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Book Reviews: Hell No and Who Killed Che? 

click to enlarge Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-First-Century America, Michael Ratner & Margaret Ratner Kunstler, The New Press, 2011, $17.95
  • Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-First-Century America, Michael Ratner & Margaret Ratner Kunstler, The New Press, 2011, $17.95

Regarding the subject of US intervention abroad, the membrane between fact and conspiracy theory can prove perilously thin, simply because the details often beggar belief.

However, official documents released only recently offer ample evidence that the American government attempted, during the 20th century, to overthrow heads of state in Korea, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Iraq, Costa Rica, Haiti, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic.

In most cases, American-backed operatives failed their missions. In some cases, they succeeded—notably the assassination of Chile's Allende and the bloody reign of Pinochet.

As suggested by its breathless title, Who Killed Che? makes no apology for its partisan stance. But this investigative study, written by two lawyers from the nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights, balances its (admittedly relentless) leftist hue and cry with meticulous documentation. In a lean 77 pages—buttressed by 111 pages of declassified government documents—Ratner and Smith focus on a salient example of US government aggression in foreign affairs: the 1967 battle between the Bolivian government and a group of insurgents led by revolutionary (and T-shirt icon) Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

"Che, of all the guerilla fighters of that period," the authors assert with signature grandiosity, "exemplified the success of guerilla warfare against US imperialism. His death," they add, "was critical to the US, to ensure that the example of the Cuban revolution would not inspire other revolutionary movements."

click to enlarge Who Killed Che? How the CIA - Got Away with Murder, Michael Ratner & Michael Steven Smith, OR Books, 2011, $16
  • Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away with Murder, Michael Ratner & Michael Steven Smith, OR Books, 2011, $16

Guevara was a fragile asthmatic, born to wealthy Argentineans who settled into a bohemian life. These political dissidents transmitted their fervor to their eldest son. By college, Guevara had embraced Marxism. He became a doctor, but was equally eager to heal the body politic. In 1953, Guevara moved to Guatemala and saw firsthand the power of American colonialism; United Fruit Company, backed by the government, had installed a literal banana republic to ensure unimpeded profits. Guevara fled, but his commitment to vanquish American-led puppet governments had been bolstered.

Guevara would soon join forces with Fidel Castro to overthrow the US supported government of Cuba's Fulgencio Batista. When Castro took control of the tiny island on January 8, 1959, it was a jubilant time. What the authors sidestep is how quickly Castro became dictator and made Communism a yoke of the common man.

Guevara's pledge to bring freedom to other countries took him to the Congo and, in late 1966, to the volatile republic of Bolivia, where he took charge of a band of guerrillas. How readers respond to his subsequent struggle, capture, and execution will depend on whether they view the man as a revolutionary hero or as a zealot who believed the ends justify the violent means. Clearly, Ratner and Smith favor the former perspective. Yet even if the saga of Che Guevara does not move the reader, the sorry history of US intervention in foreign countries should appear in textbooks starting in elementary school.

Olivebridge resident Ratner co-authored a second 2011 release with Margaret Ratner Kunstler. Now that American corporations have the same rights as individuals, their book Hell No is more a practical survival guide than an alarmist call to arms. Produced by the Center for Constitutional Rights, it offers legal defense for citizens living under the far-reaching intrusions allowed by the insidious Patriot Act. This book should be a mainstay in every household—complemented by a "Don't Tread on Me" flag.

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