So what does the symbol stand for?
I suspect that most of us can probably agree with MT that it is hard to believe that Guevara had no redeeming qualities at all. Probably most of us can also agree with CS that someone can have redeeming qualities and still be, on balance, repugnant and evil. (Yes friends, I do assert that one can aggree with both MT and CS in the same paragraph. ) From what I’ve read, it appears to me that death and suffering associated with the system Che promoted weigh most heavily on the scale – but I haven’t read any definitive, well-reasearched biographies, so I won’t be trying to convince anyone of that.
But for me, there is a second question that is perhaps more important: What is the meaning of Che, the symbol? When people buy a Che t-shirt, what is it saying to them? What do they think that wearing it says to others?
We had a guy in my Chinese class in college who had attached a patch of the PRC flag to his backpack. He was a freshman, and he was very interested in Chinese, and China, and he was trying to show people that.
Some people probably looked at his backpack and thought “Huh. I guess that guy is interested in China.” Others may have thought of suffering, torture, political prisoners, waste, militarism, empire, famine and tyranny.
So what do people think of when they wear a Che t-shirt?
- Do they think [color=blue]“Be brave, be passionate, fight for what you believe in!”[/color]
- Do they think [color=red]“The only way forward is communist revolution!”[/color]
This is an honest question, and maybe one that no one person can answer. Since I haven’t seen any polls or studies on it, all I have to draw upon is anecdotal evidence. And a very small sample at that. Personally, I have only heard two people give their reasons for sporting Che paraphenalia:
The first was a French soccer player, one of the top 2 or 3 players in the world, who I instantly respected a lot less upon seeing him wearing a Che t-shirt. His explanation: [color=black]“He is a man that I admire for what he did and I have been reading his books - as simple as that[/color].” But even this statement can be interpreted in more than one way.
Does “what he did” mean: Helping to bring about the deaths of many thousands? Helping bring Cuba into terrible poverty? Cutting out free speech and putting scholars and teachers into secret-police prisons? Creating a corrupt dictatorship? Sending AIDS patience to die in camps?
… or does he mean fighting for your cause (whatever that cause is) with passion, giving your life for it?
Does one admire the Nazi who, honestly believing that Hitler was leading the world to a better future, sacrificed his life to bring his family and the world what he thought was a 1000-year paradise? Does one admire the peasant revolutionary who sacrificed everything to help his fellow farmers by participating in the cultural revolution? The child who believed with a pure heart that she was right to turn her parents in to be killed for reading the wrong books? I understand that there are those who say that we should admire those who selflessly sacrifice with good intentions. But in many cases I, personally, cannot bring myself to do so.
[color=blue]Example 2 [/color]
The only other person I have heard give a reason for using Che’s image, was a poster on this board who explained that the sole reason behind his use of the image was [color=black]“in order to piss Fred off”[/color]. Where does this rank in the pyramid of noble goals? Is this a cause of worth sacrificing for? Open questions, friends. Depends where your priorities are perhaps.
So I guess I’m left with no real answer.
But my fear is that people see the image as a romantic and stirring call to revolution. My fear is that young people see it and become blind to the very real suffering, poverty and police states that communism has brought with it everywhere it has ever been – that young idealists see only the shining goal of “freeing the masses” (or some similarly noble). And the result is more poverty and much much less freedom.
And if this is the effect that they symbol has, then in my book the use of such symbol is at best misguided, and at worst offensive and insulting to the literally hundreds of millions who have died or suffered as a result of the system with which Guevara is associated.