Jon Lee Anderson

Che: A Revolutionary Life

During their trek, Che also made his debut as a dentist. Without anesthesia to give his hapless patients, he used what he called "psychological anesthesia," which consisted of cursing at his patients if they complained too much. He proved successful with Israel Pardo, but when it came to Joel Iglesias, he found it impossible, writing later that he would have needed a stick of dynamite to extract the rotten molar. The stubborn tooth remained in Joel's mouth, broken in several places, until the end of the war, and Joel claimed the experience gave him a lifelong terror of dentists. Although Che suffered from toothache himself during the trip, he wisely left his own teeth alone. 265

Over the next chaotic week of combat, there developed a new, almost comical focus to the fighting—the army tank Che had captured at Las Mercedes. Indicative of just how small-scale the Cuban revolution really was, the single tank was a grand prize Fidel wanted to preserve at all costs, and the enemy just as desperately sought its destruction. Enemy planes were repeatedly sent on sorties to bomb it, while Fidel and his forces tried to extract it from where it sat, stuck fast in the mud of a road.

All the exertions on both sides proved fruitless; the tank remained resolutely unscathed. On August 5, Fidel commissioned a peasant with a team of oxen to drag it free, but in the process its steering wheel was broken, and there was little hope of repairing it. “Hopes dashed,” Fidel wrote Che that night. “It had been a long time since I’ve had such great pipe dreams.” 333.

Menendez recalled Che’s reaction when he was told by the Cuban ambassador in Tokyo that he was expected to go the next day to lay a wreath at Japan’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier commemorating the men lost in World War II. Che reacted violently. "No way I'll go! That was an imperialist army that killed millions of Asians…And I won't go. Where I will go is to Hiroshima, where the Americans killed one hundred thousand Japanese." 431

Several "gusanos" were arrested after firing bazookas at the UN building from across the East River. Elsewhere, a woman was prevented from trying to stab Che with a knife as he entered. Throughout the ruckus, Che maintained his composure and seemed delighted at the anger he had aroused. To the shouted insults of the gusano protesters, he raised his hands in that universally understood gesture meaning "Fuck you." 618