The image of Che Guevara is to be found all over the world, on t shirts, in magazine articles, EVERYWHERE!!! Che Guevara is a true icon of our time, but he is a historical figure who divides opinion like few others. Many label him a cold blooded murderer willing to send men to the firing squad without any evidence, while others are prone to liken him to a saint on a par with Mother Theresa. So, question is who’s right, what is a fair assessment of Che Guevara and his actions?
For those who aren’t familiar with Che Guevara, here is a brief synopsis of his life. Che Guevara was born in Argentina in 1928 to a middle class family. In 1951 he embarked on a motorcycle journey across the South American continent during which he became passionate about the plight and hardship of the South American working classes, an awakening which led him to abandon his promising medical career and comfortable middle class surroundings in Argentina.
A series of events brought him to the attention of Fidel Castro, a man he helped (in no small degree) to take power in Cuba through military means in a communist revolution. After the revolution Che became prominent in the new Cuban government, responsible for overseeing the executions of officials prominent in the previous government regime (for which he gained the nickname The Butcher of La Cabaña) , and was one of the primary instigators in a campaign which ensured that virtually the entire Cuban population was able to read and write. On the world stage he became an outspoken critic of capitalism, directly lending his support to attempted communist revolutions worldwide. He was eventually killed by the CIA in 1967 while in Bolivia orchestrating a populist armed revolution against that country’s government.
So, here’s my very reductionist take on Che Guevara based on his life. He was obviously a man who clearly passionately felt for the suffering and misery of the poor. He was also a man of great determination and willpower with tremendous belief in himself, a man around whom others were prepared to rally in the name of a worthy cause. However, on the other hand, this magnetic personality was someone who believed in the primacy of violence, an individual who was committed to the ideals of two wrongs making a right and the greater good. He was once quoted as saying, “a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate”. I believe that his premature death at the age of 39 was an inevitable result of the path of violence and bloodshed that he chose to take for himself. As is often said, he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.
I do sometimes wonder though at the potential Che Guevara would have had, had he taken a peaceful path, a path in which he channelled his passion and determination into less brutal means of helping the vast masses of impoverished people on this planet. I personally believe that had he done so, Che Guevara could have catapulted himself into that very select list of people who virtually everyone without exception would praise for their contribution to humanity: Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and so on. For example, the potential was there for him to become a doctor who tirelessly worked to improve the health and living conditions of the world’s poor. But that’s all it was, potential, something that was never realised. This man, blessed as he was with remarkable talent, chose a different road to these aforementioned luminaries, one of fear, hate and anger. Something I think is a lesson to us all, we may be equipped with wonderful skills, but how are we using them, are we missing our own greatest potential?
In conclusion, regardless of what happens in the coming decades, Che Guevara will continue to be idolized by many – especially in his home continent – for his tireless struggle on behalf of those less fortunate. But, what can be said with absolute certainty is that he will never be universally held in the same bracket as some of history’s greatest social visionaries, due to his controversial ways of achieving aims and the bloodshed that seemed to follow him wherever he went. A missed potential indeed.