Death Creates Icons: Che Guevara and Osama bin Laden

They uncovered his face, now clear and serene, and bared the chest wracked by 40 years of asthma and months of hunger in the wilds of the Bolivian southeast. Then they laid him out in the laundry room at the hospital of Nuestra Señora de Malta, raising his head so all could look upon the fallen prey. As they placed him on the concrete slab, they … asked the nurse to wash him, comb his hair, and trim the sparse beard. By the time journalists and curious townspeople began to file past, the metamorphosis was complete: the dejected, angry and disheveled man of the day before was now the Christ of Vallegrande … The Bolivian army had made its only field error after capturing its greatest war trophy. It had transformed the resigned and cornered revolutionary … into the magical image of life beyond death. His executioners had bestowed a human face upon the myth that would circle the world.”


Thus began Jorge Castañeda’s touching biography, “Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara“. After Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of the U.S. Marines on May 2nd, Time magazine invited him to write an essay on iconicity of death (link), which concludes:

We do know a lesson we learned nearly half a century ago, that the best way to avoid an effigy of martyrdom is to dispose of the material basis for it. But there is a downside to no face, no body and no picture: in the eyes of many, insufficient proof of death. Skepticism vs. glorification — not an easy choice.”

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Jerry Nelson is an American freelance photojournalist.  When not traveling, he can be found on the streets of Buenos Aires as Lead Photographer for BuenosTours, the largest private tour company in South America.  Connect with Jerry on MosaicHub, Facebook or LinkedIn today.  Have a story that needs to reach national media?  Email him today.

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