Galway City Council is considering a proposal to raise a statue to Che Guevara. Excellent: a monument to a ruthless killer is just what our ailing tourism industry needs. However, I will say this for Guevara: he reminds us that evil is usually not ugly, or repellent, or outwardly vile. Quite the reverse. It is beguiling, beautiful and persuasive: these are its vital qualities. Stalin and Mao and Kim Il Sung were all personally loved.
They were at the very pinnacles of that diabolical thing, the human hierarchy, but they could only remain there by bewitching their courtiers. Just one man from the toxic era of communism is still globally revered. Yes, Che Guevara, who was such a nice fellow that he wanted to create Vietnams throughout both South America and Africa.
To be sure, like most of the 20th century despots who were addicted to violence, he was not a personally self-indulgent man. Mao -- the exception, and also the most evil -- was a serial rapist. The other great global murderers merely preferred imposing their ideas on millions. But Che Guevara, vagrant sociopath, murderer, fantasist and narcissist remains in a class of his own. In victory in Cuba, he was a cold-blooded murderer, but then could not settle to life in an adult society. So he pursued his real desires in the jungles of failure in two continents, in an endless quest for violence. He even went to the Congo, to start a violent revolution there. How insane and wicked is it to want to promote bloodshed in what was already the bloodiest place on the planet? Thus the Gulag meets the Heart of Darkness. His capacity for violence, his desire for hardship, his charisma: all in all, perfect material as an SS Oberstgruppenfuehrer.
He sought and he finally found grubby death, alone and friendless on a Bolivian mountainside. Yet a single earlier photograph of him transformed his murderous insanity into a truly perverse secular sainthood, for quite coincidentally, this picture contained various visual-triggers, to which we are almost culturally programmed to respond. The star on his head is one of the most benign symbols in western imagery. It lit the three wise men to the stable, but also signifies acute approbation; as in film star, Michelin star, lucky star, US Silver Star -- and so forth, in all Christian societies. His jaunty Left Bank beret is that of an artist, not a soldier. His bearded face classically echoes that of Jesus Christ. The eyes are the usual for a dictator -- mesmeric, large, round and staring, like Hitler and Stalin, but also like a child's. Such a visual package -- a communist Turin Shroud -- speaks deeply to the naïve and gullible, especially when combined with the fiction that "socialist" extremists are more virtuous than "right-wing" ones.
In fact, most of the industrial-scale mass murderers of the 20th century were socialists. Pol Pot, Mao, et cetera, obviously, but also Hitler and his National Socialist Party. The vital electoral swing that brought Hitler to power came when communist voters decided that they wanted a German form of socialism rather than a Bolshevik one. And by God, that's what they got. Was it surprising that Milosevic rose through the ranks of the communist party, rather than a party of free enterprise? Left-wingers believe in the essential power of a state, which should accordingly be given the necessary authority to improve its citizens in every way. And of course, the left defines what "improve" means: eg, Guevara spending his first weeks in power, executing people without trial.
Yes, you may argue that the veterans of the odious Batista regime deserved the death sentence: very well, but without a proper trial, that is murder; hence Che Guevara, murderer. Now if Galway does actually raise a statue to a man who wanted to turn the world into a conjoined series of Tet Offensives, the city will certainly get some tourists who will gaze admiringly at it: Islamic Bader Meinhof, Continuity ETA, Real PLO, et cetera. But are they really the kind of visitors Galway wants? Might they not feel it their revolutionary duty to steal away in the dead of night, their bills -- to the capitalist-swine who own the hotels -- gloriously unpaid? And might not the more zealous of them -- The Popular Front for the Guevarafication of Galway, say -- murder the slumbering mayor and aldermen in their beds, before putting the severed but still indignant heads of a few Salthill B&B landladies on poles on the city walls?
My own happy experiences of Salthill suggest that the ladies there deserve a little better. Moreover, might not a statue to Guevara disgust other tourists, Americans especially? On the other hand, if antagonising visitors is the first duty of a tourist resort, then why not? Perhaps Galway should now ask the plain people of Cuba to adjudicate upon the proposal to erect this statue.
Sorry: a really stupid idea. For alone in the entire American hemisphere, thanks to the brutal, murderous regime that Guevara helped entrench, and for more than half a century now, the impoverished and helpless people of Cuba have had absolutely no say over anything whatever.