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Che Guevara at the Bay of Pigs

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Castro and his groupies hail The Bay of Pigs as his crowning glory: “Imperialism’s First Defeat!” Never mind that Castro’s forces got one of the most inglorious stompings in modern military history.

Castro and his groupies hail Che Guevara as the chief icon of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba’s most dashing and masterful military man. Never mind that Che’s military exploits made Rufus T. Firefly’s defense of Freedonia look like Mc Auliffe’s of Bastogne.

So why do we never hear, see or read anything from the usual sources regarding Che Guevara at the Bay of Pigs, where he was actually wounded? Why did Soderbergh and del Toro’s recent Che movie, so closely-mentored by Castro’s very propaganda ministry, somehow "overlook” Che’s glorious role in the epic victory?

Because a historically accurate depiction of Che Guevara's military exploits (in general) and during the Bay of Pigs (in particular) would be impossible to direct and cast without the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus, who are getting up there in years. That’s why. To wit: The invasion plan for what came to be known as the Bay of Pigs included a CIA squad dispatching three rowboats off the coast of western Cuba (350 miles from the true invasion site) loaded with time-release roman candles, bottle rockets, mirrors and a tape recording of battle.

The wily Che immediately deciphered the imperialist scheme! That little feint three hundred miles away at the Bay of Pigs was a transparent ruse! The REAL invasion was coming here in Pinar Del Rio! (western Cuba.) So Che stormed over with several thousand troops dug in, locked, loaded and waited for the "Yankee/mercenary" attack. The Castroites braced themselves as the sparklers, smoke bombs mirrors, and tape recorded pops, bangs and whistles did their stuff just offshore.

Three days later the (literal) smoke and mirror show expended itself whereupon Che and his men marched back eastward, without having fired a shot.

Now Che could taunt the (safely captured and disarmed) freedom-fighters, including Manel Menendez who parachuted into the inferno of Soviet firepower known as the Bay of Pigs and ripped into the Communists to his very last bullet, helping his band of-brothers inflict casualties of 20-1 against their Soviet-led and-armed enemies. During dinner with your humble servant here many years later, Manel described Che's visit. "We'd all run out of ammo and been captured and herded into an enclosure," he recalls. "And so who finally shows up--it’s Che Guevara himself! He approached us strutting and sneering as usual. He strutted up and looked around with that famous sneer of his. Then he started snickering. Many of us were wounded, but one of our guys faced him down and said, "Well I guess you'll send us all to the paredón (firing squad) now, right, Che?"

"No!" Che snapped. "No paredón. We're gonna hang all of you—and slowly! The firing squad's too good for you."

"I was standing close to Che at the time," recalls Señor Menendez, "and got a close-up of his face when he was talking. It was plain from the way his eyes lit up that the man was sick, mentally ill, a bona-fide sadist. Sure, most military commanders or some wartime leaders -- Patton, Chesty Puller, Winston Churchill, whatever -- bad-mouth and taunt enemy soldiers. But that's during combat, to get the troops fired up for the kill, etc. Here, the combat was over. We were uniformed adversaries, but completely disarmed. So look, don't even ask me what I think when I see him on a T-shirt, or when I see him presented as some kinda military genius!"

Shortly after this visit, Che took a bullet, which pierced his chin and exited above his temple, just missing his brain. The scar is visible in all post-April '61 pictures of the gallant Che (the picture we see on posters and T-shirts was shot a year earlier).

Did one of the freedom-fighters hide a pistol? Did he decide: “Well, I’m a goner for sure. But at least I’m taking this swine down with me!”

Nothing of the sort. The bullet came from Che’s own pistol when he either dropped it or accidently hit the trigger while blustering and waving it under his chin.

“Che’s contribution to the Bay of Pigs victory was crucial,” writes Che hagiographer Jorge Castaneda, also a new York Times contributor and Columbia, Princeton and Harvard visiting Professor. “Che's military leadership was permeated by an indomitable will that permitted extraordinary feats."

“Extraordinary” is certainly one way of putting it.

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