Do you own, or have you owned and worn, or know someone who owns and has worn one of those allegedly 'cool' Che Guevara t-shirts? Do you know the reason that the shirt was being worn? Does the image on the shirt actually stand for something? Do you even know who Che Guevara really was?
The 'Che Guevara' t-shirt and image has become a symbol of sorts for all that is 'counter-cultural'. It is often meant as a protest symbol for those who feel that the 'little man' is being intentionally repressed in some way by government and/or business.
Wanting to help those who are less fortunate than we are is a noble sentiment. So is wanting to effect positive changes on a government or on a society that has become repressive or abusive to it's citizens. So what exactly does that have to do with America, the most free country in the history of the world? And why on earth would this man be an appropriate symbol for such protests anyway?
Ernesto 'Che' Gevara was born in 1928 in the South American country of Argentina to parents of mixed Spanish and Irish heritage. He was brought up in a very political and intellectual environment, and became a reader of the works and teachings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin at an early age.
In 1951 he took a year off before entering medical school in order to travel around South America on a motorcycle. During this trip he experienced first-hand the poverty in much of the land, and as a result ultimately wrote 'The Motorcycle Diaries' in regards to the trip. The book was subsequently made into a major release film in 2004.
As Guevara matured into manhood his views became more and more radical, and he eventually established the stated viewpoint that Marxism achieved through armed struggle and defended by an armed populace was the only way to rectify what he believed had become 'American imperialism' in Latin America.
Of course the true facts were that in nearly the entirety of South America, poverty was endemic, and ruling regimes in nearly every country had for centuries failed to bring about positive change due to greed for power and controlled material wealth for the privileged few.
Any American efforts to change those conditions in order to ultimately help the people by establishing democracy and capitalism was seen as interference, or 'imperialism', trying to impose our ways on others. The motives of the American government and business were always painted as self-serving when the truth was that true capitalist democratic change would indeed be good for both North and South American peoples.
The fact is that Latin American people would indeed be freer and have a better chance at sustained economic growth under truly democratic forms of government that adopted capitalist economic systems. But the power-hungry South American rulers would not let that happen, in fact would consider such a statement as paternalistically insulting, and so used and still use propaganda to paint America as a big bully and themselves as poor peasants who just want to be left alone.
It was within this atmosphere that Guevara moved his family to Mexico City in 1954, and a year later he was introduced through some Cuban exile friends to a man by the name of Fidel Castro. He was immediately swayed by Castro's militant revolutionary ideas and began serious military training in guerrilla warfare tactics.
He went with Castro to participate in the violent overthrow of the Cuban government in the late 1950's, becoming an integral leader of the rebel army. He became feared for his brutality and ruthlessness, torturing or executing anyone whom he deemed a traitor, spy, or deserter. Finally the Castro forces were able to defeat and overthrow the Cuban government and took control of Havana in January of 1959.
On taking charge, Guevara was put in charge by Castro of sorting out and punishing all political enemies and 'war criminals'. In this role, Che Guevara oversaw and even participated in the killing of hundreds of people without due process. Guevara was then later put in charge of the economy, and began to install his beloved socialist values. As always happens with such socialist systems, his programs ended in the abject failure of decreased productivity and increased dependency on the government. The Cuban economy remains in shambles to this day.
During the 1960's he became the principle voice and actor in establishing and growing the Cuban-Soviet relationship that brought Soviet ballistic missiles to the island nation just a hundred miles from the Florida coast. As history tells us, this led to the single closest experience the world would ever come to all-out nuclear war.
When the Soviets finally backed down from the Kennedy administration and withdrew the missiles, Che became enraged at what he called their betrayal, and he turned against them. He stated that had the nuclear-armed missiles been under Cuban control, he would have fired them off against the Americans. During the course of his adult life, Guevara was possibly the most vocally anti-American individual in history.
Ultimately Guevara would travel all around the world trying to educate himself on Marxist, communist, socialist, and terrorist ideals and tactics. His trips would take him to places as disparate as China, Egypt, and Ireland. He would lend his hand to Marxist revolutionary efforts in the Congo in Africa and back in South America in Bolivia. It was there that he was finally captured and executed in October of 1967.
During his lifetime, Che Guevara was closely involved with or directly responsible for violent government overthrow, torture, execution and overall destruction to humanity on a massive scale. None of his efforts were ever successful at helping any group of citizens lead a safer, happier, more secure life. In fact, his policies and actions in Cuba and other parts of the world led to death and disillusionment for millions. In the end, like Mao and Lenin and numerous others, he was a failed socialist murderer.
So this is the man whose image the 'counter-culture' has deemed as 'cool' to wear on a t-shirt. At least in South America they are beginning to get it. A recent popular t-shirt worn by youth in Argentina mocked "I have a Che tshirt and I don't know why", capturing perfectly the question for any young American who would ever display his image. Why are you wearing that shameful Che shirt?