Monday, July 16, 2012

Did Che Guevara channel John Paul Jones?

Guest blogger is Jack Durish. A Baltimore native with a passion for history that began in high school when he studied the American Civil War. After consuming virtually everything written on the subject, he began haunting the National Archives in Washington as well as any other place where he could get his hands on source material. Durish earned a degree in law and served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army in the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam.  

We recently reviewed his first novelRebels On The Mountain, in which a significant character was Che Guevara.  In this blog article, Durish reveals some interesting (and perhaps little known) facts about the man whose image has become an icon for revolution.  Herewith are his thoughts on Che Guevara:

I don't get it. The man was by all accounts of those who knew him, a fanatic, totally intolerant of all who disagreed with him, and unfortunately, he used his power to punish them inhumanely. Yet, there are many who brandish his iconic image as a symbol of hope and change for the better.

Consider the testimony of  Humberto Fontova who describes Che's crimes against humanity in lurid detail, using Che's own words: “'We send (to these prison-camps) people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals,' warned the KGB-tutored Che Guevara, who definition of such 'offenses' proved pretty sweeping.” Apparently, Che's “revolutionary morals” prohibited drinking and gambling, and regulated sexual relations, as he demonstrated after his rebel column captured the town of Sancti Spiritus in Central Cuba. Fortunately for those citizens, Fidel made him rescind the orders.

As I watched union activists carrying banners with Che's image recently in major cities across the United States, I wondered how well they would relate to a man who wrote in his diary, “I have no home, no woman, no parents, no brothers and no friends. My friends are friends only so long as they think as I do politically.” Would Che applaud their efforts or would he censure them, as he wrote, “We punish individuals who refuse to participate in collective effort and who lead an antisocial and parasitic life.”

Watching youth flaunting Che's image as they rebel against all those in authority, I wonder if they ever heard or read Che's denunciation of revolution, “Youth must refrain from ungrateful questioning of government mandates. Instead they must dedicate themselves to study, work, and military service.”

And woe to those youth who ignored Che. His secret police (yes, Che headed up the Cuban Secret Police) rounded up thousands of youth for being “guilty” of the “rocker lifestyle” or being effeminate, and dumped them in prison camps proclaiming “Work will make men out of you!”

I also would love an opportunity to speak with a famous actress, known as a caring and attentive mother, and reputed to have worn a tattoo of Che's iconic image, and ask her how she feels about her hero abandoning his wife in Mexico, and at least five known children in various countries without any signs of remorse.
Even Castro grew tired of his “hero's” antics. A retired CIA officer reported how Fidel, via the Bolivian Communist party, constantly fed the CIA info on Che’s whereabouts in Bolivia. “Not even an aspirin,” instructed Cuba’s Maximum Leader to his Bolivian comrades, meaning that Bolivia’s Communists were not to assist Che in any way — 'not even with an aspirin,' if Che complained of a headache."

A commentary on Che re-posted on Womanist-Musings from Broad Snark describes him with slightly more vitriol. " I watch some of the people who love Che, I am beginning to see that they probably like him for exactly the reasons that I don’t. Because I keep seeing people in our communities emulate all of Che’s most problematic characteristics."

The author of this article goes on to describe how Che, "...a privileged, white kid from Argentina... joined Castro's revolutionary movement...the only thing Che was involved with that wasn’t a total failure." The author goes on to describe Che's many failures such as ruining the economy in Cuba, sending homosexuals and dissidents to forced labor camps, attempting to lead black soldiers in a failed revolution in Angola like an imitation Tarzan, and failing to incite a continent-wide revolution in South America, beginning in Bolivia where his own followers ratted him out to the authorities.

I suppose that, for me, the most fascinating aspect of Che's history is it's similarities to John Paul Jones. Both Che and John Paul fought for revolutions to which they did not belong. They both considered themselves “citizens of the world.” Both were dissatisfied at the ends of their respective revolutions, and revolutionary leaders found it expedient to send them abroad on “missions.” John Paul was sent to Russia to lead Catherine the Great's Black Sea Fleet, “to better prepare him to be admiral of an American fleet.” Of course, they found many other “missions” to keep him away from America until he died.

It appears that “true revolutionaries” become something of an annoyance after the revolution is won. It may be that leaders worry that they will foment revolution against the very causes that they once supported.


  1. No one has studied the life and time and revolution of Che Guevara any more diligently than Jack Durish. His book, Rebels on the Mountain, is a wonderful and fictional account of the love and war and the Cuban Revolution.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Caleb.

  2. Quel coincidence, I'm wearing a t-shirt of Che Guevara right now, but not in 'worship' of the man -- the shirt is actually a satire of Che wearing a Che t-shirt:

    1. Laura,
      I love "The Onion" and have always appreciated satire. Thanks for the comment.