For me, there is another more representative Schlesinger than the one celebrated at his Memorial Service: the Schlesinger who was the greatest maligner of the Cuban people, the inventor of the myth of pre-revolutionary Cuba as as an economically and socially backward country deserving of a Communist Revolution, and, most damning of all, the man who encouraged, and, indeed, campaigned for Kennedy's betrayal of the Cuban freedom fighters at the Bay of Pigs.
The mild-mannered professor was the "Devil in Mr. Kennedy" and it was a role he cherished as much as any (supposedly) heterosexual man could. Despite the great harm he did to his idol's reputation by his Machiavellian advice or, perhaps, because of it, Schlesinger remained Kennedy's lapdog for more than 50 years, in life as in death, and it is in this role that he is principally remembered by his countrymen if he is remembered at all.
Schlesinger cultivated the professorial image with leather patches on the elbows of his jackets and the omnipresent bow tie. Playing the part of a patrician came naturally to him because he had hobnobbed with them all his life though not belonging to their class. He was their Boswell without Boswell's genius for character-definition but with all his fawning and obsequiousness.
As I said, I remember another Schlesinger. This "esteemed historian and presidential advisor" wrote the infamous "White Paper" on Cuba of April 3, 1961. The so-called "White Paper" was issued two weeks before the Bay of Pigs invasion and may have convinced Kennedy that Cubans deserved nothing better than betrayal as they were the world's most barbaric, immoral and despicable people, fully deserving of whatever fate befell them. According to The New York Times (April 4, 1961): "President Kennedy devoted many hours to the pamphlet, personally going over it with Mr. Schlesinger."
Former U.S. ambassador to Cuba Spruille Braden characterized the "White Paper" on Cuba as "calumny, cheap demagoguery and a despicable act, unworthy of a responsible government and foreign office. The White Paper's direct and implied animadversions as to the poverty and bad economic conditions of Cuba, prior to the coming of Castro, are inaccurate and evidence the socialistic preferences of its drafter. This document begins by giving approval, i.e. encouraging what it calls the 'authentic and autonomous revolution of the Americas,' that is, to promote more fidelismo but without Fidel. For my part, I prefer to see the sound evolution of the Americas without the violence, abuse and waste inherent in all revolutions. Nor do I consider it wise or proper for my government to advocate 'authentic and autonomous revolutions' all over the American continents," concluded Spruille.
The author of this canard on Cuba was the man that Kennedy chose as his conduit to the Brigade 2506's political leaders before the invasion. While he lied to the Cubans about his own and Kennedy's support, Schlesinger literally poisoned the well for them. In a memorandum to Kennedy, dated April 5, 1961, Schlesinger advised the president to abandon the freedom fighters at the Bay of Pigs:
"On balance, I think that the risks of the operation slightly outweigh the risks of abandonment. These latter risks would be mitigated somewhat if we could manage a partial rather than a total abandonment (i.e., if we could put the men into Cuba quietly). We might also be able to make some diplomatic capital out of the abandonment. We might have Thompson say to Khrushchev, for example, that we have discouraged an invasion of Cuba; that this shows our genuine desire to compose differences; but that K. should tell his friend to behave, because our patience is not inexhaustible and we cannot hope to restrain the Cuban patriots indefinitely. Conceivably we might be able to turn abandonment to some diplomatic advantage within the hemisphere too."
There is always a civilian, cold and calculating, behind every great military defeat. The smart ones are able to cover their tracks, and forgetfulness, crime's best ally, conceals the tracks of the rest. But some, a very few, either do not care to conceal their actions or are unaware that history will not judge them in the same light as they themselves or their peers did. It is to this last group that Schlesinger belonged, as is affirmed by his indifference to the betrayal of the Cuban people, and, ultimately, his betrayal of his own country, his president and humanity.
It may seem crass of me to speak ill of the dead, but Schlesinger himself never had any difficulty doing so. On the 25th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs in 1986, he even published an article in The Wall Street Journal where he impugned the memory of the freedom fighters and blamed them for the defeat at the Bay of Pigs. Although I had published other articles there, the WSJ declined to publish my rejoinder (Schlesinger enjoyed the undeserved respect and protection of even conservatives, though he was himself never fair to anyone on the right). Instead, I published my reply in another New York newspaper and severed my connection with the WSJ's "Americas Page."
At the time I did not know that Schlesinger was the real architect of the Bay of Pigs "fiasco" — the "fiasco-maker," if you will (although as I re-read my article after 20 years I do seem to have intuited that fact). It was only after Kennedy's papers were released to the public that the full extent of Schlesinger's perfidy was known and I am the only one to date that seems to have picked up on it, confirming that forgetfulness indeed is a traitor's best friend.
[Here's a label for the photograph: Poindexter and the Prom King].
[I will be reproducing shortly that first refutation of Schlesinger as part of the continuing series From the Tellechea Archives].