Thursday, June 23, 2005

Revolution and Killian's Irish Red

I went to dinner with Laurie this evening after work. We met her friend Sarah for drinks afterwards and in the process of a three hour conversation, which ranged in topic from the effects on human equilibrium of excessive inebriation coupled with a boat ride in choppy waters to the need for individual fiscal conservatism in the face of rising credit card debt following a sudden drop in employment, I consumed five or six bottles of that sweet divine nectar, Killian’s Irish Red. Laurie and Sarah went off to watch “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and I, claiming to exercise a bit of my own fiscal conservatism, called it an early night.

Try as I might, I just can’t get excited about that movie. Angelina Jolie may break the Guiness Record for “hotness,” but her past exploits with Billy Bob have tainted her in my mind.

I could not go directly home, however, since my state of inebriation was such that I would have violated several local ordinances involving my ability to safely operate a motor vehicle had I chosen to venture forth onto the streets of Columbus. So I waltzed over to Barnes and Noble to see what I could see.

I have tried to avoid doing such a thing sine I made the pact with myself this past March to avoid purchasing any books until I have finished everything on my shelf; excluding, of course, the new Harry Potter Book, which is due out in July, and that Anansi Boys book from Neil Gaiman, which is due out sometime in early September.

I’ve been reading a lot of heavy material lately. Leave me my cupcake books for now. Besides, you’d be interested, too, if you had taken the time to read American Gods and Neverwhere like I told you.

This time I couldn’t help myself, so, in order to avoid spending money, I wandered into the biography section. Lo and behold, there stood before me a display on the Cuban Revolutionary and Latin American Icon, Ernesto “Ché” Guevara

I have always been intrigued by Ché’s life. He started out an aristocratic son of a wealthy Argentinean and an Irish immigrant, went to medical school, and then rejected his privileged upbringing after a trip with his friend and fellow doctor, Alberto Granado, which resulted in the book (now a major motion picture starring that guy from "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and a relatively unknown actor who is a distant relative of Che's) The Motorcycle Diaries. It was this book I picked up and began to read. It has been on my list for some time, much to the chagrin of my friends. They believe that a socialist can have nothing good to say. They believe that a person’s theory on politics and economics defines him in a way that other opinions cannot.

Then they trumpet the works of Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn as exemplary of the right kind of anti-Communism. Little do they know that Aleksandr believed in Socialism and Communism; he just hated Stalin and the gulags. He believed that evil could exist anywhere, under any political or social theory. And I agree.

Back to Ché.

My roommate speaks harshly of the man, and rightly so. He knows several people who were tortured by Guevara during the Cuban revolution and their stories haunt him. Rest assured that I, too, believe their stories and I do not hold the man in high regard , despite his mythical status among many from my generation.

In his later works, such as “Back on the Road” and a little later in “Guerilla Warfare,” the good doctor (and he was a medical doctor) expounds on theories of warfare and worldwide social change with a fervor on par with that of Marx and Hegel in their seminal works. But in The Motorcycle Diaries, when he is still just a child experiencing the world for the first time, he expresses mostly love for his people and an open heart for real change that will bring hope and a new life to the downtrodden.

This is the motivation of Socialism and Communism that I like. Kurt Vonnegut expresses it well when he says that Western nations, which are largely Christian, have forgotten the words of Jesus Christ who, in the beatitudes, says “blessed are the poor” and “blessed are the meek.” This attitude that things should be different and somehow better is something that I believe is lacking in American and, to a greater extent, Western politics and society. It's lacking in a big way.

It’s in the application where the radical leftists fail. In my opinion.

As I read the first few chapters of The Motorcycle Diaries, I got the impression not of the man who would one day lead Castro’s troops against Batista on the streets of Santa Clara and who would later execute Eutimio Guerra, a suspected Batista supported, with a single shot to the head, but of a young doctor with a soul and a spirit that was born to heal the world, not break it further apart by attempting to create "many Viet Nams," and establish a Mao-ist form of soul crushing Communism.

The most telling aspect of this was the collection of photographs that accompanied the book. All of the photos except one were of the young Ernesto, before he laid down his identity as a doctor and become Ché. He was full of smiles and hope. I saw him atop the great motorcycle, La Ponderosa, with a determined look on his face. I saw him standing on his raft as he and Alberto sailed the Amazon. I saw the smiling faces of the children who inhabited the Peruvian leper colony wher he volunteered.

He and his friend were the only two doctors in the leper camp who refused to wear protective gear while treating the inhabitants. When Alberto went back to visit the camp in 2004, at the spry age of 82, several of the men and women there remembered him. They asked him about his friend, the other young doctor who had risked everything to make their lives a little bit better.

They spoke of Ernesto Guevara. They did not know him as Ché. They did not know him as a Communist revolutionary and a madman who once said that, had he been in charge during the Cuban missile crisis, he would have fired without hesitation. He would have enacted a nuclear holocaust without blinking an eye. He welcomed it.

Yes, all the photos in the book showed Ernesto Guevara as a young man full of good potential, save one. The very last photo showed him several years later, dressed in military garb, his face weathered by the constant stream of Cuban cigars and the scars of warfare. The price of the revolution.

The difference in mood was striking. You could see the insanity painted on his face in wide strokes. You could see that, where innocence and hope once held court, madness and hatred now reigned supreme. He was hungry for vengeance of any kind and at any cost.

I have often wondered about Ché Guevara and others like him; people who start off with great intentions only to find themselves on the fast road to Hell; people who accept their path with glee because they cannot conceive of a truth different from the lies they have spent a lifetime preaching as gospel; people who are lost.

I have often wondered about Ché Guevara because in those first few chapters and those first few photographs, I see myself. I see in his eyes the painful recognition of a world in dire need. I see that overwhelming fear and knowledge that I and others like me have benefited while the rest of the world has faced immense suffering. I see the hatred engendered by that unfairness. And I recognize, in his young face, that aching need to make things better that weighs heavy on the soul. I look at his picture and I see cameraderie.

Then I turn the page and I see the madman. And I wonder what happened.