Why is Bjørn Kjos celebrating a Communist monster?

Bjørn Kjos is one of the most prominent figures in Norway today, and has led one of contemporary Norway’s most colorful, versatile, and productive lives. 

Bjørn Kjos

Following two years of training in the U.S., he served as a Cold War-era pilot in the Royal Norwegian Air Force. After studying law in Oslo, he became an attorney and then a judge. At one point he even performed seismological studies in the North Sea for oil companies.

But the accomplishment for which he is famous, rich, and justifiably honored is the founding and development of Norwegian Air Shuttle, a budget airline that has advanced from triumph to triumph. Since Kjos founded it in 1993 as a small regional carrier that transported passengers between obscure burgs up and down Norway’s mountainous west coast, it has grown steadily. First it expanded its operations to include Oslo and major Scandinavian destinations outside of Norway; then it introduced regular flights from Oslo to New York and Bangkok. Soon it was flying all over Europe – and, shortly thereafter, to places like Singapore, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

In short, it’s a spectacular capitalist success story. It’s created thousands of jobs, paid untold dividends to shareholders, and enabled travelers on modest incomes to fly to places they otherwise couldn’t afford.

Here’s the question, then: why, in the June number of its in-flight magazine, n, does Kjos’s airline choose to celebrate a Communist murderer who was, to the very end of his life, a bitter, brutal, and bloodthirsty enemy of capitalism, and a gleeful executor of the innocent?

The June number of n is billed as its “Argentina issue.” Produced, as are all issues of n, by a London-based firm called Ink (ink-live.com), and edited by one Sarah Warwick (who received a degree in development studies from the lefty University of London and a degree in anthropology from the arguably even more lefty London School of Economics), this issue includes articles about a range of Argentina-related topics: a new luxury hotel at Iguazú Falls; the Villa Crespo neighborhood of Buenos Aires; Patagonia.

Sarah Warwick

So far, so good. But beginning on page 88, the reader – the captive passenger – is thrown a curve ball in the form of a tribute to Che Guevara.

Yes, Che Guevara. In large black letters centered on an all-white page – the presentation suggestive of a deeply respectful and thoughtful epitaph for a truly great man – we read the following:

Had he lived, Che Guevara would have been 90 this month. The guerrilla fighter, doctor, writer and idealist found fame as a hero of the Cuban revolution. Long before all that though, he was Ernesto Guevara – an Argentine youth who grew up in Rosario and Córdoba Province. In the month of his birthday, we go in search of the man and the legend.

Idealist? Hero? Legend? Keep those words in mind as we read on. For that preposterous paean on page 88 is only prelude to a full-bore profile – written by one Sam Harrison – that romanticizes Che in the most breathtakingly inexcusable fashion:

In a small side street in Buenos Aires’ old town, San Telmo, a worn image of Che Guevara stares out from a chipped and fading mural. His dark eyes gaze at passers-by from under painted black brows, and his wavy hair is topped with trademark beret….

Oh, those eyes! Those brows! That hair! And on it goes. Dreamily, Harrison quotes an Argentinian Che fan on Che’s “wild childhood, under the open sky.” He waxes poetic about Che’s youthful “love of reading.” He accuses the FBI of treating Che “condescendingly.” And he applauds Che’s “strong political conscience.”

Che personally shooting that one extra bullet into the head of an execution victim.

All this about an evil monster, who, as we wrote here in 2016, “quickly ran the value of the Cuban peso into the ground” when he served as Castro’s Economics Minister; who, as warden of La Cabaña Fortress prison, made that lockup the Cuban equivalent of Stalin’s notorious Lubyanka; and who, acting as Fidel’s chief executioner, ordered at least several hundred (and more likely thousands) of “firing-squad executions of opponents and potential opponents.” The victims included men, women, and children. Some were eliminated for being gay; some were offed for being devout Christians; and some were done in for being soldiers in the army of Fulgencio Batista, whom Castro overthrew. (Even Hitler obeyed the Geneva accords on prisoners of war. Che did not.) As the distinguished Peruvian-Spanish writer Alvaro Vargas Llosa has written, Che’s victims included “proven enemies, suspected enemies, and those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Che often committed the executions himself. Or, after others had done the killing, he would shoot an extra bullet into the corpse: he particularly enjoyed that part. To quote Vargas Llosa, “Guevara might have been enamored of his own death, but he was much more enamored of other people’s deaths.” That’s for sure. One priest who witnessed many of Che’s executions later remembered: “We called him ‘the butcher’ because he enjoyed giving the order to shoot. I pleaded many times with Che on behalf of prisoners. I remember especially the case of Ariel Lima, a young boy. Che did not budge.”

As we noted in 2016, killing a few hundred of Cuba’s seven million inhabitants back then “was equivalent to liquidating millions of Americans.” We also underscored that by obliterating so many people, Che was out “not just to exterminate the victims but to terrorize everyone else – to make it clear to all of Cuba that Castro & co. meant business and were not to be trifled with.”

Sam Harrison

Harrison mentions none of this. He doesn’t even hint at it. The closest he comes to acknowledging the true dimensions of Che’s iniquity is to say that Che’s legacy is “not entirely favourable” and to serve up the following masterpiece of euphemism and evasion: “a guerrilla fighter who dreamed of an egalitarian society, Guevara believed armed struggle was the only way to achieve his aims. For every person who sees him as a symbol of hope – even a secular saint – there’s one who sees a murderer who lost sight of his ideals.” Oh, and here’s one more feeble gesture by Harrison in the direction of reality: Che, he wrote, is “a polarising figure.”

Sorry, but no sale. Simply put, the piece on Che Guevara that’s served up in the current issue of n is a reprehensible whitewash of a cold-blooded butcher. In the year 2018, there is no excuse for such a sick tribute. There is simply too much indisputable evidence now of the demonic, homicidal reality of Che’s monstrous thuggery. To sentimentalize his memory in the pages of a glossy in-flight magazine, read by heaven knows how many impressionable travelers who don’t know the facts of the matter, is an act of profound intellectual mischief and moral irresponsibility.

And let’s not overlook the fact that a very significant part of the objective of the article is to sell airline tickets to Argentina so that readers can walk in this giant’s footsteps. Excuse us, Mr. Kjos, but may we ask: Exactly where does this obscenity stop?  

To be sure, we suspect that Bjørn Kjos is too busy a man to pay close attention to what goes into the pages of his airline’s in-flight magazine. But the fact remains that n bears the name of his company. At the beginning of each issue is one of those “welcome aboard” pieces signed by Kjos himself. In short, he gives every issue his imprimatur. That being the case, he’s responsible for n magazine’s thoroughly despicable glorification of Che Guevara.

It seems to us that if Mr. Kjos sincerely wishes to make amends for his magazine’s action, nothing short of a thorough housecleaning is in order. Mr. Kjos, it amounts to this: cut off your deal with Ink. Fire Sarah Warwick. Find some other team to publish your magazine – a team that, when taking in the spectacle of a murdering Communist like Che and a job-creating capitalist like yourself, knows whom to celebrate and whom to execrate. Such people are really not that hard to find. Believe us. 

Please do it – or, alternatively, let the millions of people who enjoy flying your airline think that you actually approve of the lionization of a child-killing savage like Che Guevara.

Romanticizing Che at The Guardian

Che Guevara

During the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara was Castro’s military advisor and a troop leader; after Castro’s victory, Guevara was appointed Cuba’s Minister of Economics (in which capacity he quickly ran the value of the Cuban peso into the ground). He was also put in charge of La Cabaña Fortress prison, which has been described as the Communist Cuba’s equivalent of Stalin’s notorious Lubyanka Prison. At the same time, he acted as Fidel’s chief executioner, ordering – at a bare minimum – several hundred firing-squad executions of opponents and potential opponents of the regime. (The real number is probably in the five figures.) Given Cuba’s small population, this was equivalent to liquidating millions of Americans. The point of all this bloodletting was not just to exterminate the victims but to terrorize everyone else – to make it clear to all of Cuba that Castro & co. meant business and were not to be trifled with.

Camilo Guevara

Why are we revisiting all this half-century-old history? Because the Western media still write about Che as if he were a romantic hero, a virtuous figure, a symbol of humanity and brotherhood. One of the latest examples: a March 18 profile by the Guardian‘s Jonathan Watts of Guevara’s son Camilo. The angle of the piece: Guevara junior was reacting with “wary optimism” to President Obama’s planned March 20 Cuba visit, and, more broadly, to the improving relations between Cuba and the U.S.

Jonathan Watts

Watts referred to the U.S. as “the world’s capitalist powerhouse” and to Che as “one of the Cuban revolution’s most famous figures.” Camilo, wrote Watts, “is dedicated to protecting Che’s legacy and ensuring that his father’s words – and not just his famous portrait – are remembered around the world.” He noted that Camilo was trying to be philosophical: “Maybe we can influence the US in a positive way.” But his main hope was that “our principles, our ideals, our national project” would not be poisoned by increased contact with the U.S.

The Che cult, still alive and well on the island prison

That Camilo holds such views is no surprise. Our concern is with Watts. With the exception of a brief paragraph acknowledging Cuba’s mistreatment of political prisoners, its restrictions on Internet access, and its lack of basic freedoms, Watts presented Cuba throughout – its leaders, its political system, its revolution, and its longstanding conflict with the U.S. – exclusively through Camilo’ eyes. Yes, it’s one thing for a journalist to give a fair account of an interviewee’s perspective; it’s another thing to serve up pure propaganda without providing anything remotely resembling a reality check. Indeed, Watts’s implication throughout the article was that Camilo’s view of things was, quite simply, factual.

Fidel Castro

Want facts? Here are a couple: Cuba is a Communist dictatorship; since the Castro revolution, over a million of its people have fled to the United States to live in freedom. But you wouldn’t know this from reading Watts. How did he describe today’s Cuba vis-a-vis the U.S.? As “a small country that has resisted its superpower neighbour for more than half a century.” And no, he wasn’t quoting or paraphrasing Camilo here, or trying to frame the situation as Camilo sees it. No; this was pure Watts, acting in his capacity as a supposedly objective reporter.

Watts’s chat with Camilo took place at a place called the Che Guevara Study Centre. In addition to interviewing the tyrant’s son, Watts explored the Study Centre’s archive. Of all the items he looked at, the one he decided to highlight in the article was “a short goodbye message that Che wrote to his children in the knowledge that he could soon die.”

Dear old dad

In the message Che wrote: “Above all be sensitive, in the deepest areas of yourselves, to any injustice committed against whoever it may be anywhere in the world.” Watts quoted this without comment – choosing not to point out the outrageous irony that this plea for sensitivity to injustice was composed by a man who executed hundreds of political opponents in cold blood.

Watts’s piece ended with these sentences: “There is no chance he [Obama] will visit the Che Guevara Study Centre for a lesson in revolution. For Guevara that is a shame: ‘If Obama comes, he might learn something.’” For a journalist to close a piece like this with a quote like that is tantamount to handing over his article to the guy he’s writing about. It’s pretty disgraceful – but, then again, hardly an unprecedented move for The Guardian.