Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Revolution @t Your Library

The New York Public Library gift shop, among its other offerings, is selling Che Guevara watches:

Revolution is a permanent state with this clever watch, featuring the classic romantic image of Ché Guevara, around which the word "revolution" -- revolves.

As the New York Sun reports, the Cuban-American community is less than enthusiastic about this item:

Maria Werlau, president of the Free Society Project - a nonprofit human rights organization documenting the victims of Cuba's communist revolution - denounced sales of the watch as "outrageous." After not having calls to the library returned, she wrote a letter of protest to the institution's president, Paul LeClerc.

(Link via NRO's Corner)

Unfortunately, this is just one example of the cult of Che that has infected our popular culture. Few seem to know or care that the "classic romantic image" they celebrate is that of a fanatical thug who helped create a brutal totalitarian despotism. In a September 24 piece for Slate, Paul Berman demolished the moral and political obtuseness that sustains the Che obsession:

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams," he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …"— and so on. He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale.

As Berman also points out, Che helped found, and remains a symbol of, a regime that burns books and crushes intellectual freedom. That NYPL would choose to market the image of someone who was an avowed enemy of everything our profession is supposed to stand for is a disgrace, but sadly not surprising.


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