Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Che Guevara 40 Years After His Execution

In the French Quarter on St. Peter Street a sign hangs with the iconic image of Che Guevara and reads "Killer Cigars." Two capitalist proveers of expensive tobaccoes have appropriated this image as a cheeky way to draw attention to their store and to sell product.

Like him or not, Che Guevara was a brilliant man. I have no doubt that, initially, he truly believed that what he was doing was for the greater good of the world's down-trodden. However, with the Che, I don't think I can ever bring myself to feel that the ends justfied the means. Certainly his tenure over the prison in La Habana, with its summary executions of former Batista minions is what the Che's critics frequently refer to. The men he killed were evil men, brutes who used torture, rape, and death to terrify the working class into submission. Cuba was essentially a colony of the United States. Fidel Castro's revolution removed a brutal and corrupt dictator from power. The commoners had more prosperity, education, and healthcare than ever before. But, this was at the expense of their civil rights.

Certainly the Che did all sorts of dastardly deeds in the name of being a revolutionary and helping people (this in no way justifies the way he was executed/assassinated, and the photographs of his dead body, while once necessary to prove his death to his supporters, are now a morbid reminder of the Cold War fascination with eliminating the enemy). Many of our noble leaders have done similar things. Hell, George Washington led troops into battle while President, against his own citizens, because they refused to pay higher taxes on whiskey. However, my foremost objection to the Che's memory as a hero of the revolution, is due to one event, one single event that might have brought on untold misery and destruction:

In October, 1962 my twelve-year-old dad helped his father dig a fallout shelter in their backyard in Atlanta, Georgia because there were missles parked off the coast of Florida aimed at Atlanta. When Khrushchev made a deal with JFK behind the Cubans' backs, this reportedly enraged Fidel and Che. According to Sam Russell of the socialist newspaper, The Daily Worker, in an interview with the Che a few weeks after the crisis ended (dated December 4, 1962, titled "The Americans Still Want to Come Here"), the Che told Russell that if the missles had been under Cuban control they would've fired them.

This would've incinerated my parents. The world would be very different, not because of my non-existence, but because of the nuclear exchanges that might have happened between the West and the Soviets. Thankfully, the Russians never gave control to the Cubans, and civilization--and my birth--were saved. Had the Che had his way, nuclear holocaust might have been the outcome. I truly believe he would've launched those missles too. I really really do.

Before you go wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with his image on it, be sure you know exactly what you are saying. In the capitalist world, he is no longer the Che, he is cliCHE.


brent said...

"Hell, George Washington led troops into battle while President, against his own citizens, because they refused to pay higher taxes on whiskey."

Not to pick a nit out at the expense of your entire post, but GW did not lead troops against his own citizens because they refused to pay taxes. He led troops against individuals rioting in relation to those taxes. Had they peaceably decided not to pay taxes, GW would not have done anything more than what he was doing, which was making life difficult for tax-evaders by confisicating property and the like. Once they started rioting, though, he had little choice but to call up militias. So I think it's a little unfair to compare the unrestrained monster that Che became with GW and the Whiskey Rebellion.

On a related tangent, I own a fatigue-green T-Shirt with Che's famous profile, but which has little letters at the bottom which say: "This shirt brought to you by capitalism." I think it's hilarious, but so far, very few people who have seen it get the joke. Oh to live near Mac again.

Mac said...

Brent, I recognize that the comparison isn't iron-clad, but I must submit that they were rioting because of an unjust, and ultimately unenforceable (and later repealed) tax. You're right though, semantically. He did not lead troops against them specifically for their refusal to pay taxes, it was their rioting because of the tax.

Mac said...

And I would've laughed and enjoyed your t-shirt very very much.

I'd love to live near yall again too.