Depending upon your political leanings, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a hero, saint, murderer, or monster. Guevara was one of the most polarizing people in all of human history. His life, death, and legacy still spark controversy more than half a century after his execution.
The eldest of five children, Guevara was born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1928. As a child, Guevara suffered from crippling asthma yet still managed to excel as an athlete. He competed in rugby, golf, shooting, and cycling and was an accomplished chess player.
His childhood home contained more than 3,000 books and Guevara read widely. He was known to quote both Kipling and Jose Hernandez extensively. Eclectic authors such as Aristotle, Freud, Faulkner, Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Verne, Kafka, Camus, and Jack London occupied his mind during his formative years.
In 1948 Che Guevara began medical school.
Two years later he took a sabbatical to make a 2,800-mile trek through rural Argentina on a motorized bicycle he crafted himself. After exposure to the widespread poverty of peasant life, he began a revolutionary quest that would make him a worldwide icon and ultimately cost him his life.
His nickname “Che” had unusual origins. “Che” is a multipurpose discourse marker among Argentines in much the same way “Eh” is to Canadians. In the early 1950’s Guevara’s acquaintances began referring to him by that term as he used it extensively.
The Physician Becomes a Revolutionary
After medical school Guevara traveled widely through South and Central America, becoming ever more obsessed with the plight of the poor. He saw the oppression of large capitalistic corporations visited upon the peasant class and grew increasingly convinced that violence was the proper response. In 1955 he met Raul and Fidel Castro.
Fidel and Che developed what has been called a revolutionary friendship and resolved to overthrow the corrupt dictatorial Cuban government of Fulgencio Batista. In the struggle for Cuban independence, Che Guevara found his ultimate cause. In the teachings of Karl Marx, Guevara saw the path to revolution.
“The merit of Marx is that he suddenly produces a qualitative change in the history of social thought. He interprets history, understands its dynamic, predicts the future, but in addition to predicting it (which would satisfy his scientific obligation), he expresses a revolutionary concept: the world must not only be interpreted, it must be transformed. Man ceases to be the slave and tool of his environment and converts himself into the architect of his own destiny.”
— Che Guevara, Notes for the Study of the Ideology of the Cuban, October 1960
Guevara was many things, but he was not stupid.
The Revolutionary Becomes a Killer
Guevara initially joined Castro’s guerilla band as a medic but soon found that he had a gift for insurgency warfare. In the sundry engagements that would follow, Guevara earned the grudging respect of his adversaries. CIA analysis described his tactical acumen as brilliant. As is so frequently the case with Marxist ideologues, however, Guevara’s pursuit of his revolutionary goals was soaked in blood.
Guevara enforced ruthless discipline against those he suspected of being deserters, informers, or spies. In one instance a peasant guide named, Eutimio Guerra, admitted accepting 10,000 pesos in return for identifying Castro’s irregular troops to the Cuban air force. In response to the condemned man’s request to “end his life quickly,” Guevara stepped from the group and shot him in the head.
A compulsive diarist, Guevara later described the scene thusly, “The situation was uncomfortable for the people and for Eutimio so I ended the problem giving him a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain, with exit orifice in the right temporal lobe.” The dry matter-of-fact technical tone lends insight into the true mindset of this alpha revolutionary.
In the final phase of the fighting, Guevara arrived in Havana six days prior to Castro himself.
After Castro’s forces successfully overthrew the Batista regime, Guevara found himself the second in command of a new Cuban communist government. One of his newfound roles was to adjudicate the fates of those deemed responsible for atrocities under the previous administration.
The subsequent mass executions, usually by firing squad, left Guevara hard and cold. He described himself this way, “If the only way to defend the revolution was to execute its enemies, he would not be swayed by humanitarian or political arguments.”
He went on to say in a letter, “The executions by firing squads are not only a necessity for the people of Cuba but also an imposition of the people.”
A Meteoric Rise to Fame
Guevara subsequently traveled the world as an emissary of Cuba’s newfound communist ideals. Along the way, he gained international notoriety. Upon his return to Cuba, he assumed responsibility for training the new communist Cuban military. Though he did not participate in the action himself, it was his troops that repulsed the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion.
Guevara was the primary catalyst behind the robust relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union. He helped orchestrate the deployment of nuclear weapons that sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis. He viewed the removal of these weapons by the Soviets as a betrayal and in subsequent years frequently denounced both the USSR and the USA with comparable venom.
Guevara addressed the United Nations and met with the likes of American Senator Eugene McCarthy and Malcolm X. He survived two assassination attempts by Cuban exiles while in New York City.
Che later advised communist troops in combat in the Congo.
While in the Congo he faced the mercenary unit 5 Commando led by the legendary Soldier of Fortune Mad Mike Hoare.
The Capture and Execution of Che Guevara
In 1967 Guevara was fighting alongside communist insurgents against Bolivian government forces. Unbeknownst to Guevara, CIA Special Activities Division paramilitary operatives supported by US Army Special Forces as well as a battalion of US Army Rangers were deployed hunting him. Unable to raise significant popular support and ruthlessly harried by the Bolivian army, Guevara’s small band was ambushed. Guevara was subsequently captured.
On October 9, 1967, the Bolivian President Rene Barrientos ordered Guevara executed. An alcoholic Bolivian Army Sergeant named Mario Teran entered the hut where Guevara was being held and loosed two bursts from a fully automatic M2 Carbine.
Guevara was hit nine times–five in the legs, once in the right shoulder and again in the right arm. He was also hit in the chest and the throat. He bled out in short order.
The M2 Carbine was an evolutionary development of the WW2-vintage M1 Carbine. The M1 was initially designed in a mere thirteen days. The original design spawned from efforts by Ed Browning, brother of famed gun designer John Moses Browning.
The M1 Carbine was intended to replace the handgun as a Personal Defense Weapon of sorts by troops like artillerymen and truck drivers for whom direct contact with the enemy was not a regular part of their mission.
At the apogee of production, US industry was turning out 65,000 Carbines a day. Final production numbers topped six million.
At the very end of the war, the military produced a selective fire conversion kit that could be installed on existing Carbines by unit armorers.
This kit consisted of nine parts that could be fitted into a semi-auto Carbine. The M1 Carbine is one of the only weapons in widespread circulation in America that can be converted to full auto solely by exchanging parts. Possession of all nine parts, even without a host Carbine, is considered possession of a machine gun.
The M2 Carbine cycles at around 750 rounds per minute and is an effective close combat tool. The modest recoil impulse of the .30 carbine cartridge makes the gun controllable and later 30-round magazines offer plenty of on tap firepower.
A friend who served as an Infantry officer during the Korean War told me that the M2 Carbine was not considered as reliable as was the M1 Garand or the Grease Gun.
In the years since his death, communist revolutionaries and radical misguided youth have deified Che Guevara. Cuban schoolchildren begin their daily pledge of allegiance with, “We will be like Che.”
This iconic Alberto Kordo photograph of Guevara, taken at the memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion in 1960, has been described as the most famous photograph ever taken.
The fact that Che’s likeness has been reproduced on everything from coffee mugs to political banners to bikini swimsuits is an ironic legacy for a man who devoted his life to the fight against consumer capitalism.
To Bolivian peasants, Che Guevara is Saint Ernesto.
Among Cuban exiles in America, Guevara is referred to as the “Butcher of La Cabana.”
An unrepentant killer, Che Guevara had a brief but enigmatic life.
|Weight||5.2 lbs Empty|
|Barrel Length||18 inches|
|Action||Gas-Operated Short-Stroke Piston|
|Rate of Fire||750 Rounds per Minute|
|Feed Mechanism||15 and 30-round Box Magazines|
|Sights||Adjustable Aperture Rear/Wing-Protected Front Post|