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Hollywood filmmakers blind to Che Guevara’s brutality

Hollywood filmmakers blind to Che Guevara's brutality
Guy Sorman | February 02, 2009
Article from: The Australian

HOLLYWOOD history is often nonsensical, but filmmakers usually have the
sense not to whitewash killers and sadists. Steven Soderbergh's new film
about Che Guevara, however, does that, and more.

Che the revolutionary romantic, as depicted by Benicio del Toro in
Soderbergh's film, never existed. That hero of the Left, with his hippie
hair and beard, an image now iconic on T-shirts and coffee mugs around
the world, is a myth concocted by Fidel Castro's propagandists: a cross
between Don Quixote and Robin Hood.

Like those tall tales, Castro's myth of Che bears a superficial
resemblance to historical facts, but the real story is far darker. Some
Robin Hood probably did brutalise the rich and, to cover his tracks,
give some of his loot to the poor. In medieval Spain, Quixote-like
knights probably did roam the countryside, ridding it not of dragons but
of the land's few remaining Muslims.

The same goes for the legendary Che. No teenager in rebellion against
the world or his parents seems able to resist Che's alluring image. Just
wearing a Che T-shirt is the shortest and cheapest way to appear to be
on the right side of history.

What works for teenagers also seems to work with forever-young movie
directors. In the 1960s, the Che look, with beard and beret, was at
least a glib political statement. Today, it is little more than a
fashion accoutrement that inspires a big-budget Hollywood epic. Are Che
theme parks next?

But once there was a real Che Guevara: he is less well known than the
fictional puppet that has replaced reality. The true Che was a more
significant figure than his fictional clone, for he was the incarnation
of what revolution and Marxism really meant in the 20th century.

Che was no humanist. No communist leader, indeed, ever held humanist
values. Karl Marx certainly was not one. True to their movement's
founding prophet, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Castro and Che held no respect for
life. Blood needed to be shed if a better world was to be baptised.

When criticised by one of his early companions for the death of millions
during the Chinese revolution, Mao observed that countless Chinese die
every day, so what did it matter?

Likewise, Che could kill with a shrug. Trained as a medical doctor in
Argentina, he chose not to save lives but to suppress them. After he
seized power, Che put to death 500 "enemies of the revolution" without
trial, or even much discrimination.

Castro, no humanist himself, did his best to neutralise Guevara by
appointing him minister for industry. As could be expected, Che applied
Soviet policies to the Cubans: agriculture was destroyed and ghost
factories dotted the landscape. He did not care about Cuba's economy or
its people: his purpose was to pursue revolution for its own sake,
whatever it meant, like art for art's sake.

Indeed, without his ideology, Che would have been nothing more than
another serial killer. Ideological sloganeering allowed him to kill in
larger numbers than any serial killer could imagine, and all in the name
of justice. Five centuries ago, Che probably would have been one of
those priest-soldiers exterminating Latin America's natives in the name
of God. In the name of history, Che, too, saw murder as a necessary tool
of a noble cause.

But suppose we judge this Marxist hero by his own criteria: did he
actually transform the world? The answer is yes, but for the worse. The
communist Cuba he helped to forge is an undisputed and unmitigated
failure, much more impoverished and much less free than it was before
its "liberation". Despite the social reforms the Left likes to trumpet
about Cuba, its literacy rate was higher before Castro came to power,
and racism against the black population was less pervasive. Indeed,
Cuba's leaders today are far more likely to be white than they were in
Batista's day.

Beyond Cuba, the Che myth has inspired thousands of students and
activists across Latin America to lose their lives in foolhardy guerilla
struggles. The Left, inspired by the siren call of Che, chose armed
struggle instead of elections. By doing so, it opened the way to
military dictatorship.

Latin America is not yet cured of these unintended consequences of
Guevaraism. Indeed, fifty years after Cuba's revolution, Latin America
remains divided.

Those nations that rejected Che's mythology and chose the path of
democracy and the free market, such as Brazil, Peru, and Chile, are
better off than they ever were: equality, freedom, and economic progress
have advanced in unity. By contrast, those nations that remain nostalgic
for the cause of Che, such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, are at
this very moment poised on the brink of civil war.

The real Che, who spent most of his time as Castro's central banker
supervising executions, deserves to be better known. Perhaps if
Soderbergh's two-part Che epic succeeds at the box office, his financial
backers will want to film a more truthful sequel. There is certainly no
shortage of material for Che, The Untold Story.

Guy Sorman, a French philosopher and economist, is the author of

The Empire of Lies.


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