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A U.S. Diplomat Expresses Misgivings About the Bay of Pigs Invasion

In this memo to Kennedy's Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Under Secretary of State Chester Bowles expresses his opposition to the planned Bay of Pigs invasion. Bowles cites as his reasons for concern the invasion's apparent violation of international law, its inherent riskiness, and the effect such an operation would have on world opinion. Although Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy claimed that "Operation Zapata" was not in violation of U.S. neutrality laws, the invasion's failure and subsequent propaganda victory for Castro made Bowles' misgivings seems prescient.

Washington, March 31, 1961.

On Tuesday, April 4th, a meeting will be held at the White House at which a decision will be reached on the Cuban adventure.

…I have had an opportunity to become better acquainted with the proposal, and I find it profoundly disturbing….my concern stems from a deep personal conviction that our national interests are poorly served by a covert operation of this kind at a time when our new President is effectively appealing to world opinion on the basis of high principle….

In saying this, I do not overlook the ruthless nature of the struggle in which we are involved, nor do I ignore the need on occasion for action which is expedient and distasteful. Yet I cannot persuade myself that means can be wholly divorced from ends--even within the context of the Cold War.

In sponsoring the Cuban operation, for instance, we would be deliberately violating the fundamental obligations we assumed in the Act of Bogota establishing the Organization of American States. The Act provides:

"No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State”….

Those most familiar with the Cuban operation seem to agree that as the venture is now planned, the chances of success are not greater than one out of three. This makes it a highly risky operation. If it fails, Castro's prestige and strength will be greatly enhanced….

Under the very best of circumstances, I believe this operation will have a much more adverse effect on world opinion than most people contemplate. …

I believe it would be a grave mistake for us to jeopardize the favorable position we have steadily developed in most of the non-Communist world by the responsible and restrained policies which are now associated with the President by embarking on a major covert adventure with such very heavy built-in risks.

I realize that this operation has been put together over a period of months. A great deal of time and money has been put into it, and many able and dedicated people have become emotionally involved in its success. We should not, however, proceed with this adventure simply because we are wound up and cannot stop….

Source | U.S., Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume X, Cuba, 1961-1962.
Creator | Chester Bowles
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | Chester Bowles, “A U.S. Diplomat Expresses Misgivings About the Bay of Pigs Invasion,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 5, 2022,

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