Monday, October 08, 2007

Who Was That Man?

Name a brilliant young man who qualified as a doctor, left his homeland and with a bunch of guerrillas attempted to recreate Latin America. He was captured with foreign assistance and executed by the government he was trying to overthrow. Movies were made of him and his picture has emblazoned t-shirts. Name that man.

The man was William Walker.

Walker's campaign has inspired two films, both of which take considerable liberties with his story: Burn! (1969) starring Marlon Brando, and Walker (1987) starring Ed Harris. Walker's name is used for the main character in Burn!, though the character is not meant to represent the historical William Walker. ...

After the resurgence in interest in United States immigration policy in the spring of 2006, William Walker again came to the attention of popular culture through printed T-shirts and posters emblazoned with his likeness, name, and the phrase "We Tried" (Boston, Chicago, St. Louis).

Here's a summary of Walker's role in history.

In the mid-nineteenth century, adventurers known as filibusters participated in military actions aimed at obtaining control of Latin American nations with the intent of annexing them to the United States—an expression of Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States was destined to control the continent. Only 5'2" and weighing 120 pounds, Walker was a forceful and convincing speaker and a fearless fighter who commanded the respect of his men in battle. ...

Within a year, leading “The Immortals” and a native rebel force, he routed the Legitimists and captured Granada, their capital. His success roused concern in the other Central American countries, especially Costa Rica, which sent in a well-armed force to invade Nicaragua. Walker's army repelled the invasion, but a poorly executed counter attack into Costa Rica failed, and a war of attrition continued, in which disease killed more soldiers on both sides than enemy bullets. ...

Still undaunted and seeking support for yet another venture, Walker wrote a book, The War in Nicaragua. Knowing that his best prospects lay in the South, he assumed a strong pro-slavery stance. This strategy proved successful, and in 1860 he once again sailed south. Unable to land in Nicaragua due to the ever-present British, he landed in Honduras, planning to march overland, but the British soon captured him and turned him over to the Hondurans. Six days later, at the age of 36, he was executed by a firing squad. The Walker saga had ended. This enigmatic man had come close to altering the history of the continent. Had he been successful, he might have brought several Central American countries into the United States as pro-southern states, altering the balance in Congress and postponing The Civil War.

I doubt many people would call Walker a hero today. But then why Che? What is the difference? Was Communism somehow more worthy than the causes Walker espoused? Was it because the one "believed" in his cause more than the other? Or was it really because Che had a better photographer than Walker and was more photogenic? Someday Castro's regime in Cuba may collapse and with the stories that will eventually emerge from it our perceptions may change, perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse. History has a funny way of altering perspective.

(Hat tip: JK)


Blogger RWE said...

Che had the immense advantage of being wrapped in an ideology that seemed to be sweeping the world. It appeared to be a sure-fire way of creating a paradise on Earth. Che was backed by a nation with nuclear weapons, jets, ballistic missiles, satellites, and vast number of people, both apparently willing and otherwise – including numerous faculty members in Western universities. And which was running the biggest scam in history. And which was running out of time, but few knew that.

Walker did not have any of that. Admittedly, he could hardly have done a worse job than the tin-hat authoritarians and communist dictators that became the norm in that part of the world. Walker may have been an advocate of slavery but Che was an advocate of universal slavery. As bad as the Old South was, it was still better than South of The Border – and it turned into something far better.

10/08/2007 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I think the Walker story is pretty interesting to remember on Columbus Day, AKA Día de la Resistencia Indígena in Venezuela.

One of the reasons the movie Apolcalypto was so controversial was because it raises the question of why, if we should hate conquerors, the timeline should begin with Columbus.

Isn't it possible to reject all tyranny and not just some?

10/08/2007 06:00:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...


You asked, "Isn't it possible to reject all tyranny and not just some?"

It seems to me that a big thing with the left is who is doing the tyrannizing, not the nature or extent of the tyranny. For some reason, the hard core left is generally only upset if they perceive Europeans, Americans, or sometimes Jews to be the who in question.

In many free trade debates there is a tremendous concern about exploitation by foreign elites. Exploitation by the home team, even if it is worse, seems inexplicably more acceptable.

In the eyes of many on the left, xenophobia is fine and dandy if practiced by some but not by others.

10/08/2007 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger Garth Farkley said...

Perhaps this footnote is interesting. I seem to recall that a jury of his peers in New Orleans acquitted him of violating US neutrality laws. At least that's what my college professor told us thirty years ago, IIRC.

10/08/2007 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/08/2007 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Brett said...

The left are willing slaves to fashion and Che’ is oh so kewl. It is the symbol of a generation of lost dreams and the symbol of self hatred (US) for the children of dope smoking anarchists. The fashion slaves can’t make anything but images so the image is more important than the un-malleable forces of reality. They are important because images are important. They will never feed the world or protect the innocent but you won’t convince them otherwise…art is important.

10/08/2007 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

“a flower that was plucked from his stem prematurely.”
- Raúl Castro

10/08/2007 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hope Angela gives a special lecture on the History of Che Conciousness.

10/08/2007 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/08/2007 07:02:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Targeting Che
The big box retailer has jumped onto the Guevara bandwagon, selling the murderous revolutionary's image as if it had just turned its stores into Marxist rally stalls.

What next? Hitler backpacks? Pol Pot cookware? Pinochet pantyhose? Target gives this monster a pass, while using common sense on almost everything else it sells.

The firm is not immune to trendy leftism. In its Community Giving program, it has given cash to artist Rupert Garcia, whose claim to fame is glorifying Guevara, something noted on Target's Web site.

All this reflects an indifference to history. For some real market research, Target ought to go to Miami, a shopper haven that is a place of exile for the 20% of Cubans who fled for their lives from Guevara's communist Cuba.
A Revolutionary Icon, and Now, a Bikini

Forty years after his death, Che Guevara is as much a marketing tool as he is an icon of socialist revolution.

10/08/2007 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger Annoymouse said...

Target and Che Guevara... priceless. Now for the big question; (WWCB) What would Che buy.

10/08/2007 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

In the movie The Sleeper the owner of The Happy Carrot health food store wakes up 200 years in the future to discover that scientists have determined that fatty food and smoking are good for you.

History, like diets, seems to go through revisions. George Armstrong Custer was once a hero, but is now widely considered a heel. The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were once gratefully hailed as miraculous endings to the most destructive war in history. Today they are sometimes seen as war crimes for which America must be punished by suffering like bombs in turn. In a hundred years the cycle may go round again.

This raises the question of course of what causes anyone can be sure are worthy enough to devote a life toward. I personally remember individuals who died as Communist guerrillas fighting for the vision of Mao Tse Tung. Recently, I had lunch with someone in that circle, who has since gone on to become an academic. While in China recently to discuss environmentalism, he prefaced his talks with references to incidents on Mao's Long March, only to be met by quizzical looks from the young audience. Later he learned that many young Chinese had never heard of any of the references he so confidently cited. In twenty years people may ask, "what was the Long March? Who was Mao?"

Sic transit gloria mundi.

10/08/2007 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


Raul Castro's imagery is intriguing.

In Edinburgh, there is a major thoroughfare called Rose Street. It is called Rose Street after the commerce once plied there, for the common phrase "plucking a rose" meant hiring the services of a prostitute.

So, considering how utterly commercialized this "flower" has become, perhaps it is more than fitting to refer to Che Guevara as "a flower that was plucked".

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

10/08/2007 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

For those who missed it in the last thread!

10/08/2007 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Mayer said...

Doug said...
“a flower that was plucked from his stem prematurely.”
- Raúl Castro

That makes me laugh, actually!

Raul and Che were very close buddies, but the clash of personality cults between Fidel and Che was legendary. It was commented at the time that the only person who could possibly match, if not surpass Fidel in all areas was Che. Both were "handsome," had great intellects, and a great lust to see not only Cuba but the world transformed into their own images. Of course this means the two would be simply incompatible! How funny for Raul to comment on his good friend and ideological brother's death when he knows, for a fact, that his own blood brother sent Che to the jungles of Bolivia specifically so that he would be killed!

10/09/2007 02:03:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

So in yet another sense it was true:
Fidel plucked him and sent him off to be harvested before he reached full bloom.

10/09/2007 02:51:00 AM  
Blogger Mitch H. said...

It's interesting that you tell Walker's story without discussing the phenomenon of filibusterism or "Commedore" Vanderbilt's role in Walker's defeats. From what little I've read of Walker, he was a lot like Che - a cold, hard, heartless military charismatic with an evangelical fervor for a repugnant and deeply evil creed, Stalinism in Che's case, slavery in Walker's.

10/09/2007 06:27:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Readers may want to visit this site for a trove of information on the life and death of Che Guevara. This site contains a pretty good account of Guevara's failed military attempts at starting a foco.

His plan to set Bolivia afire with two platoons of guerrillas, aided by a slender support cell in the city against the opposition of the local communist parties, without knowing the language, with poor maps, etc really underscores his belief in the propaganda of the deed. If you remove the mystical element what was left of his plan was a hare-brained scheme.

It is also testament to Guevara's mistaken assumption that he would be ranged against clumsy amateurs. Just as soon as professional advice appeared, in the shape of a Special Forces MTT to set the Bolivians going down the right direction, Guevara's campaign was doomed.

There was an air of the makeshift about the operation from the beginning. Their training base was so poorly chosen that curious neighbors thought the inmates at the supposed ranch were drug dealers.

It is almost pitiful to read about how Che's freshly trained cadres wandered around in the rain and mud, looking for food, his units finally getting separated, then searching fruitlessly for each other. The arrival of Regis Debray and other intellectuals in camp, eager to participate in the revolution, sent over by order from Havana, adds almost comic relief.

Tania, dispatched by Che to Argentina in January for a liaison mission with guerrilla leaders in that country, returned to Bolivia in early March. She then escorted two men, Regis Debray, the young French leftist writer, and Ciros Bustos, one of Che's Argentine contacts, to the camp. (Che had been notified of both men's upcoming visit via coded message from Havana). The trio rendezvoused in Camiri with Coco, who transported them to Nancahuazu. Tania left her jeep parked on a deserted street in the town. The vehicle eventually attracted police attention, who searched it and discovered a wealth of information about Che's foco, including a notebook listing all of his urban contacts. Whether by design or stupidity, Tania sabotaged the operation through her actions.

Guevara found himself saddled with literary tourists, who not only left a mile-wide trail leading to him, but quickly decamped after they realized how physically tough things could get. Faced with the flies, rain, mud and starvation rations, the intellectuals decided to leave just as quickly as they decently could, Regis and his companions arguing they could make a bigger contribution on the outside. They made an immediate contribution all right. Debray was immediately captured.

Debray's capture yielded vital intelligence. That plus the desertions among his men allowed the Bolivians to draw the net tighter. Che Guevara's daughter is persuaded that Debray indirectly caused Che's death.

Alcida Guevara, Che's daughter and a doctor like her father, offers a hypothesis: Debray is responsible for the Bolivian army finding Che's column, and finally, although indirectly, for his death. In statements made this August to the Buenos Aires daily Clarin, Aleida suggests that Debray's statements upon being captured in April, 1967 made the army's work easier. To facilitate Debray's exit from the jungle, she suggests, Che's column changed its original plans, lost time, and all this was taken advantage of by the military. Is this the clue to the sudden change in Debray's long and supposedly deeply held allegiances? It is quite conceivably part of it.

Guevara sent men ahead to caches only to find they had been dug up. His radio's transmitter failed. From the receiver he learned that his other platoon had been wiped out. His support cell was wiped out.

He finally arrived at the village La Higuera to find the town mayor clutching a telegram warning him that Guevara's band was en route. They sought shelter in a ravine to the west, but a Bolivian ranger company went in after them. Remarkably, some in the other squad managed to fight their way through the ambush. Guevara's himself had his M2 carbine shot out of his hands.

Then Debray's legacy is again said to have sealed his fate. The Bolivian government, anxious to avoid another propaganda carnival of the sort which attended the French intellectual's trial decided to execute him. My guess is that the Debray factor was only aggravating circumstance. Guevara was really in over his head. And it was only a matter of time before the water closed in over it.

10/09/2007 06:44:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Mitch H.,

Before the Civil War settled the fate of the North American continent, there was the chance it might split into two English speaking nations. The geopolitical vision of some in the South, the "Purple Dream" was of a great slave-owning republic stretching from the Potomac to tropical South America.

In some way you could argue that the Civil War decided more than the fate of slavery. It decided the the course of the 20th century and was in its own way, as great and world-shaking a conflict as World War 2.

10/09/2007 06:51:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: abandoned to fanatics
The outspoken former Dutch legislator deserves the protection her country promised before she ran for parliament.

10/09/2007 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

On a further tangent -- though still on the subject of semi-forgotten American "characters" -- one of my favorites is "Emperor" Norton of San Francisco.

10/09/2007 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

WRETCHARD: In some way you could argue that the Civil War decided more than the fate of slavery. It decided the the course of the 20th century and was in its own way, as great and world-shaking a conflict as World War 2.

I agree that the Civil War was the first Total War, but it only hastened the end of slavery and made a clean break. If the South had obtained victory, by the 1920s (era of Prohibition and gasoline-powered tractors) they would have been morally shamed and economically brow-beaten into ending slavery and tooling up factories.

10/09/2007 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

First total war:

The term "Total war" has been used for some time. WWI, WWII and the Napoleonic Wars have been mentioned as Total Wars.

10/09/2007 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Davod: The term "Total war" has been used for some time. WWI, WWII and the Napoleonic Wars have been mentioned as Total Wars.

Elements of the British naval blockade of Europe during the Napoleonic wars looked like a strategy of Total War, but not until the US Civil War was the entire transportation and industrial infrastructure and agricultural and fighting manpower of two nations fully engaged in winning a war. A soldier from the trenches around Petersburg in the winter of 1865 would have found the Western Front in 1916 France sickeningly familiar.

10/09/2007 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger glacierbear said...

Wretchard- At the time, I wondered why Patty Hearst was given the name "Tonya" by the SLA. Was Che's Tania her namesake? Given your narrative, I see the connect on several levels. Not really important or deep, but interesting....

10/09/2007 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Craigicus said...

To have been Che might not be the great thing folks think it is.

Here, the Iranians are trying to suck out the remaining Che flash and spirit..

10/09/2007 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger j willie said...


If the South had obtained victory, by the 1920s (era of Prohibition and gasoline-powered tractors) they would have been morally shamed and economically brow-beaten into ending slavery and tooling up factories.

1. The South would never have had a "Prohibition".
2. Gasoline powered tractors had little economic impact on Southern agriculture until the 1950's and 60's. My father farmed 2000 acres in 1960 with 100 mules, 300 workers and two 100 hp tractors using 4-row equipment, and he was a progressive farmer. By 1980, he farmed 6000 acres with no mules, a dozen 250 hp tractors using 8-12 row equipment, and 25 workers.
3. Factories prior to the advent of air conditioning? I don't think so.

Nevertheless, had the South won the Civil War, its people would not have had to carry the anger, guilt and shame of losing the war and the humiliation of Reconstruction. Consequently, perhaps the negative energies arising from those emotions would not have been vented upon the former slaves who had been freed ("taken away") by the victors.

In the entirely different psychological state that would have accompanied victory, one could see a plausible scenario whereby the South, being in control of its own destiny and eager to establish itself as a morally upright nation, could have found a viable political solution to the economic issues attached to ending slavery. In this scenario, one could also see that the transition from slave to voting citizen would not have taken 100 years.

A nice alternative reality, which may in fact have occurred in an alternative universe...

10/09/2007 11:59:00 PM  

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