On October 8, 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) is executed by the Bolivian army after he is captured in failed attempt to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America. He leaves behind a widow and five children. Since his death he has become the icon for revolution and his image can be found on items such as lighters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, posters and even the graduation caps of high school and college students throughout the world. Students of Marxist-Leninist ideology and guerrilla conflict look to his writings, speeches and quotes as inspiration. And although forty-eight years have passed since his death, his name continues to spark admiration, disdain and curiosity.
Recently, President Barack Obama visited Cuba in an effort to repair the strained relationship between two countries that share a long history. And while the embargo is still official U.S. policy towards Cuba, their meeting did serve as a sense of change for future generations. I couldn’t help wonder, had Che been with us, what his thoughts would be about the recent developments. Often seen as the “hardliner” of the Castro regime, the Argentine doctor turned guerrilla fighter was one of the most important participants in the Cuban revolution and a staunch opponent of any form of U.S. aggression and intervention in Cuban affairs.
The more I began to think about Che, the more I realized that I needed to revisit his life story to get more of a sense of who he was and why. And for those reasons, I took another look at the most comprehensive and extensive biography of Che’s life by author and journalist Jon Anderson Lee. Che never wrote his own biography but instead penned several books about his experiences in the revolutionary campaign and articles in the journals El Cubano Libre (Free Cuban) and the Verde Olivo (Olive Drab). His book Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War‘ is among the best written about the campaign. Others have published accounts of their memories of Che with his widow Aleida’s account ‘Remembering Che‘, the most intimate of all. While he is seen as the icon for violent revolution, the real Che was extremely complex, highly intelligent and fiercely devoted to revolution with unwavering fanaticism in his beliefs of a new Latin America shaped by Marxist-Leninist ideology.
Through Anderson’s writing, we step inside Che’s life and witness the many obstacles and chance encounters along the way that allowed him to become a doctor, author, ambassador, guerrilla fighter, husband, father and unfortunately in some cases, executioner. The true beauty in this book is its unbiased view of Che’s life and Anderson does a masterful job of being as neutral as possible even in face of some of Che’s least favorable actions, some of which would cause surprise and consternation among many today. In life, it is always tempting to portray icons of the past in the most favorable light possible. And although Che’s image has become a commercial success, what we learn in this book is that the real Che was no where close to believing himself a commercial icon and openly showed disdain for capitalist tendencies.
His actions will come under scrutiny for generations to come and his image and likeness will continue to be reprinted and used as a commercial too for entrepreneurs across the globe. He will forever be loved, feared and hated, and his commitment to communist ideology combined with a fearlessness of using armed conflict are eerily similar to modern-day fundamentalism in various parts of the world. Nonetheless, he is a critical part of Cuban and world history and one of the most important figures of the 20th century. Anderson’s biography is the definitive account of the mythical Argentine revolutionary.