An open letter to Che Guevara
I thought you might like to know that I visited your old house today. The one you grew up in near Cordoba in Argentina. They’ve turned it into a museum, you know. Old photos of your family, your childhood, the adolescence you spent growing and nurturing that seething anger, and the many later years you spent focusing that anger to try to change the world.
To be honest, though, it left me a bit confused about the man you became and the legacy you have left. You’ve been worshipped and reviled by so many people. Perhaps that’s because there was an inherent contradiction in much that you did – killing to stop the killing, for instance. Taking control of governments to bring down government control. That’s why I was confused. It made me wonder what you would think of the man the little boy from this house turned into, what you would make of the legend of Che.
There was something quite inspirational about the young Che, back when adventures were about exploration and not revolution. I saw the photos of you and your friends on rafts and bikes, going on journeys for the sake of discovery. I can even relate to the idea that any discovery also brings with it an element of self-discovery. People travel the world and see poverty, injustice, and corruption. Some people are upset and vow to try to help. You saw this and you vowed to change it all.
What happened, though, to the young man who wanted a better life for everyone? Where did the pursuit of that shared happiness get so confused that the country today that is used as an example of poverty, injustice and corruption is Cuba, the same country you helped make?
Would you look at Cuba – or Venezuela – or many others in this part of the world – and be proud of how these countries treat their people? Were the ideals you held right and the implementation of them mismanaged? Were you too naïve to think the world could actually be a better place? Or were you just plain wrong?
I’m not sure if anyone has told you, Che, but you’re a bit of a pop culture icon these days. There’s a picture of your face that has become one of the most recognisable images in the world. It’s used in the name of revolution, in the fight for change, in the renunciation of inequality. It’s used by the true fighters for freedom and it’s used by those who pay lip service to the cause. Your face adorns the t-shirts of the wealthy and the middle class, those who have never known suffering, who like to think a piece of clothing can connect them with the struggle. They travel the world, talking of the wrongs and how to make them right but with no real intention to play in part in that change.
At first I thought you might be offended by your reputation being used like this. Then I realised that in some ways they were just like you once. You were from a well-off middle-class family – I saw the photos at your house. You travelled the world and talked. You read books, you spoke to people, you broadened your horizons. The similarities are there… and then you changed. You actually took the action you talked about.
I guess people have an admiration for someone who fights for what he believes. Surely much of the respect for your legend comes from the sacrifices you made to follow that conviction. There was a selflessness to the crusade to improve the lives of others, even at a cost to your own. You had a family you barely saw, you lived in awful conditions on battlefields around the world, and you eventually took a bullet for your cause.
The motivation of your actions is one thing, though. The consequences are another. You helped install leaders who would become dictators, you played a part in bringing the world to the edge of a nuclear holocaust, and you fought against the very principles that much of the human population now believes are the right ones.
That little boy with a sense of exploration ended up taking his continent on more of a journey than it ever took him on.
And so, I ask again, what would you think of Che today?
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