Over the course of 2014 we have had a great variety of fascinating blog articles on the site. Below are 5 of our favorites...

George Washington on his Deathbed by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851.

George Washington on his Deathbed by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851.

  1. In this sadly fascinating article, Robert Walsh considers an American battle that took place on the last day of World War I – and the absurd and terrible reason behind it. Article here.
  2. Nick Tingley writes here on a fascinating topic. He postulates on what could have happened had the 1944 Normandy Landings against Nazi Germany taken place in 1943. As we shall see, things may well have not turned out as well as they did… Article here.
  3. In this extended article, Rebecca Fachner looks at the story of King Henry VIII’s seventh wife – the one that got away. We venture in to the tale of Catherine Willoughby, one of the most enchanting women of her age and Henry VIII’s would-be wife.
  4. Helen Saker-Parsons considers the fascinating similarities between the sons of two very important men who were killed in tragic circumstances – John F Kennedy and Tsar Michael II of Russia. Article here.
  5. William Bodkin tells us the fascinating story of William Thornton, the man who wanted to resurrect George Washington after his death. Article here.

We hope you find those articles fascinating! And because we really like you, here is one more:

Tanks have been integral to armies since World War One. But over the years a number of prototype designs have been made that never quite worked. Here, Adrian Burrows tells us about the most bizarre tank designs… Article here.

If you enjoyed any of these articles, please do tell others by sharing, liking or tweeting about this article. Simply click one of the buttons below!

George Levrier-Jones

Jacqueline Kennedy was one of the most high-profile -and private - women of the twentieth century, and her marriage to John F. Kennedy remains the source of intense speculation. While the public rarely heard her voice during her lifetime, letters and interviews released since her death have provided insights into who she was and, as Wendy Loughlin recounts here, how she felt about JFK.


She was famous for wanting privacy and famous for not getting it, becoming instead the object of an intense public fascination that has outlived her by 20 years. Jacqueline Kennedy followed her husband into the spotlight reluctantly, and then spent nearly half her life fighting its glare without him. 

Jackie and JFK in May 1961.

Jackie and JFK in May 1961.

The doe-eyed young Jackie who was terrified of the crowd that assembled outside the church on the day she married John F. Kennedy is not the Jackie we came to know later—not Jackie O, the persona, the jetsetter who hid behind dark sunglasses and silence. But it’s the young Jackie whose voice we heard—or partially heard—after a Dublin church unearthed and nearly auctioned off a cache of her letters last month.

She wrote the letters to Irish priest Joseph Leonard over the course of fourteen years, from 1950 to 1964—years in which she met, married and lost JFK. Excerpts were first published in the Irish Times and quickly re-printed by publications around the world. And while the letters must have included her thoughts on a number of different topics, it’s telling that the passages chosen for release focus almost exclusively on John F. Kennedy.


Portrait of a Marriage

History has repeatedly been revealed through letters, but the letters of first ladies are often compelling in intimate, as much as historical, ways; at their core, they tell us about a marriage. The Kennedy marriage, with its mixture of glamour and tragedy, hearsay and scandal, has captured the public’s imagination for half a century.

They say she was intelligent with a rapier wit, that she could size people up in a single meeting, that she made JFK laugh. We see it in footage from the 1962 America’s Cup dinner, when she leans across the table toward him as if no one is watching. She’s wearing a strapless Cassini gown, looking conspiratorial as she rocks her chair in his direction, oblivious to the puffs of smoke from his cigar. He bends toward her easily, listens intently, smiles. 

But mostly, we don’t see it; and her silence after his death, alongside rumors and revelations about his philandering, left a vacuum that has been filled with countless books and articles full of an almost feverish speculation about the true nature of their relationship. Ironically, her quest for privacy deprived her of it, made people clamor for her all the more, more than for any other first lady in history. Which is why the letters are so titillating.

It may be also why reading the letters feels like an invasion of privacy, why it probably is and why even a public usually hungry for a glimpse behind the scenes of Camelot felt uncomfortable with their release. A few weeks after the story broke, the Kennedy family intervened and the letters were removed from auction on May 21.

Another photo of JFK and Jackie from May 1961.

Another photo of JFK and Jackie from May 1961.

Public Figure, Private Thoughts

Still, the letters don’t feel any more intimate, any more telling about the Kennedy marriage than parts of Jackie’s 1964 oral history interviews with historian Arthur Schlesinger, which were released by Caroline Kennedy in 2011. Like when Jackie recounts what she said to JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis: “If anything happens, we're all going to stay right here with you... I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do, too—than live without you.” Or how, after the death of their newborn son, Patrick, “he sobbed and put his arms around me.”

But as Caroline notes in her introduction to the interviews, Jackie knew she was on the record when she spoke with Schlesinger, knew her words would shape history and one day become part of the public domain. When she began writing to Father Leonard in 1950, a 21-year-old Jackie Bouvier certainly could not have imagined this, could not have known what lay ahead for her—that ten years later, she would become first lady. “I feel as though I had just turned into a piece of public property,” she told Time magazine on the eve of her husband’s inauguration. “It’s really frightening to lose your anonymity at 31.”

This is not the first time Jacqueline Kennedy’s private letters have turned public, nor even the first time her letters have provided a glimpse at her feelings about John Kennedy. “I loved you from the first day I saw you,” she wrote to him a month before his death, “and if I hadn’t married you my life would have been tragic because the definition of tragedy is a waste. But ten years later, I love you so much more.”

The letter, which ran seven pages long, found its way into the hands of a private collector in the late 1990s, and excerpts from it have been published several times since. As with the Irish letters, the Kennedy family objected to its release. Yet this letter in particular may be the most compelling argument against the most persistent negative rumors about their marriage—that she only married him for his money, or that he only married her because he needed a first lady.

In fact, they loved each other—and the handful of times we hear her in her own words, that’s what she tells us. Is that fact historically significant? Perhaps not. But it’s still nice to know.


Now, click here to read our article on John F. Kennedy and the Tsar – The parallel lives of two fatherless boys.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
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Helen Saker-Parsons considers the fascinating similarities between the sons of two very important men who were killed in tragic circumstances – John F Kennedy and Tsar Michael II of Russia.


George and John: two men, born fifty years apart into families famed for their power as well as their curses. As young boys, both saw their fathers and their uncles murdered, these personal tragedies having global implications. Neither boy lived to middle age, both killed by a sense of adventure and not an assassin’s bullet. When John Kennedy Junior published his magazine he titled it ‘George’ after Washington: the first President of the United States. He was probably unaware of the existence of another George – Mikhailovich - also known as Count Brasov, with whom his life had strong parallels.

George Mikhailovich as a young boy.

George Mikhailovich as a young boy.

John Kennedy Junior was only two years old, on November 22, 1963, when the world saw his father shot on their television screens. His father held the highest profile of all world leaders as President of the United States. His public death was a contrast to the secretive nature in which George’s father met his demise, although theoretically he too held the potential to lead one of the most powerful countries of the time. It was June 1918, when George was seven years old and his country was in the midst of a Civil War. Three months earlier the Tsar of Russia had abdicated on behalf of himself and his son and nominated his younger brother, George’s father, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich as his successor. Although Michael had refused the role unless it could be ratified by an elected assembly, as long as a Romanov heir existed they could be a threat to the Reds. He was thus taken from his place of exile, a hotel room in Perm, by four Bolsheviks and driven by horse-drawn carriage to the forest with his personal friend and secretary, Brian Johnson, on the pretext of catching a train from a remote railway crossing to a safer place of hiding. George’s father was allegedly shot at point blank range with his arms outstretched to his friend. Forty-five years later and the Communists were to be blamed for the murder of John Junior’s father: his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a Marxist, ex US marine having defected to the Soviet Union (there are several other several theories regarding Kennedy’s death though).

A very young John Junior.

A very young John Junior.


But whereas the image of John, the toddler in the miniature duffel coat standing and saluting his father’s coffin at Arlington cemetery on his third birthday is etched in memories, George was not to know of his father’s death for some time, rumors being put about that he had escaped from his house arrest in Perm and was planning a counter-revolution. Attempts by his mother to find out the truth saw her arrested and imprisoned. A few weeks after her arrest, Natalia pretended she had developed tuberculosis and was moved to a nursing home from which she escaped. Despite determined efforts and countless rumors of sightings Natalia was forced to have her husband declared dead in July 1924. An eternal flame marks JFK’s place of burial; for Michael Alexandrovich, a plain cross was erected in the woods almost eighty years after his death, in 1996, on the spot where his body was once thought to lay - a local boy at the time having allegedly seen the corpse and marked the spot by carving an M and an A onto a nearby tree.

John Kennedy Junior was brought up with the world’s pity; George Mikhailovich relied on other nations for his survival. In spring 1918 the Danish Embassy arranged for his passage to Germany. Accompanied by his nanny, Miss Margaret Neame, who posed as the wife of an Austrian officer with George as her son, they travelled with false passports - in the name of Silldorff - on a train carrying prisoners-of-war being repatriated back to Germany. A Danish officer, Captain Sorensen, assisted them, since neither spoke German. George's mother and half-sister Natalia were smuggled out of Russia to Kiev, in German-controlled Ukraine, by the Germans. As soon as the war ended the Royal Navy then evacuated the two women to England where they were joined by George and Miss Neame in a rented house in WadhurstSussex, just after Easter 1919.

It was not only the death of their fathers which both boys endured, but also the murder of their uncles. Senator Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s brother, was assassinated on June 6, 1968, in a Los Angeles hotel. Although the act was initially blamed on a lone Palestinian assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, it too has been subject to decades of debate and conspiracy theories. The reasons were more straightforward for the execution of George’s uncle, Tsar Nicholas II; a month after his brother’s murder, he was shot alongside his wife and children by a Bolshevik firing squad in a basement room in a prison in Yekaterinburg.

With power and money often comes decadence. Both boys were born into families famed for their lifestyles. For the women this was reflected in their love of glamour and thirst for romance. Kennedy’s mother, Jackie, took on her late husband’s mantle for ill-advised affairs and high-living, with dubious connections and associations. Brasov’s half-sister too acquired a taste for disastrous relationships. While Jackie was linked with the Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, several Hollywood actors and went on to marry Aristotle Onassis (a man sometimes cited in the death of Bobby Kennedy), George’s half-sister ‘Tata’ eloped from school to marry the actor John Gielgud’s older brother Val, and then went on to two more marriages.



For the men their access to money encouraged a sense of adventure and a love of speed. Both were to die in the summer month of July doing what they enjoyed. John Junior was almost twice the age of George but still less than forty. He was piloting a plane en route to a family wedding with his wife, Carolyn Bessette, when as an inexperienced flyer he apparently lost control in the poor weather conditions. George had inherited his father’s love of speed and automobiles. Whilst at school in England he bought a Norton motorbike that he then took with him to France when joining his mother in her adoptive country after 1927. In 1928, the Dowager Empress Marie died and George inherited one-third of his grandmother’s estate. He bought a Chrysler sports car. In July 1931, having finished his final examinations at the Sorbonne, he set off on a road trip to the south of France with a nineteen-year-old Dutch friend, Edgar Moneanaar, promising his mother to be home for his twenty-first birthday. The car skidded near Sens and they crashed into a tree. Moneanaar was killed. With both thighs broken and severe internal injuries, George was taken to hospital but died without recovering consciousness the following morning.

For some it was not fatalism but fate that killed these two young men: those who believe in the truth of the family curse - though the origins of these curses are disputed. For the Romanovs, Rasputin is often blamed. In a letter Rasputin predicted his own death within the year stating that if he was killed by peasants the tsars would continue to reign for generations to come, but if it was at the hands of the aristocrats then the tsar and his family would be dead within two years. Embittered mothers feature in theories behind the curses for both families. The Kennedy curse allegedly originates from the ‘ol’ country’ when as wealthy farmers in Ireland their ancestors were visited by a desperate starving mother during the famine of 1846. When she was turned away the mother swore on her dying child's life that a curse would henceforth visit the Kennedy family. It started quickly: the Kennedys were evicted from their farm after a rent revolt. Some say the Romanovs were cursed by the mother of a young boy drowned in the Moscow River by soldiers of Tsar Michael I, the first of the Romanov dynasty. In her grief she cursed the new Tsar who went on to lose four of his sons during childhood.

And then there are the Jewish conspiracy theories. The Russian pogroms and a history of anti-Semitic Tsarist behavior are well-documented. Some cite a Jewish conspiracy for the Kennedy misfortunes too. JFK’s father, Joseph, allegedly told a rabbi and his students to stop their prayers while they were on a passenger ship together. Angry, the rabbi cursed him and claimed that his descendants would suffer great misfortune. In another version, it was a Jewish father who placed the curse on Joseph after he refused to help his sons escape from a concentration camp. In yet one more account of the curse, it was an entire Jewish village that cursed Kennedy after they discovered he was dealing weapons to the Nazis.



But what the boys also share is their unfulfilled potential: had both men lived it is possible they would have reached great heights. Kennedy’s political ambitions have been recorded. He saw his magazine ‘George’ as a tool to express his points of view. Brasov himself may have been accepted as the legitimate heir to the Russian throne. In his father’s manifesto of March 3, 1917 he writes of the need for a constitutional monarchy in Russia showing his acceptance of the need for change. It is possible that the rights of succession could have been changed too, acknowledging the irrelevance of a morganatic marriage and pushing forward George as his rightful successor. Indeed many of the exiled Russian émigrés living in Paris in the 1920s preferred him as the legitimate heir. Although history remains fascinated by the families of these young men, both are overshadowed by events that surround their more high profile relatives. But I can’t help contemplating how things might have been different if their own lives had not been cut tragically short.


Helen Saker-Parsons is the author of a book about an Allied soldier who is captured and held prisoner in Italy during World War II. The book, A Captive Life, is available here: Amazon US | Amazon UK


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On the fiftieth anniversary of the day that John F Kennedy was shot, it seemed fitting that our image of the week looks at that event.


John F Kennedy was possibly the most charismatic President of the 20th century. His oratory skills can still provoke shivers down our spines today. His sense of style is timeless. But, he came to be known for the most tragic of reasons.

Having been inaugurated as President at the tender age of 43, he would leave us on November 22, 1963 after being shot in Dallas, Texas.

The first image below shows JFK with his wife Jacqueline Kennedy before the motorcade that they were traveling in that day left.

20131122 Waiting for motorcade to begin.jpg

The second image shows JFK smiling at the crowds. Soon after, he was fatally shot.

20131122 JFK day he was shot.jpg

Our final image shows the outcome of that day. The funeral of JFK on November 25, 1963.

20131122 funeral.jpg

To find out more about John F Kennedy, listen to our introductory podcast on him. Click here.

George Levrier-Jones

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

This is the third in a series of articles that explores the iconic CIA and its use as a tactical weapon by the US presidents of the Cold War (1947-1991). The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning and The Central Intelligence Agency – Eisenhower and Asia’s Back Door are the preceding posts. 

JFK delivering a speech

JFK delivering a speech

A very tired John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was sworn into office on a clear, windy, brutally cold January 20, 1961.(1) It wasn’t an easy day. Eight inches of snow had fallen the night before, causing a monumental traffic jam. The streets were littered with abandoned vehicles.  Former President Herbert Hoover missed the entire inauguration event because Washington National Airport was closed due to the weather.  An inauguration is an important national symbol that characterizes the Republic and the all-night effort to clear Pennsylvania Avenue greeted the sun with space to accommodate the large crowd that would gather to witness the duly elected president assume the helm of the ship-of-state.  

The snowfall of the previous night and the windy, frigid temperatures of inauguration day are also apt codes for the sea change that had already gathered momentum around the relationship between the new president and his intelligence agency, the CIA.  The CIA, as authorized by The National Security Act of 1947, was still fairly young, but Allen Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was an old hand and seemingly enjoyed the game.  By 1961, the CIA, in its short life, had tripped the light fantastic around the globe; Col. Lansdale was merrily fighting rebels in The Philippines following which he ported his obsession with asymmetric guerilla warfare to Vietnam where he spent two-years as a houseguest and confidant of President Diem. Other CIA operatives overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, and raised general hell with Cuba and Chile. 

During the latter Truman and the Eisenhower administrations there was a trend to combine the Cold War objective of fighting the creep of Communism with business interests. Iran, for example, nationalized British oil interests and Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh refused to budge in spite of punishing sanctions. According to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, “Eisenhower worried about Mossadegh's willingness to cooperate with Iranian Communists; he also feared that Mossadegh would eventually undermine the power of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a staunch anti-Communist partner. In August 1953, the CIA helped overthrow Mossadegh's government and restored the Shah's power. In the aftermath of this covert action, new arrangements gave U.S. corporations an equal share with the British in the Iranian oil industry.”(2)

In Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman initiated land reforms that seriously impacted the holdings of the anti-Communist, New Orleans-based United Fruit Company who controlled over forty percent of Guatemala’s arable land.  The Truman administration came to the support of American business interests by arming the anti-Arbenz rebels.  Under Eisenhower, the CIA finished the job by overthrowing the Arbenz regime and installing Carlos Castillo Armas.  Codenamed PBSUCCESS, the coup d'état was the first-ever clandestine military action in Latin America but it was certainly not the last.(3)


Kennedy and the CIA

After fifty years the controversy surrounding Kennedy and the CIA obscures the landscape like the white-out conditions in a blizzard.   At one end of the opinion spectrum, Marquette University’s John McAdams’ The Kennedy Assassination site concludes that Kennedy and the CIA had some rough spots but got through them. (4) At the other end of the spectrum is Dr. Jerome R. Corsi, who maintains that Kennedy and the CIA locked horns and never retreated. (5) Excellent research and the documented citations for both perspectives leave the reader with many questions.  One corner of this argument does not appear to be disputed; Kennedy consistently refused to use the U.S. military to support private sector interests.  In this matter, President Kennedy was a traditionalist. The military, in his opinion, was to be used only in defense of national security interests.  If we can escape the white-out conditions of the never-ending controversy, the political landscape, once again, becomes hard and navigable.  

As Kennedy came to office, covert CIA actions initiated by the Eisenhower administration were in play in both hemispheres.  Two noteworthy examples are the storm clouds that were gathering around the Diem brothers in South Vietnam and the vexing problem of Fidel Castro in Cuba.  For discussion purposes I have separated these two significant events, but during the early days of the Kennedy administration they were unfolding concurrently linked through the CIA node.

President Kennedy and DCI Allen Dulles

President Kennedy and DCI Allen Dulles

South Vietnam

South Vietnam was a U.S. government construct, a nation-building exercise illuminated by the Pentagon Papers.

“The United States moved quickly to prevent the unification and to establish South Vietnam as an American sphere. It set up in Saigon as head of the government a former Vietnamese official named Ngo Dinh Diem, who had recently been living in New Jersey, and encouraged him not to hold the scheduled elections for unification. A memo in early 1954 of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that intelligence estimates showed "a settlement based on free elections would be attended by almost certain loss of the Associated States [Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam-the three parts of Indochina created by the Geneva Conference] to Communist control." Diem again and again blocked the elections requested by the Vietminh, and with American money and arms his government became more and more firmly established. As the Pentagon Papers put it: "South Viet Nam was essentially the creation of the United States."(6)

By 1961, Southeast Asia was rapidly becoming a tinder box.  During a discussion of an Edward Lansdale report on Vietnam with Walt Whitman Rostow, the National Security advisor, Kennedy lamented, “'This is the worst one we've got. You know, Eisenhower never mentioned it. He talked at length about Laos, but never uttered the word Vietnam.”  Lansdale’s report brought the deterioration of South Vietnam’s political stability into focus for Kennedy as he remarked to Rostow that the “Lansdale's narrative was 'an extremely vivid and well-written account of a place that was going to hell in a hack.'…” (7)

Diem and his brother persisted in implementing domestic policies based on impressing the Catholic religion and requiring personal loyalties that accelerated the destabilization of the country.  The prevailing religion in Vietnam was Buddhism at the time and the Diems were persecuting Buddhists terribly.  Making matters worse were two notable supporters of the Diem’s, neither of whom had a clue about the national culture of Vietnam.  Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, a Montana Democrat, lectured in Far Eastern and Latin American history in his previous life. Mansfield was also a practicing Catholic.  While Mansfield openly admitted he knew nothing about Vietnam, he very much liked Diem and he was generally considered to be Congress’ resident Vietnam expert.  The second big player who knew nothing about Vietnam was Col. Edward Lansdale, a CIA asset who befriended and used the Diems but was only committed to his concept of counterinsurgency warfare.  The Pentagon Papers revealed that, based on Lansdale’s advice, Kennedy approved secret operations to "dispatch of agents to North Vietnam" to engage in "sabotage and light harassment”.


Growing involvement

The Diem brothers’ refusal to cease and desist acting on their paranoia, resulted in thousands of Buddhists and dissenters being imprisoned, tortured, and murdered.  The Geneva Accords permitted the U.S. to have 685 military advisers in South Vietnam. Eisenhower sent several thousand and, under Kennedy, the figure rose to sixteen thousand with some of them taking part in combat operations. Diem was losing. Most of the South Vietnam countryside was now controlled by local villagers organized by the NLF.(See Footnote 6)  It became clear that a new government was necessary if the U.S. was to be effective in keeping Vietnam out of Communist hands.  Kennedy authorized the overthrow with the provision that the Diem brothers would be extracted to live in exile. 

Henry Cabot Lodge, Ambassador to South Vietnam, received a cable (Cable 243) outlining the issues and actions that were the next steps in changing regimes or bringing the Diem regime into line with American interests, following the midnight raids on the Buddhist Pagodas on August 21, 1963.(8)  The Diem brothers would not or could not change direction and South Vietnam’s Diem government was overthrown in a military coup d'état according to play book.  What did not go ‘according to plan’ was the murder of the Diem brothers whose desperate calls for rescue went unheeded by the U.S. government that had put them in power.  The brutal assassinations of the Diems on November 2, 1963 haunted Kennedy.  By November 22, 1963, less than three weeks later, Kennedy himself would die from an assassin’s bullet(s).

“Kennedy learned of the deaths on the following morning when National Security Council staffer Michael Forrestal rushed into the cabinet room with a telegram reporting the Ngô brothers' alleged suicides. According to General Maxwell Taylor, "Kennedy leaped to his feet and rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face which I had never seen before." Kennedy had planned that Ngô Đình Diệm would be safely exiled and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. recalled that the U.S. president was "somber and shaken". Kennedy later penned a memo, lamenting that the assassination was "particularly abhorrent" and blaming himself for approving Cable 243, which had authorised Lodge to explore coup options in the wake of Nhu's attacks on the Buddhist pagodas.  Forrestal said that "It shook him personally ... bothered him as a moral and religious matter. It shook his confidence, I think, in the kind of advice he was getting about South Vietnam."   When Kennedy was consoled by a friend who told him he need not feel sorry for the Ngô brothers on the grounds of despotism, Kennedy replied "No. They were in a difficult position. They did the best they could for their country." 



While the South Vietnam pot was coming to a boil in the Eastern Hemisphere, the Cuban kettle had boiled dry with the Bay of Pigs and was heating up a second time with Operation Mongoose in the Western Hemisphere.  Without getting into the ‘why’ of it, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy left the door open to depose Cuba’s new dictator Fidel Castro during the fourth presidential debate.(9)  The New York Times the next day ran the story as the lead item on the front page with the headline: "Kennedy Asks Aid for Cuban Rebels to Defeat Castro, Urges Support of Exiles and Fighters for Freedom." James Reston wrote in the Times that "Senator Kennedy (has) made what is probably his worst blunder of the campaign.”(10)  After Kennedy was inaugurated, DCI Allen Dulles came calling to cash the Bay of Pigs check and Kennedy approved the invasion as had been planned under the Eisenhower administration except that he refused to commit the U.S. military support. 

George Washington University’s National Security Archives Bay of Pigs Chronology provides a wonderfully detailed account of the invasion and reads like a spy thriller.  Prior to the invasion factories and cane fields were fire bombed using white phosphorus and other incendiaries, E. Howard Hunt and others made covert trips into Cuba to check the lay of the land, small aircraft overflew Cuba taking pictures and reporting back to the CIA (at least one was shot down by Castro’s forces), communication stations on remote islands were constructed in preparation for command and control of the prospective invasion, and exiled Cubans were trained.  The exiles wanted to return home to the country they remembered and American business interests wanted the island playground back in their domain.

The pressure was on to execute the invasion and, in April, about three months after Kennedy’s inauguration the green light was given. “On April 15, 1961, C.I.A. pilots knocked out part of Castro's air force, and were set to finish the job. At the last minute, on April 16, President Kennedy called off the air strikes, but the message did not reach the 1,511 commandos headed for the Bay of Pigs. Three days of fighting destroyed the invading force. A brigade commander sent his final messages: ''We are out of ammo and fighting on the beach. Please send help,'' and: ''In water. Out of ammo. Enemy closing in. Help must arrive in next hour.''(11) The help never came and 1500 Cuban exiles fighters did not come back.

To his credit, President Kennedy assumed full public responsibility for the debacle although he allowed the blame to spread through leaks and rumors.  Kennedy fired Allen Dulles and threatened to break the CIA apart.  The fiasco that was the Bay of Pigs, however, did not deter the effort to rid the Western Hemisphere of Castro.  In November 1961, Operation Mongoose was born with a primary objective to identify mechanisms to get rid of the Cuban leader and the CIA was not the lead player.  Robert Kennedy and General Maxwell Taylor were the operation’s overseers.  Col. Edward Lansdale was recruited to coordinate activities between the CIA, Defense Department, and State Department. 

Operation Mongoose employed intelligence collection, sabotage operations, and identifying and recruiting leaders within Cuba who could overthrow Castro. But there were other methods used. With Lansdale’s obsession on asymmetrical warfare, a subset operation known as the Northwoods operation was developed. This considered using faked and real terrorist activities which could be blamed on Castro and used as a provocation for invasion.  It has never been decisively determined whether or not assassination plots were a component of Operation Mongoose.(12)  The Church Committee did, however, uncover a 1962 memo from Lansdale to Robert Kennedy claiming that "we might uncork the touchdown play independently of the institutional program we are spurring."  Operation Mongoose was ‘officially’ ended in October 1962 with the advent of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The ‘official’ efforts to ‘get Castro’ fade from the presidential office in October 1962 and go deep underground.  The next blip on the ‘get Castro’ radar appears in New Orleans in the rabid anti-Communist, anti-Castro corporate culture at the United Fruit Company upon whose trustee board the fired DCI Allen Dulles sat.  The United Fruit Company story must be told at another time, however.


The CIA and Kennedy in perspective

President Kennedy’s fractured relationship with the CIA meant, for his term in office, a reduced CIA influence on foreign policy and affairs.  Kennedy, however, did recognize the usefulness of covert operators and plausible deniability’s lack of presidential fingerprints.  Publicly Kennedy was shamed twice by CIA failures and fired the powerful Allen Dulles.  Did Kennedy really forget and forgive as some analysts portray or would his ego have driven him to keep his promise to break up the CIA?  Certainly, Kennedy attempted to dilute the CIA influence during Operation Mongoose.  Kennedy’s assassination ended all of the speculation of the CIA’s relative political standing as the status quo quickly returned under the Johnson administration.

The Kennedy administration lasted just 1036 stormy days. His last day, like his first, was preceded by a storm in Dallas, Texas.  As on Kennedy’s inauguration day, the storm cleared and Kennedy elected to have his convertible open to the people; the better to relate to the people.  That, of course, worked well for the assassin(s).  I find it interesting where the ubiquitous Allen Dulles shows up; on the United Fruit Company Board of Trustees and on the Warren Commission investigating the death of the man who fired him.  The Diem brothers may have been assassinated but Fidel Castro, the object of so much time and effort, outlived them all.


By Barbara Johnson

Barbara is the owner of www.coldwarwarrior.com, a site about the men and women from all the cold wars who worked so hard for something they believed in and played so hard they forgot the pain.

This article has been published as we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy. We shall be posting about JFK on Twitter and Facebook this week.

To find out more about John F Kennedy’s life, listen to our podcast on him. Click here.


1.       NOAA’s National Weather Service Forecast Office; Presidential Inaugural Weather; http://www.erh.noaa.gov/lwx/Historic_Events/Inauguration/Inauguration.html

2.       University of Virginia; Miller Center; American President: Eisenhower Foreign Policy A Reference Resource; http://millercenter.org/president/eisenhower/essays/biography/5

3.       The Cold War Museum; Guatemala 1954; Article 1 of 2; http://www.coldwar.org/articles/50s/guatemala.asp

4.       Marquette University; Craig Frizzell and Magen Knuth; Mortal Enemies? Did President Kennedy Plan on Splintering the CIA?; http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/jfk_cia.htm

5.       Dr. Jerome R. Corsi; Who Really Killed Kennedy?: 50 Years Later: Stunning New Revelations About the JFK Assassination; http://www.amazon.com/Really-Killed-Kennedy-Assassination-ebook/dp/B00EMFH0M0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379766666&sr=8-1&keywords=who+killed+president+kennedy+corsi 

6.       A People's History Of The United States; Howard Zinn; Chapter 18: The Impossible Victory: Vietnam; http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnimvivi18.html

7.       George Washington University National Security Archives; The Wall; Episode 9; INTERVIEW WITH WALT ROSTOW; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/interviews/episode-9/rostow1.html

8.       George Washington University National Security Archives; Cable 243; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB101/vn02.pdf

9.       Commission on Presidential Debates; October 21, 1960 Debate Transcript; The Fourth Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate; October 21, 1960; http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=october-21-1960-debate-transcript

10.   George Washington University National Security Archives; Chapter 3; Into Politics With Kennedy and Johnson; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB116/cia/Chapter%203%20--%20Into%20Politics%20With%20Kennedy%20and%20Johnson.htm   

11.   New York Times; TIM WEINER; February 22, 1998; C.I.A. Bares Its Bungling in Report on Bay of Pigs Invasion; http://www.nytimes.com/1998/02/22/world/cia-bares-its-bungling-in-report-on-bay-of-pigs-invasion.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

12.   George Washington University National Security Archives; July 25, 1962; Brig. Gen. Lansdale; Review of Operation Mongoose; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/620725%20Review%20of%20Op.%20Mongoose.pdf