You may know him from Robert Redford's hagiography "Motorcycle Diaries." You may have inherited a little secondhand respect from Johnny Depp's medallion, Angelina Jolie's tattoo or Rage Against the Machine's deeply confused, anti-authoritarian lyrics. Jean-Paul Sartre called him our era's perfect man; Carlos Santana considers him a paragon of love and compassion.
Failing all of this, you have seen his face bobbing around on the torsos of ingenuous Brown students, with a poet's beard, a revolutionary's locks and an idealist's gaze.
I write, of course, of Che Guevara, one of the most baffling figures "peace-loving" Brown students have chosen to embrace. Walter-Duranty-esque biographers have touted Guevara as a compassionate liberator; however, Che more closely resembles his own notion of a revolutionary as a "cold killing machine motivated by pure hate."
Che is romanticized as a scholar-turned-warrior-by-dire-need, a real-life Atticus Finch. His medical degree is enough to earn respect from any Brown student who has heard of or experienced first-hand the terrors of organic chemistry. That he was not only a fierce warrior and an idealist, but an intellectual, is basis for at least a grudging respect, right?
Strangely, there exists to this day no record of Che's medical degree. Before jumping to conclusions, we should consider that records, especially in such turbulent times, could be lost, destroyed or stolen. After all, in January of 1959 after entering Havana, Guevara himself ordered the mass burning of over 3000 books. Luckily, in this case, we can go right to the source: Che himself admitted on the record that he was not a doctor.
Upon returning from Africa, famously egalitarian Che wrote that "blacks are indolent and fanciful." Time Magazine heralded that Rolex-wearing Guevara had "disdain for material comfort and everyday desires."
Che fixed his residence in a beach-side mansion complete with yacht harbor, a huge swimming pool, seven bathrooms, a sauna, a massage salon and five television sets, one of which had a screen ten feet wide. After Cuban journalist Llano Montes wrote in the state newspaper that "Comandante Che Guevara has fixed his residence in one of the most luxurious houses on Tarara beach," he was imprisoned by three of Che's armed guards, brought to the island resort and threatened with execution by Che himself.
After his first kill — a point blank shot into the skull of a fellow Castro rebel, an unarmed prisoner — Che wrote to his father that "I'd like to confess...at that moment I discovered that I really like killing."
During a five-month tenure in charge of the regime's political prison, La Cabana, Che ordered at least 700, though by Che's own estimate, several thousand executions. How can Brown students respect a man who said, "I don't need proof to execute a man — I only need proof that it's necessary to execute him"? How can they even grudgingly admire a man that famously said, "Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail."?
At least some of his prisoners were only barely conscious while facing the firing squad — it was established practice in La Cabana to drain five pints of blood (about half of what the average person has) from the unmedicated prisoners prior to their death. Their lifeblood was sold for 50 dollars a pint to North Vietnam.
Is it possible to concede all else — his cruelty, his lack of scholarship, his materialism — and remain in awe of his skill in battle? The stubborn facts: the casualties of Che and Castro's two-year war amounted to 182. Che's famous December 1958 "Battle of Santa Clara," about which the New York Times claimed he "turned the tide ... and whipped a Batista Force of 3,000 men" leaving "1000 dead," was greatly exaggerated. Every account of the battle, including Che's own — other than those gleaned from Castro's press briefings — puts the casualties at no more than five.
To his credit, Che did receive a serious wound during the Bay of Pigs invasion. After being decoyed 300 miles from the actual invasion site by a single, unmanned rowboat filled with fireworks, smoke, mirrors and a tape recording of battle, Che somehow shot himself in the face with his own pistol.
The above facts show in stark relief the portrait of a vicious, megalomaniacal brute: the Beria of the Cuban regime. Yet he was praised again and again by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time and several other (allegedly) reliable news sources. His iconic visage is plastered on dorm room walls, vodka bottles and t-shirts.
Will Wray '10 loves archaic, bourgeois details.