In a recent article for a website called CubaArchive, a woman named Maria C. Werlau recounted an experience that we thought worth passing on. It’s a single anecdote, but it’s a telling one, illustrative of the ideological poison infecting American mass culture in these days when an unsettling percentage of young people have been led to think that socialism is just dandy and certainly preferable to capitalism. Writing on September 8, Werlau explained that on the previous Thursday, she had walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Coral Gables, Florida, and espied, before anything else, a prominently placed stack of books about Che Guevara that had been placed in the reference section.
They were copies of Che: A Revolutionary Icon by Luis Enrique Martínez. It was published last year by New York-based Chartwell Books, which, a little googling reveals, specializes in books for children and teenagers. So this was, apparently, a work intended for young people. And what did Werlau find when she opened the book? “Page after page,” she wrote,
tells a selective and glorified story of Guevara under subtitles such as “The legend is born,” “The messenger of love,” “A revolutionary adventurer,” “The price of glory,” “Che lives forever,” with many glossy photos from many phases of his life. I found no subtitles such as “The killing machine,“ “the butcher of La Cabaña,” “terrorist,” “aristocratic racist,” or other less laudatory labels also used to describe him.
Of course, we’ve discussed Che at this site many times. And with good reason. For those who seek to further the fortunes of socialism in the United States, he remains a useful tool. That one famous picture of him, which in the eyes of certain observers makes him out to be glamorous, has somehow managed to sweep away his bloodthirstiness, his enthusiasm for violence, his love of killing, his eagerness to commit innocents to prison or send them to the executioner. Perhaps more than anyone in the Western hemisphere during the twentieth century, he was the very embodiment of the totalitarian mind at its most ruthless. And yet even now the Che industry, which glorifies his memory with movies, books, and t-shirts and other paraphernalia, continues to thrive.
Coral Gables is a town in Miami-Dade County, which is famously home to a large Cuban-American community. Coral Gables itself is more than half Latino. Nearly all of these Cubans are living in south Florida for one reason: they, or their forebears, managed to escape the evil regime that Che Guevara helped plant and that he watered with the blood of innocents. Werlau made it plain in her article that while she is devoted to American freedoms and therefore no fan of censorship, she wondered why a bookstore in that part of the Sunshine State would want to put such a piece of shameless propaganda on display and to offer it up as, of all things, a reference book. She spoke to the manager, who told her that “he was born in Cuba but had left as a young child and knew nothing about Guevara.” Not surprising, alas.
Werlau looked up the author of the Che book. Martinez, she read, was born in Venezuela but has moved to Britain to escape the “violence and crime” prevalent in his homeland. You would think a writer who had to flee one socialist nightmare would be loath to celebrate another one. But no: Martinez, she read, had been “fascinated by Che Guevara since he was a boy when he had a poster of the revolutionary on his bedroom wall.” There it is in a nutshell: for at least one writer, the glory of that iconic image still outweighed the villainous reality of Che’s life.