The meticulous myth of Señor Guevara is of a handsome Argentine heroically helping Fidel Castro's guerrillas liberate Cuba from the fascist Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959. Then he became a global revolutionary icon inspiring the downtrodden to rise up everywhere, even personally leading rebel warriors in the Congo before being executed doing the same in Bolivia in 1967.
The (communist) party line says Che personifies the selfless humanitarian courageously fighting for "social justice." He's the Marxists' martyred Christ figure replete with pictures of his half-naked corpse riddled with bullet holes. And the classic poster of an angry young Guevara has scarred countless college dorm rooms for over 40 years, putting a face on the eternally young rebel for angry adolescents everywhere.
The real Guevara was a reckless, bourgeois adrenaline junkie seeking a place in history as a liberator of the oppressed. But this fanatic's vehicle of "liberation" was Stalinism, named for Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, murderer of well over 20 million of his own people.
As one of Castro's top lieutenants, Che helped steer Cuba's revolutionary regime in a radically repressive direction. Soon after overthrowing Batista, Guevara choreographed the executions of hundreds of Batista officials without any fair trials. He thought nothing of summarily executing even fellow guerrillas suspected of disloyalty and shot one himself with no due process.
Che was a purist political fanatic who saw everything in stark black and white. Therefore he vociferously opposed freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, protest or any other rights not completely consistent with his North Korean-style communism.
How many rock music-loving teens sporting Guevara T-shirts today know their hero supported Cuba's 1960s repression of the genre? How many homosexual fans know he had gays jailed?
Did the Obama volunteers in that Texas campaign headquarters with Che's poster on the wall know that Guevara fervently opposed any free elections? How "progressive" is that?
How socially just was it that Che was enraged when the Russians blinked during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and withdrew their nuclear missiles from the island, thus averting a nuclear war? Guevara was such a zealous ideologue that he relished the specter of millions of Cuban lives sacrificed on the altar of communism, declaring Cuba "a people ready to sacrifice itself to nuclear arms, that its ashes might serve as a basis for new societies." Some humanitarian.
Che was a narcissist who boasted that "I have no house, wife, children, parents, or brothers; my friends are friends as long as they think like me, politically." This is a role model for today's "postpolitical" voters claiming we should get beyond partisanship?
Adding to the ridiculousness of the Che cult is that he was virtually a complete failure. As a medical doctor, he never even had a practice. When put in charge of the Cuban economy at the start of Castro's government, his uncompromising communist diktats ran it completely into the ground, from which it never recovered.
Humiliated, and also angry that Castro wasn't fomenting enough revolution abroad, he then tried to lead such quixotic adventures in Argentina, the Congo and Bolivia, failing miserably everywhere while sacrificing the lives of scores of naive, idealistic young followers as deluded pawns in the service of his personality cult.
Another reason he fled Cuba in the mid-1960s was the complete mess he made of his private life. Though he preached sexual purity to his colleagues, he was a shameless adulterer who abandoned two wives and many children, some legitimate, others not. As a grandson put it, "he was never home." The public Che who supposedly had such great love for humanity privately couldn't stand most folks.
Guevara's promiscuous communist adventurism was the pattern of a terminal adolescent running away from his problems to get caught up in some heroic crusade against his eternal bete noir, "Yankee imperialism."
So why do so many well-heeled American libs still admire this thug? Are the young simply ignorant of his execrable record and drawn to the image of the dashing young rebel? Do older progressives feel guilt for their free market prosperity, and showing solidarity with Che absolves them? Do hippies-turned-yuppies get nostalgic for their youthful protests and rationalize that the symbolism of Che as a "social reformer" eclipses his actual horrific human rights record?
And are some American Guevaraistas truly dangerous leftists who seek to emulate their icon and destroy our free, democratic, capitalist society? Ask that guy wearing the Che T-shirt.
Douglas Young is a professor of political science and history at Gainesville State College in Oakwood.