Don’t be surprised this Christmas season if you run smack into a cold, calculating, communist killing machine during your trip to the mall.

Chances are good you will see visages of a man who ordered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocents to the firing squads.

And if you visit the hip chain stores, you will no doubt encounter the face of a man who very nearly triggered a nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Where will you see all this? Pictured on T-shirts sold in hip chain stores and produced by capitalist companies.

T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Fidel Castro’s partner in crime, are an increasingly hot item – particularly among teenagers who have little idea who the Argentine revolutionary really was. Che imagery has reached a kind of fashion tipping point.

Shoppers who don’t get to the mall much might be in for a little culture shock when they see shirts, caps, posters and berets commemorating Che at stores like Anchor Blue, Hot Topic and Mainland Skate and Surf.

The Che trend has only been heightened by the release of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” a movie depicting the 23-year-old medical student adventuring through South America by motorcycle. Another film, focusing more on Guevara’s revolutionary years, is scheduled to hit theaters in 2005.

What’s the definition of irony? How about a terrorist leader who died fighting for anti-capitalist ideals fueling multimillion-dollar profits for the fashion and film industries?

Baby wearing Che T-shirt

Not even some hard-core leftists are happy about the trend.

Marcos Contreras, a Mexican-American literature professor at Modesto Junior College, was asked about the Che fashion explosion: “Him being commercialized, it doesn’t carry the meaning it used to. For the Chicanos, he always had appeal in the ’60s and ’70s. During the rallies we always had a picture of Che and Zapata. The sad thing is today a lot of people don’t really know who Che was.”

There’s even a website where you can buy lots of Che Guevara memorabilia. It was started by John Trigiani, a man who has traveled to Cuba frequently and admits Guevara is probably rolling over in his grave at the thought of a Che Store.

Exclusive rights of the haunting, 1960-era, black-and-white line image of Guevara’s face were purchased by David McWilliams, corporate executive officer of Fashion Victim. A substantial portion of Fashion Victim’s $4 million to $5 million in sales last year came from Che merchandise.

How many of the purchasers of those products know the real Guevara? How many of them care?

Guevara was born in Argentina in 1928 and originally trained to become a doctor at the University of Buenos Aires. In 1952, he embarked on the trip dramatized in “The Motorcycle Diaries” across South America. After returning to Buenos Aires to complete his medical degree, Guevara set off again to travel through the Americas. He participated in leftist movements in Guatemala and Mexico and became acquainted with Cuban expatriates in those countries. He joined Castro’s revolutionary Cuban army in 1956 as a top commander and Castro’s personal physician. He helped Castro topple the regime in Havana in 1959.

As Castro’s right-hand man in the new regime, Guevara ordered the execution of hundreds of people while in charge of the notorious La Cabaña prison in Havana. He was unapologetic about the mass killings of innocent people, explaining, “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.”

Pure hate. It wasn’t the first time Guevara used the expression, nor the last. He explained how it must be a tool in the arsenal of revolutionary terrorists – permitting them to do things they would otherwise never be able to accomplish.

“Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine – this is what our soldiers must become,” Guevara said.

During the Cuban missile crisis, Guevara was in favor of a nuclear war with the U.S. because he believed that a better world could be built from the ashes, regardless of the cost in millions of lives. He was overruled by cooler heads in the Kremlin and in Cuba. The nuclear missiles headed for Cuba, 90 miles from the U.S., were returned to Russia.

Disgraced by the slight, Guevara went to create new revolutionary movements and wage armed struggle in Africa and Latin America. He was killed in the jungles of Bolivia in 1967.

Guevara was proud of the fact that he personally put bullets in the backs of the heads of many he considered counter-revolutionary.

Once again, in rallying his guerrillas in Angola, he wrote: “Blind hate against the enemy creates a forceful impulse that cracks the boundaries of natural human limitations, transforming the soldier in an effective, selective and cold killing machine. A people without hate cannot triumph against the adversary.”

“Che was a Marxist soldier who aided the Cuban revolution,” says Darrow. “He advocated the philosophy of communism, which is responsible for over 100 million murders, and he personally supervised the executions of scores of people himself.”

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