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... more on the Che T-shirt criticism
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It seems most popular criticism comes from people who know little or nothing about Che, and is directed at people they in turn
think know little or nothing about him but wear his image. Their cynicism and criticism is best understood in the light of what they see as an affront to mindless conservative commercialism. Images with real meaning, such as a Che T-shirt, are seen as ironic and inappropriate when compared to Budweiser and Calvin Klein T-shirts. The latter have no real meaning and are simply banal consumer products, and thus "safe" to wear. Consumerists fail to understand the usefulness of wearing one's beliefs "on one's sleeve", so to speak. Fashion is a dictum to those people
Most critics of the controversial Che T-shirt are also embarrassed by the reminder that Che fought against both the world's superpowers (US and USSR), toppling puppet fascist and totalitarian regimes that they had created. Both "communist" and "capitalist" foreign policy at the time involved kidnapping, torture, murder and political assassination to further their ends. Not only did Che manage to survive several CIA and special forces attempts to kill him and destroy his country, he also worked tirelessly to increase wages and literacy amongst his people. All in the face of sanctions and mounting pressures from the "superpowers" which cut supplies and trade, making the job that much harder. The Che t-shirt is a reminder that the U.S. used covert operations, trade embargos, and supported terrorism against many states trying to free themselves from exploitation.
Some critics view his work as proof that he was "anti-capitalist"; that wearing a T-shirt with his image on it is laughable. But this is simply self-serving nonsense. If you read Guevara's books, you'll see that he and Castro were far more centrist than the US or Russia at the time. Telling someone they can't buy a T-shirt bearing the image of someone who criticizes capitalism is awfully convenient for capitalists. They don't want capitalism questioned. They want to forget these people and their criticisms and they'll say anything to have their way.
The truth is that, as a man who eschewed awards and glory, Guevara might be embarrassed by all the attention today. But he certainly wouldn't be against selling something that might help promote international brotherhood or the advancement of the common people. The critics will be surprised to know that, early on, Guevara was full of hope for a union between all the Americas -- North, Central and South America -- and often referred to himself plainly as "an American". But then, it's always easy to criticize others when you know nothing about them. It's easy to make up your mind when you don't have any real information. To those people, I suggest they ask questions first. I suggest they read a book.
My Che T-shirt I guess I was 17 when I first heard about Che Guevara, and it was a year or two before I bought a copy of "Guerilla Warfare". The more I heard about him, the more impressed I was. At that time, there wasn't much information available about the man, it being before the World Wide Web was invented. Hardly anyone knew who he was, and the now famous Che Guevara t-shirts were extremely rare.
Actually, they're still extremely rare today.
But I had a funny experience last St-Patricks day, when I put on my Che shirt (it being the only thing green I had to wear). People asked me if I was wearing anything green for St-Pat's, so I pulled up my sweater to reveal my olive green Che shirt underneath. "Oh, you've got one of those," they said, "those are everywhere these days."
You mean like DKNY, Nike, Coca-Cola, Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, etc? I've never heard anyone say "Oh, you've got one of those" to someone in a "Just do it" or "No Fear" t-shirt, or anything sporting a corporate brand.
So I ignored the comment and told them that my shirt was doubly relevant because, not only was it green, but Che was Irish. Ya, most people don't know that, but his grandmother was a Lynch. His full name is Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna. In fact, there's an interesting story about Che visiting a pub in Ireland (Limerick, 1965), quaffing a few brews and telling a local newspaper reporter about his heritage and his admiration of the Irish people ... and rugby. Che had the reputation of never drinking back home, but that was part of the mythology that surrounded him. If you ever read his "Motorcycle Diaries", you'd know that he liked to drink.
It seems that the problem people have with seeing Che shirts "everywhere" is not so much with the frequency of seeing the shirts -- since we all see hundreds of other shirts hundreds of times more frequently -- but the fact that this shirt actually has some meaning. It represents something important. Though most people don't know exactly what that is.
There are a lot of right-wing fanatics out there whose jowels wobble and froth with anger at the very mention of the name, let alone sight of the man. And I suppose there's an equal number of left-wing pontifs who sing his praises as though he were a god. But to me, the power and greatness of Che is in his humanity; the fact that he worked so hard and gave up so much to free his people from tyranny.
I guess one of the main reasons people have such a strong reaction to his image is that the United States' foreign policy is in no small part responsible for his death. The Che t-shirt is a constant reminder of the U.S.'s policy of establishing puppet dictatorships throughout the world and fighting covert wars on foreign soil in an attempt to destabilize other nations and gain power. It's an offensive and painful thought to intelligent people. All the more painful because it was us.
Actually, current policy isn't that much different, is it? To a certain extent, it still is us. Citizens and foreign nationals are still subject to detention, incarceration, and even torture without representation. People who criticize Guevara for having fought a bloody war need to remind themselves that he was fighting to free himself from a dictator, and fighting against both the world's superpowers (U.S. and U.S.S.R.) for the freedom of his people. What kind of a war would be justified if the CIA was actively trying to kill you?
So, some people call Guevara a murderer, though his targets were all military, and he fought against a regime that was backed by foreign money and troops, which subjugated his own people. I guess these are the same people who supported George Bush; a man who never saw combat himself (actively avoiding service, unlike Guevara), a man who has raided the treasury, enriched his closest friends, denied his own citizens Constitutional and human rights, signed documents condoning torture, and executed more prisoners during peace time than any other governor in the history of the country.
For people who think the only way to show you love your country is to blindly follow its dictators, the image of Che Guevara on a shirt is a frightening one and there will always be too many of them in circulation. For those who think you show your love for your country by striving to improve it day in and day out, by exposing our faults and working them out, by celebrating our compassion and requiring accountability, the Che shirt is all too rare.