. U.S. Navy jet fighters, ready to support the B-26s from the nearby U.S.S. Boxer, never launched their attack. Kennedy had clearly lost his nerve. The brigade was routed. Some 300 men were killed and the rest were imprisoned.
The President backed away from the counsel of all his top advisors when he refused to support an all-out attack and invasion of Cuba. He allowed the Russians, to remain on the island on the condition that they withdraw their nuclear missiles. The fact is, instead of the eyeball-to-eyeball victory that the Kennedy Administration claimed over Nikita Khrushchev, the President actually made concessions to the Soviet leader. Those included removing U.S. missiles from Turkey The decision not to attack Cuba was disastrous. We are still paying for it.
I didn't want to run for the Presidency in 1964. That's the God's truth. To my knowledge, no individual who has run the race has ever made such a statement. It's also true that I knew, and said privately from the start, that I would lose to President Johnson. Also, as best as I can determine, no Presidential candidate has ever said that on the eve of his campaign. From my perspective-explaining the conservative viewpoint-the race itself had greater historical value and meaning than winning.
The above is an excerpt of a full article of Playboy Enterprises Inc 1998
Full Text COPYRIGHT Playboy Enterprises Inc. 1988
Cortesía de Elias Seife