Hero, martyr, doctor, revolutionary, killer
Should we celebrate Che Guevara? To mark the 50th anniversary of his death today the Cuban president laid a white rose on his tomb and Ireland issued a set of commemorative stamps.
“I fired a .32 calibre bullet into the right hemisphere of his brain which came out through his left temple. He moaned for a few moments, then died.”
This is how Ernesto “Che” Guevara describes executing an army guide who admitted to giving away the position of Guevara’s rebels during the Cuban revolution.
Che Guevara died 50 years ago today, caught and killed by the Bolivian army. How did such a bloodthirsty killer become a trendy fashion icon?
Originally from Argentina, Guevara was born into a middle-class family. While studying medicine he took a motorcycle tour around South America, where he developed an "affinity for the poor” and came to think that communist uprisings could change the social order and poverty.
His first stops on the revolution trail were Guatemala and Mexico, but it was as a leader of Fidel Castro’s Cuban guerrillas that Guevara found fame.
His attitude to life was simple. He believed radical change was necessary and should come quickly.
Meanwhile conservatives, the “rebels against rebellion”, believe in the principle that, as Roger Scruton says, “good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.”
Should revolutions be encouraged?
“Without revolutions, the world would still be run by brutal kings and emperors,” say some. Violence is never desirable, but against oppressive dictatorships there is often no other option. Some regimes are so toxic that only a clean, radical break from the past can expunge them from power.
Others respond that revolutionaries simplify the world into good and evil, and are thus able to justify the worst violence imaginable: think of the Reign of Terror in France or Stalin’s purges in the 1930s. Revolutions brutalise countries and put nations at war with their past. Gradual change is the answer.
- Are you pro-revolution or anti-revolution?
- Sketch a stencil drawing of a well-known person in the style of the famous Che Guevara image.
Some People Say...
“Wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt is now the least rebellious thing in the world.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentinian revolutionary, was killed 50 years ago this week in Bolivia. According to Time magazine, he is one of the most influential people of the 20th century.
- What do we not know?
- Whether Che will remain an idol for young revolutionaries in years to come. Across the West, sympathy for his left-wing ideas has risen in recent years.
- Bolivia was the last country in which Guevara attempted to start a revolution.
- Fidel Castro
- Castro ruled Cuba from 1959 until 2008, finally dying aged 90 in 2016.
- Roger Scruton
- An English conservative philosopher.
- Reign of Terror
- A period in the wake of the French revolution where 16,594 official death sentences were given out. The total number of deaths is believed to be much higher.
- Stalin’s purges
- A campaign of political repression in the 1930s; 600,000 people were killed at the hands of the Soviet government.