Download this lesson plan, including handouts, in pdf format.
Topic: Bay of Pigs Invasion
Grade Level: 9-12
Subject Area: US History after World War II – History and Government
Time Required: One class period
Students analyze President Kennedy’s April 20, 1961 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in which he unapologetically frames the invasion as “useful lessons for us all to learn” with strong Cold War language. This analysis will help students better understand the Cold War context of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and evaluate how an effective speech can shift the focus from a failed action or policy towards a future goal.
Essential Question: How can a public official address a failed policy or action in a positive way?
- explain the US rationale for the Bay of Pigs invasion and the various ways the mission failed.
- analyze the tone and content of JFK’s April 20, 1961 speech.
- evaluate the methods JFK used in this speech to present the invasion in a more positive light.
Connections to Curriculum (Standards)
National English Language Standards (NCTE)
1 - Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
3- Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
6 - Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.
National History Standards
US History, Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s) Standard 2B: The student understands United States foreign policy in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.
Common Core Standards
RH.9-10.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
RH.9-10.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
RH.9-10.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
RH.9-10.8: Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
W.11-12.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
W.9-10.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
SL.9-12.1: Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
SL.9-10.3: Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
SL.9-10.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
Historical Background and Context
The Bay of Pigs invasion was the failed attempt by US-backed Cuban exiles to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. President Eisenhower authorized the operation and it was subsequently approved by President Kennedy. On April 17, 1961, a 1,400-man invasion force of anti-Castro Cuban exiles, Brigade 2506, landed at the Bay of Pigs beach on the south coast of Cuba. Quickly overwhelmed by a counterattack of Castro’s armed forces, the invasion force was crushed two days later. More than 100 men were killed, and nearly 1,100 were taken prisoner and held in Cuba for nearly two years. Instead of toppling the Castro regime, the invasion strengthened Castro’s image with the Cuban people, solidified his alignment with the Soviet Union, and emboldened Premier Khrushchev in his belief that Kennedy was weak and inexperienced.
Publicly, President Kennedy took responsibility for the invasion’s failure. “We intend to profit from this lesson,” he said in his address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 20. In a news conference the following day, he noted “There's an old saying that victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan… I'm the responsible officer of the Government…” Gallup polls taken the following week showed Kennedy had an 83% approval rating and 61% of Americans approved of his handling of the invasion.
- Background reading on the Bay of Pigs invasion from the CIA website
- Reading copy (beginning at page 14) and transcript of Kennedy’s April 20, 1961 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors
- A video of the speech
- For homework, have students read the CIA web page “The Bay of Pigs Invasion” and answer the following questions:
- Why did the US government begin planning to overthrow Fidel Castro in 1960?
- What were some of the major mistakes made in the operation?
- Based on this article, who do you think holds the most responsibility for the failed invasion? (It can be more than one person or group.)
- In class, working in groups, ask students to share answers from their homework. Ask them to consider, if they were President Kennedy, how they might address the failed invasion in a public speech on April 20, three days after the initial invasion attempt. Have them list their main points. Discuss these points as a class.
- As a class, model a close reading of the first five pages of President Kennedy’s reading copy of his April 20 speech, answering the prompts below. You may want to show the students a video of the first part of the speech before they analyze the reading copy (watch from 1:30 to 6:00).
- To whom is Kennedy addressing his remarks? (Newspaper editors? American public? Soviets? Cubans? World?)
- Divide the class into small groups and have each group do a close reading of the remainder of the speech (pages 6-13 of the reading copy), practicing the skills they have demonstrated in step 3. You may want to show the students a video of the rest of the speech before they analyze the reading copy (watch from 6:00 to 14:15). Have students answer the following questions:
- Why does Kennedy emphasize certain words in his reading copy of the speech?
- What is the tone of the second part of the speech? (conciliatory, threatening, etc.?)
- What are the “lessons" that JFK says can be learned from the invasion?
- How does he characterize the danger posed by a Communist Cuba? Provide specific examples from the speech.
- How does Kennedy characterize the US commitment to containing the spread of Communism? Provide specific examples from the speech.
- Bring the students together to debrief their analyses. Have them compare their initial thoughts about what they would have included in this speech with Kennedy’s actual address.
- Why do you think Kennedy emphasizes certain words in his reading copy of the speech?
- What is the tone of the first part of the speech? (conciliatory, threatening, etc.?) Provide specific examples to support your conclusions.
- How does Kennedy depict the invasion? (As a mainly Cuban effort, a US effort, or both?) Provide specific language to support your conclusions.
- How does Kennedy characterize this invasion? [A failure? A success?] Provide specific language to support your conclusions.
In a one- to two-page written essay, ask students to evaluate how this speech takes a failure of the Kennedy Administration and reframes it into a message of lessons learned, focusing on future US foreign policy. Looking back from our time, based on their knowledge of the events, do they think it was an effective speech or not? Why?