Back in August we flipped through Time Magazine’s special summer issue about Cuba, in which Karl Vick and other writers sang the praises of that country and its people – and even, in some cases, of the Castro regime (which, Vick assured us, isn’t really totalitarian). In a follow-up piece, we quoted a mind-boggling statement made by Vick about the Castros’ island prison in an essay he’d written for Time a few months earlier: “Their country is poor and, without doubt, a security state, but also safe, literate and healthy. People enjoy life in Cuba as in few other places.”
As we commented at the time, “’security state’ is itself something of a euphemism: it sounds nicer than ‘police state’ or ‘dictatorship,’ and is, to say the least, a rather tame way of describing a country that will imprison and torture you for criticizing its leaders or advocating for democracy.” For good measure, we cited a radio interview with Vick by Warren Olney, whose sharp questioning showed up the inanity of Vick’s starry-eyed views about Cuba under the Castros – and about the country’s post-Castro prospects. As we put it, Vick actually seemed to believe that “Cubans are worried that as a result of changes to come, some of them will no longer be destitute.”
You might think that Time has already given Cuba’s jailers more than enough friendly ink this year. But apparently the magazine’s editors just can’t bring themselves to stop paying tribute to Cuba’s leaders and the heroes of its revolution. So it was that on October 9, the forty-eighth anniversary of Che Guevara’s death, Time‘s website ran a piece by Jennifer Latson headlined “How Che Guevara Didn’t Let Asthma Affect His Ambitions.” It began:
Che Guevara might have considered the United States his worst enemy, but he faced an even greater threat to his revolutionary ambitions: asthma.
Latson tells us that “Che was born premature—tiny and sickly” and that “his father took a rough approach to infant rearing,” leaving the diapered baby out on a balcony in cold winter weather. “Instead of toughening him up, however,” Latson recounts, this tough love left Che “with a persistent cough and severe asthma.”
But did Che let this stop him? No. He “embrac[ed] the rowdiness of youth,” pausing in his fast-paced rugby games only to use his inhaler. And he followed the “rugged revolutionary road to Cuba,” where an explosion of rage over U.S. imperialism once sent him into a “terrifying” two-hour asthma attack.
At no point does Latson remind us that Che was a bloodthirsty monster who said Americans were “hyenas…fit only for extermination”; who confessed that he “liked killing”; who demanded that the rabble think as a “mass,” not as individuals, and that they obey the regime unquestioningly; who despised freedom of the press; who said, “When in doubt, execute.” No, Latson’s story follows a familiar journalistic formula – the inspirational story of how a great man or woman overcame youthful obstacles. Teddy Roosevelt growing from a sickly and (yes) asthmatic child into the very picture of brave, heroic manliness. FDR triumphing over polio. Helen Keller transcending blindness and deafness.
Latson winds up her piece with what’s meant as a charming, amusing coda. At a cabinet meeting, Castro said he needed a new head of the National Bank and asked his fellow gangsters if any of them was an economist. Che raised his hand, but after the meeting it became clear that there’d been some confusion:
“Say, I never knew you were an economist,” said Fidel. “Economist!” said Che, astounded. “I thought you said Communist!”