By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Such reasoning was assailed by some on the left who objected to making the images public. British journalist Robert Fisk claimed that such “macabre theatre” made the U.S. resemble Saddam’s Baathist regime; the World Socialist Web railed against “the primitive and savage mentality of Bush, Rumsfeld and company. These are people to whom placing the head of an enemy on a pike on the gates of a city is not an unthinkable act.” Aw, c’mon. It’s typical of the left’s current self-defeating myopia that these fire-breathers should become outraged at merely seeing gruesome photos of leaders who actually did the things they accuse Bush and Rumsfeld of dreaming about. The Hussein family has publicly beheaded prostitutes, hanged “Zionist plotters” in Baghdad’s mockingly named Liberation Square and ordered summary executions by the thousands; the splendid Uday not only committed rape, but if his victims dared complain, he sent their families a box containing their chopped-up bodies. While broadcasting pictures of their corpses brings no honor or splendor to our national life — this is morally coarse behavior — I don’t exactly picture Uday and Qusay Hussein as human-rights victims.
When I first saw their corpses, I instantly thought of another image of politicized death — the famous last photo of Che Guevara’s body, surrounded by his captors, after his execution in Vallegrande, Bolivia, on October 9, 1967. The memory seemed especially apt as July 26 marked the 50th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s failed assault on the Moncado barracks in Santiago de Cuba, an uprising that landed him a 15-year jail term. He was given amnesty 21 months later (talk about your boo-boos), and with Guevara’s help, toppled strongman Fulgencio Batista and set about turning into a tyrant himself. He spent the next 40-odd years thinking about tractors, health care and staying in power, a task at which he proved so dauntingly efficient that today his most avid admirers are his amigo Gabriel García Márquez and such Hollywood caudillos as Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone, surely the last people on the planet to believe Fidel is still cool.
Guevara still is, remaining forever exalted in his martyrdom as “Che.” And the photo of his dead body is central to his legend, just as the great left-wing writer John Berger predicted in a brilliant 1967 piece, “Image of Imperialism” (reprinted in Selected Essays). Comparing the photo to paintings by Rembrandt and Mantegna, Berger argued that, while the image of the dead Guevara had been designed to demonstrate the absurdity of revolution, it was going to produce precisely the opposite effect. For Guevara represented the idea of human freedom. “He was the world symbol of the possibilities of one man,” Berger approvingly quoted a stranger as saying. And though Guevara was often headlong and inattentive (rather like George W. Bush, he could be careless about the peace that followed his battles), his failings ultimately count for very little because he symbolized the boundless willingness to fight against intolerable circumstances. As he wrote in his farewell letter to his children, “Always be capable of feeling any injustice committed against anyone anywhere in the world.”
After the broadcast of the photos of the dead Hussein brothers, the Swiss publication Le Temps wondered if “the picture of the bearded Qusay, vaguely reminiscent of the dead Che Guevara, might risk becoming a similar kind of icon for Arab youth.” You never know, but I’d bet against it. Neither Uday nor Qusay, let alone their old man, comes close to representing anyone’s ideal of freedom or heroic resistance. They stand for murder, rapine and terror — the naked exercise of power. Once they’re killed, they’re finished. Not so Guevara. Thirty-six years after his death, the world is crawling with those who want to come dressed in his image (including countless Gen-X ad men eager to appropriate his “brand”). Five years from now, the only ones who’ll be wearing pictures of Uday or Qusay are clueless punk bands and smart-ass teens who want to piss off their high school principals.
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