Che as Jesus?

Everyone’s favorite psychopath.

We’ve been working the Useful Stooges beat for a few years now. We’ve been at it so long, in fact, that you might imagine that we’re no longer remotely capable of being shocked by the high levels of self-delusion, evil-worship, and all-around moral depravity of which some of our fellow homo sapiens are capable. On the contrary, even we do the occasional double or triple take.

Kunzel’s book

Consider this story, courtesy of Arik Schneider at Campus Reform. On April 4, David Kunzle, a professor emeritus in art history at UCLA, gave a talk under the auspices of that university’s Department of Religion. In the talk, based on his book Chesucristo: The Fusion Image and Word of Che Guevara and Jesus Christ, Kunzle described Che as a “hero of the Cuban Revolution” and a “quasi-divine cosmic force.” Sharing various artworks in which Che is depicted in Christ-like fashion, Kunzle said that “Che Guevara, once the epitome of armed struggle, has evolved to an avatar of justice, peace, and love, as Jesus always was but no longer is exclusively.” Both Jesus and Che, maintained Kunzle, were leaders of “armed guerilla struggle[s].” Kunzle further stated that “[a]s God created light – is light – Che is radiance” and that his nickname, Che, is a “sacred trinity of letters.”

Still a bestseller.

Now, the fact is that in the half century since his death, images of Che Guevara actually have become iconic. We don’t deny that this makes the topic a legitimate subject of study for historians, social scientists, and students of art. Kunzle might have performed a genuine and multifaceted public service if he had been thoroughly honest about the life, ideology, and actions of Che Guevara, a bloodthirsty murderer who was dedicated to promoting a totalitarian dictatorship, and had provided a legitimate scholarly account of his posthumous transmogrification, on millions of t-shirts, posters, and other objects, into “an avatar of justice, peace, and love.” It doesn’t sound, however, as if Kunzle brought to his UCLA discussion very much in the way of aesthetic judgment, moral perspective, or historical objectivity. Yes, we gather that Kunzle realizes that there is at least some degree of tension between this image and the original reality. But the term “armed struggle” is so insufficient as a means of summing up the totality of Che’s career that it amounts to sheer whitewash. Did Kunzle, one wonders, use the word torture? Did he mention summary executions? Did he say anything whatsoever to indicate an awareness of Che’s profound sadism, the unbridled enthusiasm with which he butchered innocents by the score? Apparently not, especially given that his presentation “was followed by a thirty-minute Q&A period, where some of the attendees mentioned their own visits to Cuba and one faculty member ruminated on his experiences personally meeting Guevara.” The audience, reported Schneider, “appeared to approve of the depiction of Jesus and Guevara, going so far as to call the latter individual a ‘martyr’ in some of their own remarks in the Q&A portion.” It sounds, in short, like a lovefest, a fan club meeting, an exercise in nostalgia for the early days of the Castro Revolution.

The catalog for Kunzle’s 1997-98 exhibition

Schneider writes that “Kunzle seems to have hosted the talk at least once before, in 2011.” In fact it turns out that his interest in – obsession with? – this topic goes back a long way. Over two decades ago, in 1997-98, the Fowler Museum at UCLA held an exhibition curated by Kunzle under the title Che Guevara: Icon, Myth, and Message. And more than two decades before that, in 1975, Art in America ran an article by Kunzle about Che posters. As for Kunzle’s other writings, their topics include murals celebrating the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, art associated with Chilean Communist guerrilla movements, and Soviet film posters. Are you sensing a theme? Then there’s the fact that, in articles and reviews written before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Kunzle, in accordance with preferred Soviet and Maoist usage, routinely referred to Communist tyrannies as “revolutionary” societies and to the nations of the Free World as “bourgeois countries.” His politics, then, are clear enough. And his decades-long attraction to the idea of Che as Jesus is manifest – and, yes, even after all these years, shocking in its utter abhorrence.

Communism’s great, if you’re a Castro

Havana

Earlier this month, the world was reminded that even though Communism is a great way to destroy an economy and to impoverish a nation’s inhabitants, there are always a few people who live luxuriously under the system: namely, the rulers, their cronies, and their families.

Tony Castro, who is a grandson of Fidel Castro, is on Instagram, where he has about 1300 followers. Until recently, ordinary citizens of Cuba weren’t allowed Internet access at all. But those rules don’t apply, of course, to members of the ruling dynasty.

Tony Castro at sea

Recently, the Miami Herald and other south Florida media published some photographs that young Tony (he’s reportedly in his twenties) has posted on his Instagram account. One of them shows Tony sunbathing on a yacht. Of course, ordinary Cubans can’t afford yachts – and if they boarded one, they’d be arrested pronto because the assumption would be that they were about to escape the island prison set up by Tony’s grandfather sixty years ago.

Another of Tony’s Instagram snaps showed him celebrating the birthday of an uncle at what looks like a pretty swanky bistro. He and his uncle raise a toast with champagne glasses. We’re talking here, of course, about the princeling of a country where basic food items are in extremely short supply.

Driving the BMW

In yet another picture we can see Tony at the wheel of a BMW. Need we comment?

Other pictures show him in Panama City, Panama; in Barcelona and Madrid; and at a Mexican beach resort, Ciudad del Carmen, which is located on the Gulf of Mexico and is known as “the pearl of the Gulf.” Needless to say, ordinary Cubans aren’t allowed to exit their own country under any circumstances, and certainly could never afford to visit places like these.

In Madrid

It’s been a long time since the Castros took over Cuba, but the rhetoric of revolution has never ceased. The people of Cuba may not get much in the way of good food, but they’re fed a huge daily diet of propaganda about the wonderful benefits of their glorious revolution and about the evils of capitalism. And more than a few suckers in the democratic capitalist world – some of them working for major media organizations – buy into this baloney.

Karl Vick

Take Karl Vick of Time Magazine, whom we wrote about in August 2015. This credulous jackass describes Cuba as a “security state” in order to avoid such unpleasant terms as “dictatorship” or “police state.” He has written: “People enjoy life in Cuba as in few other places.” When he claimed in a radio interview that Cuba could boast of certain achievements, he was asked to name one such achievement. “Social equity,” Vick said, and went on to assert that nobody in Cuba is “much higher than anybody else.”

“The pearl of the Gulf”

Vick isn’t alone in believing that – and in thinking that this supposed equity is enough to justify any disagreeable aspects of the Cuban regime. Of course, over the decades there has been ample testimony to the fact that the Castros live like kings and that the whole equity thing is a sham. But Tony Castro’s pictures – coming to light only days after the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, and at a time when a frightening number of young Americans consider socialism cool – provide a neat reminder of just what a lie Communism is.

How Fidel seduced (literally) ABC News

The lovebirds

On Tuesday, we examined the 1963-64 meeting, mutual seduction, and unconsummated hotel-room encounter between ABC News reporter Lisa Howard and Fidel Castro. It was, as they say, hot stuff. Today, our focus will be on what Howard did back home in the U.S.: publicly, on ABC News, she did her best to improve Castro’s image in America; secretly, as Politico reported recently, she served as a channel between Castro and JFK, and then between Castro and LBJ, urging both U.S. presidents to sit down with Castro and soften their line on his dictatorship.

Adlai Stevenson

When a ten-page letter to JFK got no response, she turned it into an article urging negotiations. She huddle with Adlai Stevenson and one of his U.N. flunkies in an effort to win Kennedy’s approval for a meeting between the flunky and Cuba’s U.N. guy. That ended up happening – at Howard’s own residence, which “became the hub for secret communications between the U.S. and Cuba.”

When she finally managing to put together a phone call between a high-level American official and a Castro sidekick in Havana, she confided to her diary: “At last! At last! That first halting step. Contact has been established!…A long, frustrating, tension-filled, but exciting experience lies ahead.” More than once in Politico‘s article on the Castro-Howard connection, one gets the distinct impression that serving as a diplomatic go-between was positively aphrodisiacal for the ABC talking head.

A clip from one of Howard’s ABC News specials about Castro, showing how much his people supposedly worshiped him

She later did a TV special from Cuba – which, from Politico‘s description, sounds exactly like every mainstream TV report about the island prison that has been aired in the decades since: “Howard and her crew traipsed around Cuba with the energetic Castro, filming him playing baseball, visiting a cattle farm and interacting with peasants. As much as Howard believed Castro was a dictator, the overwhelming public adoration he generated impressed her. ‘They mob him, they scream ‘Fidel, Fidel,’ children kiss him, mothers touch him,’ she wrote. ‘They are awed, thrilled … ecstatic, but mostly passionate. There is no doubt in my mind that the emotion Fidel inspires in all women is sheer undiluted sexual desire. He is the most physical animal man I have ever known.’”

Lyndon B. Johnson

This time when they went to bed, they went all the way. She later described it as “thrilling and ecstatic—as much as anything I have ever experienced.” Even so, she recognized that “so much of what he was doing was truly evil.”

What’s a poor girl to do? Well, in this case, she kept pushing the White House to talk to Castro. Nothing came of it. (The LBJ aide she lobbied was no dummy: he concluded that it was “likely” she was getting it on with the cigar-chomping Comandante.)

But again Adlai pitched in, and Howard was sent as a secret emissary to Cuba, where “Castro arranged for Howard to stay in one of the confiscated mansions that now served as a protocol house. The house came with a Cadillac and chauffeur, a butler and cook, air-conditioned bedrooms and a sunken bathtub.”

Castro and Che

Next thing she knew, however, Howard was discarded as a U.S.-Cuba bridge. Frustrated, she “seized on the visit of Che Guevara” to the UN to restore her bona fides: she “shepherded Guevara around town—together they attended a premiere of a new documentary film commemorating the life of Kennedy—and organized a soiree for him at her New York apartment.” She offered to arrange a meeting between Che and some LBJ honcho, but her days as a power broker were over. So was her TV career: largely because of her positive portrayal of Castro, ABC fired her. On July 4, 1965, age 39, she died of a drug overdose, having loved a brutal tyrant not wisely but too well.

Castro’s American amante

It’s a story that is only now being told, in Politico, “thanks to declassified official documents and, most important, Howard’s own unpublished diaries and letters.”

Lisa Howard with the Great One

Lisa Howard, an ABC News reporter, first met Fidel Castro at a Havana nightclub in 1963. They talked for hours. Their conversation was wide-ranging. She came away “impressed by Castro’s breadth of knowledge” and later wrote in a letter: “Never, never have I found a Communist interested in the sentiments of Albert Camus.”

Months later, they met again, this time in a Havana hotel room. Again, they talked for hours. She took El Comandante to task for his regime’s social repression.

“To make an honorable revolution,” she told him, “you must give up the notion of wanting to be prime minister for as long as you live.” “Lisa,” Castro asked, “you really think I run a police state?” “Yes,” she answered. “I do.”

Albert Camus

And then it happened: after the flunky who’d accompanied him was swept out of the room, Castro “slipped his arms around the American journalist, and the two lay on the bed, where, as Howard recalled in her diary, Castro ‘kissed and caressed me … expertly with restrained passion.’” They didn’t go all the way, not because she refused but because Castro chose not to: “You have done much for us, you have written a lot, spoken a lot about us. But if we go to bed then it will be complicated and our relationship will be destroyed.”

The next morning “a huge bouquet of flowers” was delivered to her room. She sent a four-page thank-you letter. “I wanted to give you something to express my gratitude for the time you granted me; for the interview; for the beautiful flowers,” it began. “I have decided to give you the most valuable possession I have to offer. Namely: my faith in your honor. My faith in the form of a letter, which, if revealed, could destroy me in the United States.”

George Bernard Shaw

In the letter, which she described as “a tribute, a poem to you—the man,” she told him: “I do not want you destroyed.…You possess what George Bernard Shaw called ‘that spark of divine fire.’” He was not a “ruthless, cynical tyrant,” she insisted. “I do not believe you have meant to hurt people, though, in all candor, I am both saddened and outraged that you have destroyed thousands and harmed many more without just cause.” She urged Castro to be true to his heart, as she perceived it:

What you have to offer the world that is meaningful and universally applicable is not some capricious brand of tropical Marxism (the world scarcely needs that), but your humanity; your compassion; your deep knowledge and sense of justice; your genuine concern for the poor; the sick; the oppressed; the defenseless; the lost; the despairing.…And your sacred duty, your solemn obligation to mankind is to make that quality ever stronger, to make it a reality for your people—all your people, every class and sector. Let flow in the most untrammeled way the goodness that is your substance and can be your salvation.

She closed the letter by addressing him as “my dearest Fidel.” She then returned to the U.S. And it’s what she did in the U.S. that really matters.

More on Thursday.