There’s a Tyrant On Your T-Shirt

POLITICAL CAPITAL
Your Che t-shirt is really cute.  Did you know he killed at least 159 people?

by Scott Daniel // October 14, 2010

The recent campaign against Columbus Day re-ignited a smoldering source of frustration for me.  Not with the renunciation of Columbus Day, mind you, but with the veneration of another man of lesser academic credentials but perhaps more cultural traction.  Take a long hard look at the man in the picture on the left.  He’s familiar to you, especially if you’re a male college freshman or you ride your single-speed bicycle to the local Fair Trade coffee shop.  You might even own a dime store novelty T-shirt with his mug on it.  I need you to listen very carefully, because your credibility depends on it.  If you oppose the honoring of Christopher Columbus every October 12 while this man’s gaze falls ominously upon visitors to your dorm room, you have fallen victim to the Cult of Che.

Ernesto “Che” Guevara was an Argentinian-born Marxist revolutionary with a sociopathic affinity for violence.  History best knows him as one of Fidel Castro’s chief subordinates during and after the Cuban Revolution. Among his more admirable feats are the summary execution of at least 159 anti-Castro dissidents and facilitating the introduction into the Western Hemisphere of the Soviet ballistic missiles that brought the world within days of nuclear winter.  He was also remarkably poetic.  According to Jon Lee Anderson in Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, he uttered this uplifting sentence:

At that moment, I discovered that I really liked killing.

He is also available in cherry red, olive, charcoal and vintage camouflage.

The recent re-emergence of Che Guevara as a counter-cultural icon is beyond puzzling.  It is baffling, but perhaps less so because of Robert Redford’s allegedly inane romanticization of Che’s early years in The Motorcycle Diaries.  This only partially explains the explosion of the Che meme even in celebrity circles. In the pop cultural game of Trend, Logic, Justice, trend beats both logic and justice the way MacGyver pulverizes rock, paper and scissors. Perhaps Che’s posthumous growth in popularity is merely a symptom of a wider cultural ignorance of and/or apathy toward political wrongdoing. Chic low fashion is no excuse for the veneration of tyrants.

As a progressive, the Che fad is disheartening because it gives ammunition to conservatives that we are not serious about human rights.  It also undercuts some of the more engaging, if somewhat exaggerated, arguments that we should reconsider Columbus Day in light of history. We have, after all, named our nation’s capital, two state capitals and an Ivy League university in honor of a man whose first inclination upon meeting the natives of Hispaniola was to enslave them. But let’s also not embellish. It’s one thing to castigate Columbus for intentional wrongs committed in his lifetime. It’s quite another to ascribe to him the supernatural ability to orchestrate the basic germ pathology that ravaged Native Americans with foreign diseases for the next four centuries.

And let’s also remember that, for better, worse or somewhere in-between, without Christopher Columbus, there could be no Che Guevara.

Sources: Wikipedia, LatinAmericanStudies.org, The First Post (UK), The Che Store, Slate, The Epoch Times, The Peep Show (UK), Young America’s Foundation, Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner, Truth-It.  Photo credit: National Policy Institute.

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