While taking Cosmo the Wonderdog on an early morning patrol I was listening, as is my wont, to NPR on my iPhone. I caught the Writer’s Almanac, normally hosted by Garrison Keilor. I guess he had the day off and a fellow named Billy Collins was subbing in. I suppose it was in the interest of balance, that after Collins noted that today is Flag Day, he went on at much greater length about the fact that it is also Che Guevara’s birthday. Here’s his account of the man’s life, in full:
It’s the birthday of Ernesto “Che” Guevara (books by this author), born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna in Rosario, Argentina (1928). As a young man, he took a year off from college to travel around South America by motorcycle with his friend Alberto Granado, and he recorded their adventures in his journal, which was later published by his daughter as The Motorcycle Diaries (1993). He was disturbed by all the poverty and oppression he saw among the Indian people of Latin America, and he came to believe that the only solution was violent revolution.
After graduating from medical school in 1953, he went to Mexico, where he met the Castro brothers, Raúl and Fidel, and joined them in their plan to overthrow the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. Their forces landed in Cuba in November 1956, and were almost wiped out by Batista’s army; the survivors fled to the mountains of the Sierra Maestra and formed a guerilla army, which eventually overthrew Batista and established a Marxist government. By now, Guevara was Castro’s right-hand man, and he held several top government posts. He visited New York to speak at the United Nations as the head of the Cuban delegation, and he appeared on the news show Face the Nation. He traveled to China, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East on a speaking tour. He was ill-suited for diplomatic work; his nature was confrontational and uncompromising.
In 1965, Guevara dropped out of the picture. In an undated letter to Castro, he renounced his Cuban citizenship and resigned from his government positions, writing, “Other nations of the world summon my modest efforts,” and that he had therefore decided to go and fight as a guerrilla “on new battlefields.” He tried to effect revolution in the Congo, but failed, and traveled to Bolivia. Later, while leading a guerilla army against the Bolivian regulars, a glimmer of his medical calling remained; he treated and released enemy soldiers. He was eventually captured and executed.
And that’s it. Che Guevara: A romantic, a rebel, a writer, a statesman and a healer. It would have been nicer if he also found the room to once mention how many people Che murdered — or the joy he took in doing so.