Next time you see someone sporting a shirt or anything with the visage of Marxist freedom fighter, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, stop and ask them what they know about this romanticized symbol of revolution.
Chances are it’s not too much.
Among our generation, there exists a “cult of Che” completely ignorant in their adoration and glorification. Psychology freshman major Kiana Wall said he’s a symbol with a false or misunderstood value.
“As a symbol, Guevara had meaning in the past,” Wall said, “but it seems like those who wear those shirts now are just trying to exaggerate their political radicalism without knowing much about him at all.”
The problem is that many people, particularly the Millennials, are highly influenced by Hollywood more than ever. Steven Soderbergh directed the 2008 movie “Che” in which Benicio del Toro depicted Guevara as a gentle, contemplative hero. The New York Times writer Manohla Darges gives a good description of Soderbergh’s intended portrayal.
“Throughout the movie Mr. Soderbergh mixes the wild beauty of his landscapes with images of Che heroically engaged in battle, thoughtfully scribbling and reading and tending to ailing peasants and soldiers,” Darges said.
Furthermore, Del Toro said Guevara only executed people after they were tried.
“They did not do it blindly; they had trials,” he said. “They found them guilty, and they executed them — that’s capital punishment.”
A brief look at history shows a darker, more accurate side of Guevara.
In 1928, Guevara was born to a middle class family in Rosario, Argentina. He completed his medical studies in 1953, and after traveling around Latin America, decided that the only way to liberate the poor from their degraded existence was through violent warfare. An expert on guerrilla warfare, he was an important figure in the Cuban Revolution and tried to lead Marxist revolts in the Congo and Bolivia, where he was executed in 1967.
Since his death, Guevara has been touted by some on the left as the pop culture hero of anti-imperialism and rebellion. It was in the 1960s when Guevara truly rose to prominence as a symbol of revolution.
Guevara supporters claim he stands for freedom, justice and free-thinking; however, Guevara acted in the Cuban Revolution’s first firing squads and founded Cuba’s “labor camp” system which acted much like concentration camps.
Ironically, Guevara opposed freedom of speech, he campaigned to have homosexuals jailed in labor camps, he opposed free elections, he was a profligate adulterer and he hoped the Cuban missile crisis would lead to atomic war. Guevara’s political beliefs of mass-slaughter and absolute government fly in the face of freedom, social justice or free thought. For instance, take this quote from this 1966 speech by Guevara:
“Hatred is the central element of our struggle! Hatred that is intransigent … hatred so violent that it propels a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him violent and cold-blooded killing machine … We reject any peaceful approach. Violence is inevitable. To establish Socialism rivers of blood must flow! The imperialist enemy must feel like a hunted animal wherever he moves. Thus we’ll destroy him! These hyenas are fit only for extermination. We must keep our hatred alive and fan it to paroxysm! The victory of Socialism is well worth millions of atomic victims!”
Actions speak louder than words. As a Communist totalitarian murderer, Guevara participated in execution of thousands people, not all of which were former members of former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista’s administration.
What we need is for people to break from the confines of popular culture and think for themselves. Just because some actor likes Guevara and I like that actor doesn’t mean I should then like Guevara. The truth is wearing a Guevara shirt is much like sporting a shirt with Hitler’s or Stalin’s face on it. The only difference is that the Guevara shirt is socially acceptable, thanks to the obtuseness of Hollywood.
Sarah Backer is a business sophomore and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.