You probably know him as Che. Actually, you probably know him as this guy:
“Ernestito” Guevara was born into an Argentine family whose views were fairly leftist. As you’ll find out later, this kinda impacted him… tremendously.
As a child, Guevara was pretty much good at everything he did. Even in spite of a pretty serious asthma problem (Wikipedia describes it as “crippling bouts of acute asthma”), he was great at soccer and rugby. And swimming too, a sport that really shouldn’t be all that compatible with respiratory swelling. In fact, I think an asthmatic being good at swimming would be like Edward Scissorhands becoming a concert pianist.
Guevara was also extremely well-read; his family owned over 3,000 books, so he was able to enjoy the writings of everyone from Karl Marx, John Keats, Walt Whitman, and William Faulkner, to Franz Kafka, Jules Verne, Vladimir Lenin, and Friedrich Nietzsche. His favorite subjects in school included philosophy, math, engineering, history… okay, the lists go on, but the point is, this guy was intelligent. Even the CIA took notice of his wide-range of interests, calling him “fairly intellectual for a Latino.” When the world’s most powerful intelligence agency calls you an intellectual, however racist and backhanded a compliment it might have been, you know you’re pretty damn smart.
After attending the University of Buenos Aires, completing a motorcycle journey across South America, and then going back to earn his medical degree — officially making him “Dr. Che” — Guevara was royally pissed off about the general state of things in his continent.
That’s when he decided to go to Guatemala, which was then on the Socialist path that Guevara liked quite a bit. Here, he earned his nickname, “Che,” which is actually just a mini-interjection like “bro” or the Canadian “eh?” This kind of shows that you shouldn’t screw with someone just because they say “uhh” or “like” a lot; they might just be the next great revolutionary. Then again… who am I kidding? They’re probably just dumb.
In any case, Che initially toyed around with going to Africa to work as a doctor, but eventually joined up with Fidel Castro in Cuba because… well like I said, this guy was badass and wanted to slaughter some capitalist pigs. So he took the initiation course on guerrilla warfare, after which their instructor called Guevara “the best guerrilla of them all.” He was basically the valedictorian of killing people in the face without being seen.
Speaking of which, Che was known as a pretty strict leader, and I definitely don’t mean he gave stern lectures for being bad. Actually, it was more of a “desert and I’ll shoot you” kind of thing he had goin’. His first execution was of a traitor who only asked that they “end his life quickly.” As Che wrote in his diary, “The situation was uncomfortable for the people and for Eutimio [the traitor] 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].” See how he uses his experience as a doctor to pinpoint exactly where the bullet entered and left? And how he talks about it as casually as we talk about the weather? That’s called hardcore.
True to his badass nature, Che was also incredibly daring and heroic, even reckless at times. When his lieutenant was wounded in a battle, Che ran into the hail of bullets and pulled him to safety. Having just seen this crazy bearded guy pick an injured soldier up and begin to carry him away, the enemies actually stopped firing. Some may say this was out of respect, but I think their guns were just afraid.
By the end of 1958, Che had become an expert at hit-and-run tactics and hiding; he pretty much epitomized the guerrilla fighter, and his tactics are still studied by military tacticians today. Which is kind of impressive, considering he had a degree in medicine.
As the war progressed, Guevara led his men in the final push for Havana, Cuba. They traveled for 7 weeks, only moving at night and often not eating for several days at a time. Soon after, his greatest military success occurred at the Battle of Santa Clara. In the weeks leading up to this battle, his men had been outgunned, surrounded, and overrun, but they still kept going; by that point, Che could have just whipped out his balls and everyone would have surrendered. Instead, he decided to continue fighting the more traditional way, despite being outnumbered 10 to 1. He won.
In fact, Che was actually the first to arrive victoriously in Havana, Cuba; Fidel Castro only came six days later. As for Cuba’s old dictator, Fulgencio Batista, he totally bitched out and hitched a plane to the Dominican Republic.
Having just toppled a government, you’d think that Che may have decided to lay back and relax for a bit. Nope. He was given a few positions of power in Cuba, but by 1964, he was traveling the world trying to spread his revolution. All of the countries he traveled to are in red; the ones where he participated in a revolution are in green:
He traveled around the world a bit, his location remaining a secret for several years (which in itself is pretty cool), only to re-emerge in Bolivia where he tried to start another revolution. Unfortunately for him, this one didn’t go quite as well. This was largely because the U.S. was kinda pissed off about Cuba and they didn’t want another country gone commie, so they sent a CIA task force into Bolivia to fight against Che’s army.
Eventually, Bolivian troops were given a tip about Che’s location; they surrounded the area, but were only able to capture him after he got shot. Twice. Also, when I say surrounded, I mean they brought in 1,800 soldiers to make sure he didn’t escape. That was on October 7th.
By October 8th, he’d been tied up and transported to some beaten down old schoolhouse, where all he asked was for some tobacco to smoke. A Bolivian soldier gave him some, and when an officer came to take Che’s pipe as a souvenir, Che kicked him into a wall. He had his hands tied behind his back, but not like that mattered; he’s Che Guevara, dammit!
Finally, on October 9th, the order was given to kill Che. An executioner entered his hut; all Che did was look up and say, “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward! You are only going to kill a man!” His executioner, understandably shaken, opened fire, but somehow managed to hit only his legs and arms. Then he fired again, finally killing him after 9 bullets. When you can intimidate your executioner to the point where he can’t even do his job right, you’ve gotta be scary as hell.
Guevara was a revolutionary (in more than one sense of the word) who fought valiantly for his cause and mastered one of the coolest military styles in history, guerrilla warfare. Even today, his tactics are renowned for their brilliance, and like I said — this was guy was a physician.
The problem with all of this is, the most fame Che gets nowadays is being a really famous t-shirt image: