20th Century Icon
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara at the hands of a CIA execution squad in Bolivia. He's always been a bit of a hero of mine, hence my nom de plume. In many ways, he is the face of the 60's - the iconic picture of the beret-wearing Che is possibly the most reproduced picture of all time.
As a figure in history, he's always been controversial. On the one-hand, he was a hero to the flower power generation of the 60's; and yet he was a man that believed firmly in armed struggle; indeed, he literally wrote the book on guerilla warfare.
Some have argued that there is little difference between Che in the 60's and Osama Bin Laden today. I think that's a little far-fetched. Both were indeed violently opposed to American Imperialism; however, Che was - and still is - the undisputed global icon of all wars fought by rebellious peoples who believe in hope against injustice and who believe another, less cruel world is possible.
It's true that a large part of the cult of Che is his good looks, and he is certainly a member of the 'died young and cool' club, along with Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, James Dean and others. I often see people wearing Che T-shirts, and I think that is largely because he does look cool. I suspect that Che is probably turning in his grave at the way his image has been mass marketed.
Why is he a hero for me? I don't share his politics. I don't condone violent struggle and I'm not a Marxist. My respect for Che Guevara comes from the passion he had for his ideals. He was from a rich, land-owning family who had been educated at one of the top universities in Argentina. He graduated as a doctor and could easily have lived a comfortable life in Buenos Aires, at a time when there was a strong rich / poor divide. But he decided to give it all up, choosing instead to fight against the Americans in order to try to free Southern America from the hold that the US held against them.
It is a little known fact that Guevara was actually asthmatic – living in the humidity of a jungle would have been incredibly difficult for him personally. And even after the Cuban Revolution, when Che had been made Economics Minister and could then have gone on to live a very comfortable life in a position of real power and authority – even then, he didn’t let it go to his head. He refused to abuse his position for his own gain, in a country where corruption was rife.
But two things impressed me most of all about his hero – first was the refusal to suck up to the Soviet Union, despite the imminent threat of invasion from the Americans; the second was his decision to give up his post of Economics Minister in Cuba to go back to the jungle of Bolivia to try to overthrow the American-supported government there – a decision that would ultimately lead to his death.
That’s really being passionate about your ideals – the willingness to die for them. I know deep down that I wouldn’t die for an ideal – my self-preservation instinct (and general apathy) are both far too strong for that; but Che Guevara inspires me nonetheless to stick to my own ideals and moral code, even though they are nowhere near as grand as the real Che Guevara’s were.
Che Guevara was simply prepared to die for his ideals. His ideals were flawed in my opinion, but he died trying to make the world a better place. And in this politically and socially apathetic I'm alright Jack world, that is why he will always be respected and remembered long after his death.