Before dawn on April 17, 1961, a CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles landed in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro’s new regime. History has recorded the disaster that befell them. “How could I have been so stupid?” President John F. Kennedy shouted after the scope of the failure became clear.
Soon afterward, Kennedy fired his CIA director, Allen Dulles. “In a parliamentary system of government, it is I who would be leaving office,” he told Dulles. “But under our system, it is you who must go.”
Historians often call the Bay of Pigs failure the worst moment of Kennedy’s presidency. Historian Michael Beschloss has called it Kennedy’s “first enormous defeat” and said Kennedy felt he had “blotted his copy book forever.” What has not been understood, however, is that this failure may have been in part the result of dementia that was beginning to affect Dulles.