Remembering an Executioner

Forty-three years ago this week, Ernesto "Che" Guevara got a major dose of his own medicine.

Forty-three years ago this week, Ernesto "Che" Guevara got a major dose of his own medicine. Without trial, he was declared a murderer, stood up against a wall and shot. Historically speaking, justice has rarely been better served. There was never an occasion better suited to the expression: "What goes around comes around."

"When you saw the beaming look on Che's face as the victims were tied to the stake and blasted apart by the firing squad," said former Cuban political prisoner Roberto Martin-Perez, "you saw there was something seriously, seriously wrong with Che Guevara." As commander of the La Cabana execution yard, Che often shattered the skull of the condemned man (or boy) by firing the coup de grace himself. When other duties tore him away from his beloved execution yard, he consoled himself by viewing the slaughter from afar. Che's second-story office in Havana’s La Cabana prison had a section of wall torn out so he could watch his darling firing-squads at work.

Even as a youth, Ernesto Guevara's writings revealed a serious mental illness. "My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any vencido that falls in my hands!” This passage is from Ernesto Guevara's famous Motorcycle Diaries, though Robert Redford somehow overlooked it while directing his heart-warming film on Guevara.

The Spanish word vencido, by the way, translates into "defeated" or "surrendered." And indeed, the "acrid odor of gunpowder and blood" very rarely reached Guevara's nostrils from anything other than captured prisoners -- often defenseless men and boys at close-range. Carlos Machado was 15 years old in 1963 when the bullets from the firing squad shattered his body. His twin brother and father collapsed beside him from the same volley. All had resisted Castro and Che's theft of their humble family farm; all refused blindfolds and all died sneering at their Communist murderers like thousands of their valiant countrymen. Viva Cuba Libre! Viva Cristo Rey! Abajo Comunismo! "The defiant yells would make the walls of La Cabana prison tremble," wrote eyewitness to the slaughter, Armando Valladares.

As history shows, the one genuine accomplishment in Che Guevara's life was the mass-murder of defenseless men and boys. Under his own gun, dozens died. Under his orders, thousands were slaughtered. Murder was Che's one true talent. At everything else, he failed abysmally.

During his Bolivian "guerrilla" campaign, Che split his forces, and his men became separated from one another.  Hopelessly lost, the soldiers bumbled around, half-starved, half-clothed, and half-shod, without any contact with each other for 6 months before being wiped out. They didn't even have WWII-vintage walkie-talkies to communicate with, and they seemed incapable of using a compass and a map. The men spent much of the time walking in circles and were usually within a mile of each other. During this blundering, they often engaged in ferocious firefights against each other.

"You hate to laugh at anything associated with Che, who murdered so many defenseless men and boys," says Felix Rodriguez, a Cuban-American CIA officer who played a key role in tracking him down in Bolivia. "But when it comes to Che as 'guerrilla' you simply can't help but guffaw."

Che's genocidal fantasies included a continental reign of Stalinism. To achieve this ideal, he craved "millions of atomic victims" -- most of them, Americans. "The U.S. is the great enemy of mankind!" raved Guevara in 1961. He continued:

Against those hyenas there is no option but extermination. We will bring the war to the imperialist enemies' very home, to his places of work and recreation. The imperialist enemy must feel like a hunted animal wherever he moves. Thus we'll destroy him! We must keep our hatred against them [the U.S.] alive and fan it to paroxysms!

This was Che's prescription for America almost half a century before Osama bin Laden appeared on our radar screens.

For many, the questions remains: how did such an incurable sadist and incompetent idiot attain such iconic stardom?

The answer is that the psychotic Guevara had the magnificent fortune of linking up with modern history's top press agent, Fidel Castro. Castro always had American reporters anxiously scurrying to his every beck and call -- including The New York Times' Herbert Matthews, CBS's Ed Murrow and Dan Rather, ABC's Barbara Walters, and, most recently, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

Had Guevara not encountered Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City in the summer of 1955 -- had he not encountered Cuban exile Nico Lopez in Guatemala the year before (who later introduced him to Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City) -- all evidence suggests che would have continued his life as a traveling hobo: panhandling, mooching off women, staying in flophouses, and scribbling unreadable poetry.

Che's image is particularly ubiquitous on college campuses, but for the wrong reasons. He belongs in the marketing and advertising departments. His lessons and history are fascinating and valuable, but only as a curiosity. On October 8, 1967, Che pathetically whimpered, "Don't shoot!" I'm Che!" I'm worth more to you alive than dead!" while dropping his fully-loaded weapons when two Bolivian soldiers approached him. This is what Che ought to be remembered as: a cowardly, murdering scoundrel who would only raise a weapon in the name of revolution if his victim were as defenseless as wounded quarry.