To the Editor: December 23, 1987
Erick D. Langer in his review (HAHR, 67: 3) of my book, Bolivia: Press and Revolution, 1932-1964 states that “Knudson does not prove his central contention that La Calle and other newspapers were historical actors that helped shape the events during the period in question (p. 542). "
It is impossible to “prove” the effects on public opinion of newspapers of a bygone era. All one can do is lay out the historical record from the newspapers themselves—as I do in detail in my book—and interpret the data as best one can. In the case of my research, the preponderance of evidence suggests that the opposition press was indeed an important catalyst in the Bolivian Revolution.
Langer seems not to have grasped this premise. For example, he takes me to task for the “distorted viewpoint” of relying exclusively on MNR newspapers for an analysis of tin magnate Simón I. Patiño, “hardly a complete or objective source.” Of course not. The object was to present the propaganda image of Patiño as put forth in the combative MNR press.
Finally, my approach to the use of newspapers in historical methodology is not new. One need cite only Philip Davidson, Propaganda and the American Revolution (1941) or Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., Prelude to Independence: The Newspaper War on Britain, 1764-1776 (1958) as two examples of such an approach. Yet many historians are still loathe to consider newspapers as anything other than the chroniclers of events.
Temple University jerry W. knudson
To the Editor: February 26, 1988
Let me reiterate my main criticism in a slightly different form. I gladly concede that La Calle and other newspapers might have played a central role in the triumph of the 1952 revolution. My contention revolves around a methodological issue, namely what sources one might use to show that this was the case. It seems to me necessary (and eminently feasible) to go beyond just what the MNR newspapers claimed and attempt to measure the significance of these newspapers as political actors by the importance that other newspapers and political figures of the era gave to these periodicals. For example, among other strategies, the author might have consulted the vast collection of periodicals in the National Archives in Sucre or interviewed the many personalities of the era of various political persuasions who are still alive today. In this fashion, Knudson could also have provided the reader with an analysis of the larger context rather than simply repeat MNR propaganda.
I agree with Knudson that newspapers probably were important historical actors. Unfortunately, because of its fatal methodological flaw, this is not the book that shows or even suggests convincingly that this was the case.
Sucre, Bolivia erick D. langer
To the Editor: December 14, 1987
Having devoted many years to the study of the writings, speeches, and other works by Ernesto Che Guevara, I wish to call your attention to an unfortunate piece of research on Major Guevara that found its way into your magazine. It happened some 21 years ago, but I believe that it is never too late to correct the historic record. I am referring to “A New Old Che Guevara Interview,” by William E. Ratliff, published in the August 1966 issue of HAHR, pp. 288-300. In this piece, Ratliff offered—“for the first time in a complete English translation”—comments purportedly made by Guevara to the New China News Agency (NCNA) in April 1959, as reported in June 5, 1959 by the Chinese journal Shih Chieh Chih-shih (World Knowledge).
Except for the opening statement (which he termed “suspect”), Ratliff pronounced the interview authentic. World Knowledges piece was actually a blatant fraud. Some 2, 400 words out of the 3, 600-word “interview” were directly lifted from a speech that Guevara had made three months before he met in Cuba with two NCNA correspondents, on or around April 18, 1959. Delivered in Havana on January 27, 1959, this speech had since figured prominently in every collection of Guevara’s works published around the world. (Known in Spanish as “Proyecciones sociales del Ejército Rebelde,” the January 27, 1959 speech has been published in English as “Social Ideas of the Rebel Army,” or, more literally, “Social Projections of the Rebel Army.”) Concluding that most comments made by Guevara in the NCNA “interview” were “generally in line with what [he] is known to have said on other occasions early in 1959” (p. 289), Ratliff proved his point by directing the reader’s attention to “Proyecciones sociales del Ejército Rebelde.” Yet, he lacked any first-hand knowledge of “Proyecciones.” His sole source for this speech by Guevara was a 400-word account provided by Theodore Draper in his Castroism: Theory and Practice (Praeger, 1965, pp. 60-61).
Draper’s book was indeed Ratliff’s sole background on Guevara. This is further revealed by his discussion of Draper’s opening statement. In this regard, Draper is, again, Ratliff’s only source in connection with comments made by Guevara through the years concerning Mao’s military writings and the conduct of the rebels’ 1957-58 campaign in the Sierra Maestra.
Had he taken the precaution of checking the “interview” against the full text of “Proyecciones”—as was his scholarly duty—Ratliff could not have failed to realize that nearly two-thirds of the piece published by World Knowledge had been reproduced, word by word, from that speech.
It is indeed ironic that the author—in explaining why he chose to undertake a “relatively literal translation” of the Chinese “interview”—advised his readers that “[i]t will be immediately obvious to those acquainted with any of Guevara’s interviews in Spanish that this translation does not always ‘sound like’ Guevara” (p. 290). In view of Ratliff’s failure to recognize NCNA’s concoction, I strongly doubt his acquaintance with Guevara at all. As a matter of fact, for anyone seriously familiar with Guevara’s works, even in Ratliff’s “relatively literal translation,” the “interview” published by World Knowledge readily reveals itself as a literal transcript of entire portions of “Proyecciones sociales del Ejército Rebelde.”
Unfortunately, since Ratliff’s “discovery,” several unaware editors helped to perpetuate the fraud by including the piece by NCNA in several collections of Guevara’s works, such as Che: Selected Works of Ernesto Guevara (Rolando E. Bonachea and Nelson P. Valdes, MIT Press, 1969), Che Guevara Speaks (George Lavan, Merit Publishers, 1967), Ernesto Che Guevara, Oeuvres inédits (François Maspero, 1972).
New York Carlos Varela