The apotheosis of Ernesto Che Guevara is arguably the biggest historical scam of the 20th century. Aided and abetted by a gaggle of journalists and academics, this swaggering, narcissistic opportunist, devoid of genuine accomplishments, and so utterly incompetent at practically everything he set his hand to that Fidel Castro finally had to find a way to get rid of him, was magically transformed into a courageous and inspiring warrior, a Christ-like revolutionary hero. Humberto Fontova’s superb demythologization, Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him, is a large bucket of cold water thrown into the rapturous faces of Guevara’s unthinking admirers.
This is an angry book, but righteously so. Fontova’s cousin was beaten and murdered by the secret police, and his own father was arrested just as the family was about to board a plane to Miami (that particular story had a happy ending). Yet the personal animosity is always under control, and typically finds expression in the sardonic recounting of the absurd ironies of Che’s life.
Of which there were many. Born in Argentina to a family of the decayed aristocracy, Guevara originally left the country with the aim of making his way to the United States because he was interested in the money-making opportunities that abounded here. Although he studied medicine, there is no evidence that he ever actually acquired a medical degree. A certified hero of the Cuban revolution, he despised Cubans (and was despised by them). Author of a celebrated treatise on guerilla warfare, his ineptitude at managing guerilla operations in the Congo and Bolivia (and even in Cuba) was so vast that it is difficult to parody (although faithful readers of this blog know that I have tried!)
Che was a brutal sadist when he was dealing with helpless prisoners, but an anxious, eager-to-please lapdog in his dealings with Fidel; he even composed a poem celebrating the Maximum Leader (and you will be hard-pressed to find anything more nauseatingly unctuous in the by-ways of attempted literature). In the end, he wound up fatally alienating Castro and his Soviet masters, and was whisked away to his doom in the ill-fated Bolivian adventure, where, after months of wandering around the countryside and through the jungle, frequently lost, he disregarded the orders he had given to his comrades to fight to the last man, and surrendered to a unit of Bolivian soldiers -
with a full (unfired) clip in his pistol.
It is maddening (albeit highly instructive) to see how this bumbling psychopath garnered the unearned plaudits of a fawning press. The New York Times, as one suspects, was especially prominent among Che’s admirers, featuring the sometimes idolatrous communiqués of Herbert Matthews; however, the media bamboozlement extended far and wide. Jon Lee Anderson, a writer for the New Yorker delivered himself of the following paean: “Bravery, fearlessness, honesty and absolute conviction…Che lived it.” Time Magazine offered up this valentine: “Wearing a smile of melancholy that many women find devastating, Che Guevara guides Cuba with icy calculation, vast competence, high intelligence and a perceptive sense of humor.”
The prisoners at La Cabaña fortress might have been forgiven for overlooking these qualities. Let the following example, provided by one of the author’s sources, suffice:
”One morning the horrible sound of that rusty steel door swinging open startled us awake and Che’s guards shoved a new prisoner into our cell. He was a boy, maybe fourteen years old. His face was bruised and smeared with blood. ‘What did you do?’ we asked, horrified. ‘I tried to defend my papa,’ gasped the bloodied boy. ‘But they sent him to the firing squad.’”Fontova’s book is a fine corrective to the hagiographical pap that has flowed from the pens of ignorant and dishonest admirers of one of history’s biggest revolutionary poseurs. Highly recommended.
Soon Che’s guards returned. The rusty steel door opened and they yanked the boy out of the cell. “We all rushed to the cell’s window that faced the execution pit,” recalls San Martin. “We simply couldn’t believe they’d murder him.”
“Then we spotted him, strutting around the blood-drenched execution yard with his hands on his waist and barking orders – Che Guevara himself. ‘Kneel down!’ Che barked at the boy.
“ ‘Assassins!’ we screamed from our window.
“ ‘I said: KNEEL DOWN!’ Che barked again.
“The boy stared Che resolutely in the face. ‘If you’re going to kill me,’ he yelled, ‘you’ll have to do it while I’m standing! Men die standing!’”
“Murderers!” the men yelled desperately from their cells. “Then we saw Che unholstering his pistol. He put the barrel to the back of the boy’s neck and blasted. The shot almost decapitated the young boy.
Update: Linked by the great Bob Belvedere.