Politics & Policy

Che Chic

It's très disgusting.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the December 31, 2004, issue of National Review.

It sometimes seems that Che Guevara is pictured on more items than Mickey Mouse. I’m talking about shirts and the like (but mainly shirts). One artist had the inspiration to combine the two: He put Mickey’s ears on Guevara. Guevara’s fans must not like it much.

The world is awash in Che paraphernalia, and this is an ongoing offense to truth, reason, and justice (a fine trio). Cuban Americans tend to be flummoxed by this phenomenon, and so do others who are decent and aware. There is a backlash against Che glorification, but it is tiny compared with the phenomenon itself. To turn the tide against Guevara would take massive reeducation–a term the old Communist would very much appreciate.

You find his items in the most surprising places. Or maybe they are not so surprising. The New York Public Library has a gift shop, and until just the other day, it sold a Guevara watch. The article featured Che’s face and the word “REVOLUTION.” The ad copy went like this: “Revolution is a permanent state with this clever watch, featuring the classic romantic image of Che Guevara, around which the word ‘revolution’–revolves.” Clever, indeed.

That one of the world’s most prestigious libraries should have peddled an item puffing a brutal henchman was not big news, but some Cuban Americans, and a few others, reacted. On learning of the watch, many sent letters to the library, imploring its officials to come to their senses. One Cuban American–trying to play on longstanding American sensibilities–wrote, “Would you sell watches with the images of the Grand Dragon of the KKK?” It was also pointed out that Communist Cuba, which Guevara did a great deal to found and shape, is especially hard on librarians. The independent-library movement has been brutally repressed, and some of the most inspiring political prisoners stem from that movement.

Yet there is virtually no solidarity between Free World librarians and Cuba’s librarians, or would-be librarians. A year ago, the civil libertarian Nat Hentoff “renounced”–his word–the award given him by the American Library Association, because the ALA cold-shoulders the Cubans, preferring to stick with the loved “socialist” tyrant, Castro.

In any event, the New York Public Library withdrew the watch just before Christmas, offering no statement.

The fog of time and the strength of anti-anti-Communism have obscured the real Che. Who was he? He was an Argentinian revolutionary who served as Castro’s primary thug. He was especially infamous for presiding over summary executions at La Cabaña, the fortress that was his abattoir. He liked to administer the coup de grâce, the bullet to the back of the neck. And he loved to parade people past El Paredón, the reddened wall against which so many innocents were killed. Furthermore, he established the labor-camp system in which countless citizens–dissidents, democrats, artists, homosexuals–would suffer and die. This is the Cuban gulag. A Cuban-American writer, Humberto Fontova, described Guevara as “a combination of Beria and Himmler.” Anthony Daniels once quipped, “The difference between [Guevara] and Pol Pot was that [the former] never studied in Paris.”

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