Che in Our Faces

by Jay Nordlinger

For many years now, I’ve been a Che Guevara bore — and I’m not getting any less boring. People keep writing me about their encounters with the old monster. Here’s a note I received yesterday:

My daughter recently moved to [a southwestern city]. My grandson will be going to [a local high school]. They were impressed with the student murals painted throughout the school. So I accompanied my grandson when he went to pick up his schedule. The murals were impressive, but when I discovered that one of the largest was of Che Guevara, it ruined my day.

Yes, Che can do that to you, if you know anything. Right this second, I am staying in a large, lovely house in Austria. On the walls is a painting of Che Guevara (admiring, of course). The people here couldn’t be nicer. I’m sure that the people at that southwestern high school are perfectly nice. They simply know not what they do. They don’t put up these pictures, or allow these pictures, in order to say, “Let’s celebrate a butcher, a totalitarian, and the creator of the Cuban gulag!” When they display these pictures, they’re saying something like, “Let’s celebrate a spirit of defiance, resistance, and social justice (as well as high, lissome cheekbones)!”

Of course, some do, in fact, know what they’re doing — know exactly who Guevara was, and what he did. They just like it. Two days ago, I was at lunch with a man, a German, who had been on a Castro-and-Guevara tour, in Mexico and Cuba. Have you heard of these tours? “Follow in the footsteps of Fidel and Che, as they rescue Cuba from dictatorship and establish an island of love, peace, and harmony!” My lunch companion could not have been more excited about the trip. I suspect that, if he gained power — it would not be so great for you and me.

But most people, I think, who wear and paint Che are ignorant. (My main piece on this theme is here, by the way.) I wish the kids in that southwestern high school could hear from a Cuban-gulag survivor. I think they might be amazed — their teachers even more so. Because the teachers have been hearing Castroite propaganda for a lot longer, and now they’re imparting it to others, probably.

Years ago, Armando Valladares, the survivor who authored Against All Hope, came to speak to the kids at Harvard. Administration paired a professor with him, to give the pro-Castro side. How many times have I mentioned that on this site? A hundred and fifty? I told you I was a bore. But I quote one of the great golf pros of all time, the late Bill Strausbaugh Jr.: “I may bore you, but I hope never to confuse you.” (He said this when he was repeating what he had already told you a hundred times.)

One more thing: You never see anybody wearing a shirt featuring a Nazi, out of confusion. Nazism is one totalitarianism, Communism another. They are kissin’ cousins. Yet millions and millions wear a shirt featuring a Communist, out of confusion. Sort of interesting, sort of strange, isn’t it?

One more thing (Part II): Shortly before the Iraq War, Bernard Kouchner — later the French foreign minister — came to visit us at NR. I asked him about polls showing that a huge percentage of Frenchmen had a more favorable view of Saddam Hussein than they did of President Bush. He said, “Oh, that’s like people who wear Che Guevara T-shirts” — they’re not necessarily totalitarians; they’re just going with the flow, following fashion (which can be damn dangerous, of course).

P.S. or One More Thing Part III: For a piece I did on Communist symbols — which is a highly interesting and not a clear-cut subject — go here. It was called, “Undies, Comrade?”