Jay Nordlinger has the goods on Che Guevara (BTW, the image above is from a tee-shirt you can buy).
And how about the Che Guevara watch, at the New York Public Library? Remember that one (from a previous Impromptus)? The library's gift shop was selling a "Permanent Revolution" watch, with Che's face on it. Cuban Americans protested mightily there, too — and the library withdrew the watch. Or rather, it decided not to "restock" it, refusing to say what impact the protests had.
Leading the hullabaloo was the remarkable and wonderful Maria Werlau, head of the Free Society Project. Her father fought alongside Guevara, against Batista. He knew him well. Maria knows him too — which is why she works to counter his glorification, however inadvertent, ignorant, or innocent that glorification is.
She and many others wrote letters to the library, pleading with its officials to see reason. One of those writers was Ricardo Pau-Llosa. I was particularly moved by this passage: "I recall my deceased friend, the novelist Enrique Labrador Ruiz, telling me how the communists emptied his private library in Havana and tormented him, saying they would use the books to fill potholes in the streets." And I remind you that some of the bravest and most inspiring political prisoners come from the independent-library movement.
Listen to what Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the Miami congressman, has to say about Che. I doubt the New York Public Library would trust it — but you can: "Guevara was an Argentinian loser who alleged he was a doctor even though he couldn't give a simple flu shot. What he was good at was killing people, and he became one of history's cruelest serial killers. He was Castro's primary henchman, murdering hundreds of innocent people without due process, usually finishing off the work of the mass-production firing squads with shots to the back of the neck. He was and will always be the most despicable, disgusting figure of the Castro killing machine, the foreigner who was made a serial killer of Cubans by Castro, and got great pleasure from his role."
Do you know how our own National Institutes of Health describes Guevara? Get this: He was an "Argentinian physician and freedom fighter." No, really: The NIH link is here. And bear in mind that NIH is a U.S. government body. Is this our official position?
As I remark in NR, Guevara was a physician sort of like Elena Ceausescu was a chemist. In truth, Hitler was probably a better artist than Che was a doctor (or than Mrs. C. was a chemist). As for "freedom fighter" . . . Well, I think of "Kafka-esque" and "Orwellian"; I can't think of an adjective not attached to a famous novelist's name.
It's true, however, that Guevara was Argentinian, as NIH asserts. But even that's not quite so, because he took Cuban citizenship. Anyway . . .
A word about that movie — you know which one I mean, The Motorcycle Diaries. I will merely cite Tony Daniels, who wrote about the movie, and its subject, Che, in The New Criterion: "It is as if someone were to make a film about Adolf Hitler by portraying him as a vegetarian who loved animals and was against unemployment. This would be true, but . . . rather beside the point." The Motorcycle Diaries is the product of Robert Redford, one of the most dedicated Castro apologists in Hollywood. I need not tell regular readers of this column that that is saying something.
I remember, years ago, walking into the photography section of the Metropolitan Museum. There was the most romantic picture of Castro, nice as you please. None of any Nazi — as many Cuban Americans would be quick to point out. Indeed, they reach for the Nazi button as soon as you mention the Che paraphernalia: You'd never see Himmler or Eichmann on a shirt or watch, would you? For them, there is no difference — only one of scale.
Another thought (and I will close soon, I promise). It could be that the '60s liberals will never give Guevara up, no matter how much they know. They have too much invested in him. It would be like turning their backs on themselves, or smashing their Beatles LPs.