Tag Archives: Cold War

Francis Gary Powers

Francis Gary Powers

May 1, 1960
Francis Gary Powers
U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers sits in the witness chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. on March 6, 1962. This was his first public appearance since his release by the Russians on February. 10, 1962. He is holding a U-2 model plane. (AP Photo)
I think I remember something about Francis Gary Powers at the time, but I don't know when I first heard of him. Not on May 1, 1960 when I was probably outside playing after Sunday dinner and trying not to think about Monday and sitting in Miss Liston's 4th grade class. Did I have homework that weekend? Had I done it?

Francis Gary Powers had taken off from Afghanistan that day in his U2 jet intending to fly over the Soviet Union, take pictures of likely nuclear missile installations, and land in Norway. Flying at 70,000 feet, military experts said he was beyond the reach of Soviet missiles.


In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower had proposed an “open skies” plan, in which each country would be permitted to make overflights of the other to conduct mutual aerial inspections of nuclear facilities and launchpads. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev refused the proposal.

The US's U2 spy plane program was a secret program aimed at bypassing that refusal. Flying over a country without permission could be considered an act of war. The program began in 1956.
The Soviets did track some flights, but could not prove that the US was conducting them. The Soviets remained silent because announcing their knowledge of the flights would also reveal their inability to shoot them down.

Until May 1, 1960.

Francis Gary Powers

The flight had been normal until explosions suddenly broke off a U2 wing and shut down its controls. To use the automatic bailout system with the plane in freefall would have severed his legs. He tried to bail out manually and was nearly sucked out of the plane when he removed its canopy. He also realized that he couldn't reach the plane's self-destruct button.

When the US government found out about the situation, it assumed that the plane was destroyed and Powers killed. The government released a story that it was not a spy but a weather plane that had gone off course. A "NASA" painted model was used for exhibit. Eisenhower confirmed the story.

Until the Soviets released pictures of the plane, mostly intact, and Powers, alive. A planned summit between Eisenhower and Khrushchev went south.  The Soviets tried Powers on August 17 and found him guilty of espionage two days later. The court sentenced Power to 10 years in prison. 

            Three months later, the US elected John F Kennedy president and Powers became his problem.


On February 10, 1962 James B Donovan completed his successful negotiation for the exchange of Powers, along with American student Frederic Pryor, for Rudolf Abel. Ironically, Donovan had defended Abel five years earlier in American courts and though losing the case, was able to defeat the government's request for the death penalty.

            The exchange took place on the famous Glienicke bridge in Berlin - the "bridge" referred to in the title of the 2015 film Bridge of Spies.
Francis Gary Powers
The Glienicke bridge just after the Powers swap on 10 February 1962
Back from the USSR, Powers underwent the questioning scrutiny of the American media. Why had he co-operated with the Soviets? Why hadn't he committed suicide?

A Senate committee hearing in 1962 gave Powers a chance explain.The committee fully exonerated him and awarded $50,000 in back pay to cover the period of his incarceration in Russia. 

He took a job as a pilot for a television news station and died in a helicopter crash on August 1, 1977.

He is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery where his tombstone includes two honors, both awarded posthumously: the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Prisoner of War medal.
Francis Gary Powers
photo by Edward (Ted) Tyler

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Executive Order 10450

Executive Order 10450

April 27, 1953
Executive Order 10450          When the Cold War began, irrational fear of anything associated with Communism ruled the day. Clever politicians looking to gain patriotic points simply associated fringe members of society with Communism to disgrace them and sometimes imprison them.

          The LGBT community was included in this wide-ranging persecution. Historically this period before the Stonewall riots and their marking a new era of activism is known as the Lavender Scare.

 

Executive Order 10450

          The text of the executive order began with:

          Sec. 8. (a) The investigations conducted pursuant to this order shall be designed to develop information as to whether the employment or retention in employment in the Federal service of the person being investigated is clearly consistent with the interests of the national security. Such information shall relate, but shall not be limited, to the following:

                (1) Depending on the relation of the Government employment to the national security:

                                (i) Any behavior, activities, or associations which tend to show that the individual is not reliable or trustworthy.

                                (ii) Any deliberate misrepresentations, falsifications, or omissions of material facts.

                                (iii) Any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, sexual perversion(my emphasis)

                                (iv) Any illness, including any mental condition, of a nature which in the opinion of competent medical authority may cause significant defect in the judgment or reliability of the employee, with due regard to the transient or continuing effect of the illness and the medical findings in such case.

                                (v) Any facts which furnish reason to believe that the individual may be subjected to coercion, influence, or pressure which may cause him to act contrary to the best interests of the national security.

                (2) Commission of any act of sabotage, espionage, treason, or sedition, or attempts thereat or preparation therefore, or conspiring with, or aiding or abetting, another to commit or attempt to commit any act of sabotage, espionage, treason, or sedition.
Executive Order 10450
New Yorker, June 17, 1950
          Nearly all of society, including medical professionals, considered homosexuality a sexual perversion. In fact, it wasn't until December 15, 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association removed the designation of homosexuality as a mental illness.

           The American Psychological Association, a different professional group, removed its designation of homosexuality as unhealthy in 1975.

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Bay of Pigs Invasion

Bay of Pigs Invasion

April 17, 1961

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Newly-elected President inherit both the good and bad of their predecessors.  Even though a new President must approve their continuance, plans and policies that already underway carry bureaucratic momentum.
On April 17, 1961, an invasion of Cuba by a group of Cuban exiles backed by the U.S. government and trained by the CIA landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. The invasion's goal was to overthrow the new government of Fidel Castro. 

The plan failed completely and the negative long-term impact is still part of Cuban-American relations.

Background of the Bay of Pigs Invasion

17 March 1960: President Eisenhower approved a document at a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC). The stated first objective of the plan (“A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime”) began as follows: Objective: The purpose of the program outlined herein is to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention.(my emphasis)
18 August 1960:  President Eisenhower approved a budget of $13 million for the operation.
By 31 October 1960:  most guerrilla infiltrations and supply drops directed by the CIA into Cuba had failed, and plans to mount an amphibious assault replace further developments of guerrilla strategies. 
18 November 1960: CIA Director Allen Dulles and CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard Bissell first briefed President-elect John Kennedy on the plans. Dulles was confident that the CIA was capable of overthrowing the Cuban government.
29 November 1960: President Eisenhower met with the chiefs of the CIA, Defense, State, and Treasury departments to discuss the idea of an invasion. Those present expressed no objections and Eisenhower approved the plans. He hoped to persuade Kennedy of the plan's merit.

Aftermath of the Bay of Pigs Invasion

Jim Rasenberger summed up the invasion's aftermath in his book, The Brilliant Disaster:
In the early hours of April 17, 1961, some fourteen hundred men, most of them Cuban exiles, attempted to invade their homeland and overthrow Fidel Castro. The invasion at the Bahia de Cochinos — the Bay of Pigs — quickly unraveled. Three days after landing, the exile force was routed and sent fleeing to the sea or the swamps, where the survivors were soon captured by Castro's army. Despite the Kennedy administration's initial insistence that the United States had nothing to do with the invasion, the world immediately understood that the entire operation had been organized and funded by the U.S. government. The invaders had been trained by CIA officers and supplied with American equipment, and the plan had been approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president of the United States. In short, the Bay of Pigs had been a U.S. operation, and its failure — "a perfect failure," historian Theodore Draper called it — was a distinctly American embarrassment. Bad enough the government had been caught bullying and prevaricating; much worse, the United States had allowed itself to be humiliated by a nation of 7 million inhabitants (compared to the United States' 180 million) and smaller than the state of Pennsylvania. The greatest American defeat since the War of 1812, one American general called it. Others were less generous. Everyone agreed on this: it was a mistake Americans would never repeat and a lesson they would never forget.
Apparently we did. Several more times. And still are.