May 31, 2007
Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him
By Humberto Fontova
Sentinel, $23.95, 224 pp.
Time magazine recently made the ludicrous decision to exclude President George W. Bush from its list of the "world’s 100 most influential people. Adding to the insult was the inclusion of such figures as Sacha Baron Cohen and America Ferrara, whom even fans of their characters -- Borat and Ugly Betty, respectively -- probably would not recognize in their real life personas.
But that’s not the first time Time has included essentially fictional characters on a similar list. In its list of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century, under "Heroes and Icons", the magazine’s editors included the fictional creation known as Che Guevara.
Wait, you argue, Ernesto "Che" Guevara was a real person. True enough, as the thousands of his murdered victims would attest. However, as journalist Humberto Fontova shows in Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him, Time magazine didn't come close to including the real Che Guevara on its list.
The Che portrayed by Ariel Dorfman on Time’s list was a concoction whom the magazine helped to invent in the 1950s and '60s. In fact, almost nothing in Dorfman’s 1999 wallowing in messianic hero worship in the century list article is true.
Basically, everything most people think they know about Che Guevara is wrong. Okay, maybe not everything, since Frontpage readers at least, who have seen Fontova’s work, are likely to include "bloodthirsty, Communist thug" in their description. But most of the details are wrong, as the story perpetuated by The New York Times, CBS News and Time are drawn from propaganda put out by the Castro organization, much of it made up from whole cloth — including everything Time said about him in its century-end profile.
In fact, Dorfman’s gushy ode to his vicious hero serves as a perfect outline for the myths of Che and the dose of reality Fontova deals to each of them.
Time: "(T)he story of the obscure Argentine doctor who abandoned his profession and his native land to pursue the emancipation of the poor…"
Fontova: There is no proof that Guevara ever actually earned a medical degree, much less had a profession to abandon. As we will see later, Guevara’s only effective military campaign was against poor campesinos in the Cuban countryside.
Time: "After a guerrilla campaign in which Guevara displayed such outrageous bravery and skill that he was named commandante, the insurgents entered Havana and launched what was to become the first and only victorious socialist revolution in the Americas."
Fontova: Che had a particular talent for being nowhere around when any skirmish broke out. In fact, many of the pitched battles trumpeted in The New York Times and other MSM outlets of the time never took place. In one battle that the NYT proclaimed deaths of over a thousand, Fontova writes convincingly that total casualties on both sides probably numbered around five. Talk about creative math.
Fontova shows that Che was responsible for more deaths of non-communist anti-Batista fighters than of soldiers fighting for the regime — most of whom were bribed to flee. After the revolution, Che oversaw not only the executions of tens of thousands of innocents, but he also was in charge of forcibly collectivizing thousands of small farms. In fact, Che Guevara conducted the longest counter-revolutionary campaign in the Americas, with a brutal 6-year war against Cuban peasant farmers.
Che Guevara at the plaza de la Revolucion
Time: "Che the moral guru proclaiming that a New Man, no ego and all ferocious love for the other, had to be forcibly created out of the ruins of the old one."
Fontova: When mothers or wives came to plead for the life of their loved one, he would show his "ferocious love for the other" by picking up the phone and ordering that man or boy’s immediate execution in front of the sobbing woman.
As Fontova points out, the 14,000 executions by firing squad and other Cuban deaths attributed to the Castroites are dwarfed by the numbers killed by Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot, but, as a percentage of the population, the Cuban communists are right up there with the other moral gurus who were also trying to create a "New Man."
Time: "Che the romantic mysteriously leaving the revolution to continue…, the struggle against oppression and tyranny."
Fontova: Che was run out of Cuba by Castro who tired of the competing cult of personality, and was a spectacular failure in Africa and South America where he rallied no one to his cause and was ignored-- or mocked—by guerillas on the ground there.
Time: "His execution in Vallegrande at the age of 39 only enhanced Guevara's mythical stature. That Christ-like figure laid out on a bed of death with his uncanny eyes almost about to open; those fearless last words ('Shoot, coward, you're only going to kill a man') somebody invented or reported;"
Fontova: "Invented," indeed. The only place Che’s defiant last words appear are in Cuban accounts. Every eyewitness tells a different tale — of a Che Guevara trying to ingratiate himself to every guard, officer or CIA agent at the scene, spinning the notion constantly that he would be "worth more alive."
But radical Duke professor Dorfman is not the only purveyor of the Che Guevara myth that Fontova deconstructs. Herbert Matthews of the New York Times was among the useful idiots who most helped Castro come to power.
As Fontova puts it, this was not a battle in the Cuban countryside or the streets of Havana but a PR war won on the pages of the mainstream press in Washington and New York.
Fontova also spends a fair amount of time discrediting New Yorker writer Jon Lee Anderson’s hagiography, Che: A Revolutionary Life, which was hailed for its "balance" in the mainstream media and widely considered the ultimate Che biography. Probably all you need to know about this 814 page book is that Anderson writes "I have yet to find a single credible source pointing to a case where Che executed an innocent." Fontova points out that Anderson spends 200 pages on Che’s largely fictional guerilla campaign to oust Batista, but deals with his 5-year slaughter of the farmers in one dismissive sentence.
Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him also takes on an ironic tone similar to Peter Schweizer’s Do As I Say, when dealing with fawning American Che worshipers who help keep his glowering face on tee shirts and coffee mugs everywhere.
Guitar hero Carlos Santana provides comic relief with spaced out statements that "Che was all about peace and love, man," or his loopy comment that Che was the first person to allow women in Cuba's casinos. Of course, Che mainly closed the casinos, persecuted anyone who listened to rock and roll — much less performed it —and his big contribution to feminism was granting women equal access to face firing squads.
There was never any excuse for the media to get it wrong. As Fontova points out in the book’s opening, Che came to the UN and shouted his love of executions from the podium in a speech as subtle as Hugo Chavez’s recent visit. That earned him a party at Bobo Rockefeller’s place in an early example of what Tom Wolfe would later call Radical Chic.
Today’s liberals outraged that there is a place in Cuba today where the US holds genocidal thugs, who are not read their Miranda rights. Meanwhile they continue to not only glorify a murderer from four decades ago, but the regime he co-founded where people are still tortured for decades for speaking their minds-- if not put up against a wall so covered in gore that its original color is no longer discernable.
Che a hero? No, he was a monster, a foul beast. To the ash heap of history he goes. Deservedly.