Great piece by Caroline Carlson in The Diamondback (The University of Maryland's student newspaper):
The blood on Che’s shirt
The first time I saw a Che Guevara T-shirt was in the eleventh grade. I didn’t know who Che Guevara was, but was instantly able to recognize him whenever I saw kids walk through the halls wearing T-shirts and carrying backpacks or lighters with his face on them. The image – a young Argentinian man with long hair and a beret – became almost universally known and sparked a global marketing campaign.
Unbeknownst to many young people, Che Guevara was an international terrorist who aided Fidel Castro in the overthrow of the Cuban government in the late 1950s. After leading a two-year guerrilla campaign against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, he led firing squads against alleged war criminals, created a “labor camp” system in Cuba that imprisoned and killed Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals and oversaw the deaths of more than 1,000 people.
Tomorrow marks the 45th anniversary of Che’s death. College students and young people throughout the United States still treat Guevara, who once said his dream was to become a “killing machine,” as some sort of martyr. These fans, who choose to view the man as a symbol of rebellion, individualism and freedom of expression, are walking contradictions. They carry signs with Che’s face on it during anti-war rallies, but forget that he expressed pleasure in shooting people. Celebrities and musicians have worn some version of the Che icon, yet don’t remember that Che wanted to ban rock music and jazz music during the Cuban Revolution.
It makes no sense whatsoever for your average, independent-minded college student to support “equality” or wear Human Rights Campaign t-shirts while thinking the Hispanic version of Hitler is “really cool.” What some people don’t seem to realize is when you associate yourself with an image or icon, you are inherently adding yourself to a movement, whether you explicitly say it or not. Young people who join a cultural movement without doing their research undermine the intelligence of our generation. We are drawn in by the face of what’s supposed to represent individuality and idealism, yet once we look beyond the artwork and past the Hollywood favoritism, we see a man who was the enemy of freedom. We see a man who wasn’t an open-minded political figure, but a product of Marxist-Leninist ideology.
Some who have woken up to the realities of Guevara’s militant history have labeled this day as “No More Che Day,” a day to educate ourselves on the reality of Che and shine light on how vulnerable youth are to cultural trends. Young people’s willingness to jump on the bandwagon seems to be ever increasing, whether we are talking about slogans, images or entire political movements. It’s almost as if we consider the “coolness” of taking part in a political activity before we actually do our homework on the issues.
We can’t be brainwashed by marketing campaigns that treat sadistic killers as idols. Although some may argue the Che t-shirts simply represent “change,” it’s dangerous to take the face of a cold-blooded murderer and try to dilute it to something else. What if we wore shirts with Hitler or Mao Zedong’s faces on them, and told people we just want to represent “change?”
Some say that the Cult of Che has died down in relation to years past. Even if this is true, real change against collective thinking starts with enlightenment. Being armed with knowledge and research is the strongest way to fight an ignorant trend, rather than waiting to let it dwindle and let an even more ignorant trend emerge upon us again.
Caroline Carlson is a sophomore government and politics and marketing major.
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10/07 - 10/14
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