“If the nuclear missiles had remained, we would have used them against the very heart of America, including New York City … We will march the path of victory even if it costs millions of atomic victims … We must keep our hatred alive and fan it to paroxysm.”
—eRNESTO “Che” Guevara, Hero
Kind of a stark contrast, don’t you think? The quote and the photograph, I mean. The trailer/commune pictured has a beatnik vibe, but it also has just the right amount of homeyness, what with the Astroturf lawn (just out of frame), the red tin siding and the lemon yellow trim. Kind of pleasant. The quote is about one man’s desire to turn NYC into a glowing, humming hole in the ground.
The quote, by the way, is from this article about Che in World Affairs Journal, which draws from a November 1962 interview he gave to the London Daily Worker (now defunct, happy to report).
The quirky commune can be found in downtown Athens on Hull Street, right next to The World Famous, a delicious cog in the capitalist machine.
It seems unlikely that the occupants of this palatial estate know much about the man depicted on their flags — or much of anything at all, for that matter.
They may be less enthusiastic about flying his face if they knew, for example, that he wanted to incinerate their countrymen in a nuclear holocaust during the Cuban Missile Crisis, see above. Or that one of his first acts as Fidel Castro’s executioner at La Cabaña prison was to remove a wall from his second-story office so he was closer to the firing squads outside. He apparently savored “the acrid smell of gunpowder and blood of the enemy.”
The radical Basque chaplain Javier Arzuaga, an eyewitness to the killings that occurred there, related his experience with Che to the historian Alvaro Vargas Llosa:
[T]here were about eight hundred prisoners in a space fit for no more than three hundred: former Batista military and police personnel, some journalists, a few businessmen and merchants. The revolutionary tribunal was made of militiamen. Che Guevara presided over the appellate court. He never overturned a sentence. I would visit those on death row at the galera de la muerte. A rumor went around that I hypnotized prisoners because many remained calm, so Che ordered that I be present at the executions. After I left in May, they executed many more, but I personally witnessed fifty-five executions. There was an American, Herman Marks, apparently a former convict. We called him “the butcher” because he enjoyed giving the order to shoot. I pleaded many times with Che on behalf of prisoners. I remember especially the case of Ariel Lima, a young boy. Che did not budge. Nor did Fidel, whom I visited. I became so traumatized that at the end of May 1959 I was ordered to leave the parish of Casa Blanca, where La Cabaña was located and where I had held Mass for three years. I went to Mexico for treatment.
The number of victims Che claimed during his five-month stint at La Cabaña is disputed. The U.S. Embassy at Havana claims 500. Whatever the number, none of the victims received due process or anything approaching it. “If in doubt, kill them” was the rule of thumb he articulated.
But perhaps our Athenian commune-dwellers are true believers and not just uninformed weekend revolutionaries. Perhaps they think Marxism and its ideals are totally worth it — “you can’t make an omelet..,” that sort of thing.
If that is the case, they will be disappointed to learn that Che was less a brilliant theorist than a common thug with a photogenic mug. From a tactical standpoint, other than his smashing success turning Cuba into a backwater, his revolutions elsewhere petered out. They may even have been counterproductive to the Marxist cause.
As to his grasp of Marxist theory, Che was a novice even after he had fomented a revolution along with another unexceptional brain, Fidel Castro. He brushed up on the details after the fact, but this comes across more like a post hoc rationalization for his violent power grab than a deeply-held conviction.
You see, he was a huge hypocrite.
While the good folks in the Athens trailer seem to have eschewed extravagance for the simple life, Che will not be joining them. He’s dead, for one. (Hooray.) For two, he had a penchant for One-Percenter habits like chain-smoking cigars — it is unclear whether he cackled while doing so —, accessorizing everyday wear with Rolex Espresso GMT Masters, and taking other people’s stuff and making it his own. “I ended the problem [Eutimio Guerra] with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain,” Che wrote in 1957. “His belongings were now mine.”
A similar hypocrisy is evident in the realm of personal conduct: “In 1958, after taking the city of Sancti Spiritus, Guevara unsuccessfully tried to impose a kind of sharia,” Llosa writes, “regulating relations between men and women, the use of alcohol, and informal gambling — a puritanism that did not exactly characterize his own way of life.”
Che’s politics were ultimately animated by hatred of the West — an old, familiar form of anti-Yanquismo — rather than love of the people. The following passage, written in his last year of life, was about as deep as it got: “Hatred as an element of the struggle; a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us over and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to and transforming him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy [us].” The feel-good socialism of Ben & Jerry this was not.
But the facts probably do not matter to the kind of people who own two Che Guevara flags.
Instead, it’s all about the symbolism. The revolutionary Athenian who runs up the Che flag does so for reasons more cultural than political. By waving his flag, the hippie is signaling his membership in a tribe of likeminded hippies as much as he is making a statement about politics. The same holds for the tricorn-hat wearing Tea Party fellow and the professor with the bumper sticker exhorting plebes to EVOLVE, Dammit!
It just so happens that the Che fans have chosen an incredibly distasteful, off-putting symbol. Can they not just stick to “Coexist”?
—M. Blake Seitz is Editor-At-Large of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE
(Like what you see? Support THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE!)
P.S. As I wrote the zinger headline for this piece (yes, I know Che was not a Sandinista — he was close enough for the rhyme), I did a Google search of “Sandinista Barista” to see if it had been used before to lampoon the useful idiots of hippiedom. The epithet has not been so used, but it has been lovingly adopted by actual useful idiots in the college town of Cambridge, Mass. Without a hint of irony: The Sandinista Barista, Inc., a for-profit corporation.