A long, long, time ago I picked up an excellent biography on Che Guevara. For those not interested in my review on that, the short version is that he was a passionate individual who fought for what he believed in but abandoned everyone around him to do so (like his pregnant wife in Mexico). Che is definitely a deep, complex character, and the biography I had read definitely portrayed this nicely. So this time around I stumbled on Che’s famous manual Guerrilla Warfare and decided to give it a read.
Guerrila Warfare falls into the “short but sweet” category of books – it says exactly what it needs to say and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It sells itself as the how-to guide of guerrilla wars, but the introduction tells us it really is more of a short history of how the Cuban guerrilla war was fought. The book focuses on both the practical aspects of warfare as well as the theoretical, and most of the interesting revelations for me were things that are completely obvious in retrospect but not ahead of time. For example, Che repeatedly tells us of the value of having quality shoes and good tasting food to keep morale high, which is definitely true but not immediately obvious to someone like me who has never been in war before.
Three other ideas stood out for me from the pack. First is Che’s insistence that terrorism is not acceptable under any conditions. His train of thought is also easy to understand here: the goal of the insurgency is to gain the support of the people, and committing actions that kill innocents definitely does not further that goal. Sabotage (destruction of military targets) is acceptable since it does not kill innocents, and Che makes it a point to distinguish between terrorism and sabotage. The second interesting point for me was that non-traditional roles, such as doctors, women, and chefs, are highly valued. Part of this is because, as you’d expect, these specialists are rare compared to soldiers, and in the case of chefs, the job is not particularly glorious so most people would rather be on the front lines as soldiers instead. However, as previously mentioned, having good tasting food greatly improves the squalid living conditions that guerrilla war imposes, so having a chef that can cook decent food goes a long way. Finally, there’s a short section that details how to convert a shotgun into a grenade launcher. But it actually gets even better: it’s a molotov cocktail launcher! There’s a picture that goes along with it that makes it easy to understand and the discussion of when exactly you would use this weapon was very interesting to me.
Overall the book is a good read – if you didn’t read Che’s biography because you were daunted by the length of that book, this book is much shorter and gives a good feel for the Cuban revolution part of it. It definitely is no substitute for reading about Che’s entire life, but is a good fun read and does detail very specifically how a successful guerrilla war was fought, as well as what was important to remember along the way for both sides.