The Introduction Of King Leopold History Essay
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Hochschild notes, African explorers became some of the first international celebrity figures, their fame crossing national boundaries like that of todays champion athletes and movie stars (Chpt. 1, p. 27). Europeans were motivated since the fifteenth century to explore, conquer, trade and inhabit the mysterious lands they considered "empty" and up for grabs by westerners. Africa was seen as empty in their eyes because it was populated by non-Christian native people who had a primeval civilization. Tribal societies were not reflected as real civilizations with a recognized government. Many tribal people did not have stable settlements and were alleged as passing through or camping since they did not have an idea of land ownership. What was called the Scramble for Africa refers to the idea that Africa was one of the last unmapped and unexplored places on earth for Europeans in the nineteenth century. Other foreign places had been taken, such as India, the Americas, Australia, and Pacific islands. Africa was considered dark, mysterious, and dangerous, but early on, its riches drew the English, Dutch, Germans, French, Portuguese, and finally, the Belgians to risk their lives to tame it. Gold, ivory, diamonds, rubber, and minerals were the incentives that appealed the colonial powers needing more and more raw materials for their own industrial and commercial interests.
Sir Henry Morton Stanley was an explorer who finally conquered the Congo River in the nineteenth century. He was financially supported by King Leopold, who secretly purchased the Congo and developed its substructure before anyone was mindful of his purposes. Morton was born in the Welsh town of Denbigh on January 28, 1841, an illegitimate child raised in a British workhouse. John was a good student and won prizes for his work. As a teenager, he lived with various relatives and then signed on to an American merchant ship. At New Orleans, he jumped ship and worked for a cotton merchant as J. Rolling or John Rollins. He was optimistic and created many stories about himself. He was to become the most famous explorer of his time. He became a soldier of fortune in America. He usually passed himself off as American since America was a place one was able to hide one's identity. Morten became a big man in the Congo. He was maintained by a king, and the dictator of any voyage he led. One man and voyage made Morton famous. This man was David Livingstone. David Livingstone was a British physician and explorer who had been exploring in Africa for eras, looking for the source of the Nile. He was a nationwide hero in England for being the first white man to go across the African continent from coast to coast. When he became lost in the 1860s a New York Herald publisher, James Gordon Bennett, sent Henry Morton Stanley to find him. Bennett sent Morton to get stories for his newspaper. In 1872 Stanley found Livingstone at Lake Tanganyika and consequently became famous. Stanley's book is the single source of this now legendary story, but it made Stanley's fame. From the beginning, he bragged of his violence and how he would shoot anyone who got in his way.
Leopold II of Belgium was a German prince related to the British royal family. Leopold followed Stanley's career in the newspapers. Belgium had become independent in 1830 as a constitutional domain, a small nation of French and Flemish speakers. Leopold was never interested in his studies, but more interested in business and money. Leopold's father had portrayed him as a sly fox, and Hochschild agrees: "Stealth and dissembling would be his trusted devices" (Hochschild, 34-35). He married the Hapsburg Archduchess Marie-Henriette, and the two hated one another, but had four children, three daughters and a son who died young. After the death of his son, Leopold neglected his daughters and wife. Leopold was motivated and ruthless for colonies. He wanted to compete with other European powers that were accumulating wealth from their colonies. He was always looking for land to buy and researched ways to make money and obtain land. He visited the British colonies and read a treatise on how to manage a colony. The coffee, sugar, and tobacco plantations of Java had paid for railroads and canals in Holland, and he envisioned the same for Belgium. Leopold began to grow his motivation for defeat of Africa by using the common public arguments for exploration: "Curbing the slave trade, moral uplift, and the advancement of science" by mapping the continent (Hochschild, 42). Leopold intentionally planned his image as a humanitarian and philanthropist by holding international conferences. In 1876 he held a Geographical Conference in Brussels. Representatives of all the European countries were there as well as famous African explorers. The king fascinated his guests with speech about needing to civilize Africa and "'pierce the darkness'" by a crusade of scientific discovery (Hochschild, 44). He discussed about of eliminating the slave trade and generating peace. The conference ended in the creation of the International African Association with Leopold as chairman. Leoplod now had a cover-up with this organization. Leopold was obsessed with money and power and believed Africa was the best place to find a colony.
Leopold was forty-three and Stanley was thirty-seven when they met in 1878. Stanley was able to tell the king that the Congo held the ability to have a powerful transportation system, the Congo had no military threat from the tribal people, and there was no central political state there. They knew that centuries of slave-hunting had weakened the tribal organizations. There were two hundred ethnic groups speaking four hundred languages. The disintegration would make victory easy. Stanley agreed to work for the kind and return to the Congo. They agreed that Stanley would set up a base at the river's mouth and then build a road around the rapids as a precursor to a railroad. Gatekeepers would carry steamboats in pieces up the rapids, assemble the boats, and then build a chain of trading stations on the river. Leopold was mostly concerned with ivory. Stanley was not sure who he was working for, the king, the International African Association, or the new committee called the Committee for Studies of the Upper Congo, whose stockholders were Dutch and British businessmen and a Belgian banker who held Leopold's stock in proxy. Leopold was still playing the philanthropist. Stanley was sworn to secrecy about this new "scientific" exploration. Leopold did not want to tell his own country or any opponents about his real objectives. Leopold bought out other shareholders of the committee, and he continued to refer to the committee as if it were a real operation. He then created another cover group called the International Association of the Congo, which sounded a lot like the original group he created. The new organization used the flag of the gold star on a blue background and became symbolic of the new governing force of the Congo. For five years Stanley managed crews that made a trail around the rapids up which were moved supplies. The station at the top was called Leopoldville. Stanley was a cruel and many blacks died while constructing the road. He rationalized his cruelty by saying the Africans were lazy. Leopold still let other believe that the African project had no profitable purpose, Leopold gave specific instructions to Stanley to buy land and get the chiefs to sign treaties. At this point Stanley had an army and was a good leader and Leopold had British legal counsel, which told him that private companies could act as sovereign countries when making treaties with natives. Leopold told Stanley to lead his army up and down the river and get the treaties signed. These treaties gave his organization everything. Stanley made 450 Congo chiefs sign treaties which granted Leopold a complete trading monopoly. Leopold carried on telling people who questioned this that he was opening Africa to free trade. Hochschild references that the chiefs had no idea what they were signing, and furthermore, the introduction of alcohol to the natives was "as effective as the machine gun" (Hochschild, 72). Due to these Treaties, the king now had a complete trading monopoly in an area half the size of the United States.
As attention was turned towards Africa, Leopold needed some country to recognize his Congo claim as authentic. To Stanley, Leopold said there would be a "confederation of free negro republics" under the Belgian king, but one of Leopold's secretaries clarified to Stanley that the blacks would have no power; only the whites would have power (Hocshchild, 67). Hochschild discusses Leopold's efforts to get his claim of the Congo recognized by world governments. Leopold used General Henry Shelton Sanford, the man who had helped to recruit Stanley, to influence Washington officials and President Chester A. Arthur. Sanford was a supporter of Arthur's Republican Party. He had been corresponding with Arthur and other officials about Leopold's plans for the Congo. Sanford and Leopold had a special telegraph code to pass news back and forth about Sanford's progress in Washington. Leopold wanted full American diplomatic recognition of his Congo state. In 1883, Sanford visited the White House to explain "Leopold's great work of civilization" (Hocshchild, 77). He implied that American citizens would be free to buy land in the Congo and that American goods would be free of duties. Even Sanford was convinced that Leopold wanted free trade. Sanford moved on to lobby Congress, finding an ally in Senator John Tyler Morgan of Alabama, who wanted the freed slaves in the south to go back to Africa. Leopold's new state seemed to be a perfect opportunity for African Americans. In 1884 Sanford introduced a Senate resolution recognizing Leopold's Congo; it passed. Leopold also pulled some tricky moves to get the French government to recognize him by playing on their fears of possible British claims in Africa. They gladly agreed to his demand, thinking they might be able to buy out Leopold's Congo in the future. No one understood the exact borders of the Congo territory, thanks to Leopold's "sleight of hand" (Hochschild, 82). The whole description gradually changed from a federation of states to one colony ruled by one man.
Chancellor Bismarck of Germany hosted a Berlin conference on the Congo in 1884-1885, to which European nations were invited, but, as Hochschild notes, "Not a single African" (Hochschild, 84). The Berlin Conference was part of an effort to divide Africa among its colonial claimants, and everyone got a piece of the cake except the Africans. Everyone at the conference was still under the notion Leopold was opening the Congo to free trade. From this time on, Leopold sometimes called himself the "proprietor" of the Congo, and sometimes, "King-Sovereign" (Hochschild , 87). The colony, however, belonged to him and not to the Belgian government. In 1885 he announced that the area be called the Congo Free State. Hochschild gives convincing evidence of Leopold's "sleight of hand" in his diplomacy. Leopold would often change the wording of resolutions and documents kept changing to confuse the readers about what kind of a state the Congo as well as who was running it. Leopold seemed to be a caring philanthropist who took it upon himself to open the Congo territory to the world without expecting any recompense. He hid behind his committee, the International Association of the Congo, in which he was the sole shareholder. No one looked too closely because he was developing a deserted piece of land that had not as yet been recognized as valuable. He was fronting the money for the infrastructure, and other governments like France assumed they might buy out Leopold once he got things running. Leopold and his agents played on the hopes and fears of governments to get them to agree to his sovereignty over the Congo. For America, the carrot was the idea of free trade and a place to send disgruntled African-Americans. He also skillfully used the traditional animosity between Britain and France to get them to agree to what he wanted.
Before Morel there was another man who figured out what Leopold was up to. This man was George Washington Williams. Williams was the first pronounced revolutionist and public witness of what Leopold was really up to in the Congo. Williams was a black American journalist and historian. He arrived to evaluate the place as a potential opportunity for black Americans who might want to go back to Africa. Williams was born in Pennsylvania in 1849 and enlisted with the Union Army during the Civil War. He attended both Howard University and Newton Theological Institution, becoming pastor of a Baptist church in Boston. In Washington D. C. he started a black newspaper, the Commoner. He moved around as both pastor and newspaperman. At thirty, he was elected as the first black member of the Ohio state legislature. He wrote a massive pioneering history of the black race, History of the Negro Race in America from 1609 to 1880, acknowledged as an important work by W. E. B. Du Bois.Williams worked as a lawyer because of his law training at Howard. He wrote books, and testified before Congress for black Civil War veterans. Williams met Henry Shelton Sanford at the White House and heard about Leopold's plans for the Congo. As a paid journalist, he traveled to Europe and interviewed King Leopold II. Williams was impressed with Leopold and asked him what he expected in return for the money he had spent to develop the Congo. Leopold replied he did it all "'as a Christian duty to the poor African'" (Hochschild, 106). Williams ended up signing an agreement with a Belgian company to send forty skilled black American skilled workers to the Congo to work. Williams had decided to go to Africa to check out the conditions for himself on a grant from the American railroad baron, Collis P. Huntington. Leopold and his supporters were suspicious of Williams's purpose for trip to the Congo and tried to stop him. Williams spent six months in the Congo. He observed villages and stations on the Congo firsthand, and in his rage at what he saw, he produced a damning document while staying at Stanley Falls. He called the Congo "'the Siberia of the African Continent'" (Hochschild, 108). In an Open Letter to King Leopold II, he described conditions in the Congo. Williams informed Leopold that him being a historian, he could verify the truth of his account with witnesses, data, and documents. He would hold the proof until an International Commission could be put together to investigate. Williams brought about most the charges that would be made against Leopold, which was about a dozen pages, this included human rights violations. He emphasized the inhumane punishments, torture, and the fact that there were no hospitals and schools for the natives as promised. Williams also laid out the stories of villagers being shot and kidnapping of women in order to coerce the men into forced labor. Williams simply accused Leopold of being in the slave trade. Williams followed up with A Report upon the Congo-State to the American President. Williams said and believed that America had a obligation to do something since it had endorsed Leopold's state. He called for an international regime to replace Leopold's rule. In a letter to the American secretary of state, he spoke of Leopold's "'crimes against humanity'" (Hochschild, 112). Williams' Open Letter was printed as a pamphlet and circulated in America and Europe. The New York Herald printed an article on the subject. Leopold was furious at the scandal and prepared a counter-attack. Leopold arranged a smear campaign on Williams. By 1891 Williams was in Egypt, ill with tuberculosis and out of money. He somehow got free passage to England on a British steamer where he met a sympathetic young Englishwoman. He became engaged to her and died in Blackpool under her care. The smear campaign on Williams was possible because, not only was he black, but also, because he embellished some of the facts of his life. He called himself Colonel Williams, from his military experience, but he was never a colonel. He sometimes claimed a doctorate degree when he did not have one. He became involved to an Englishwoman before he died, though he had a wife and son at home. Hochschild points out, however, that the man was brilliant and though "there was something of the hustler about him" (Hochschild, 114), it was his boldness "that enabled him to defy a king, his officials, and the entire racial order of the day" (Hochschild, 114). Since this was a time where travel in Africa was not easy and the unwillingness of witnesses to speak out, the conditions of the Congo were difficult to verify and Leopold's status too important to question without more proof. The open letter written by Williams was unsuccessful due to the above as well as Leopold's smear campaign.
Boma, the west coast port, became the capital of Leopold's Congo. In the 1890s it was a busy town, but though there was a governor general, the Congo was administered directly from offices in Brussels, reporting directly to the king. The agents at the river stations were often alone for months; they were usually single and took on African concubines. Since Leopold did not have enough money to develop the entire territory, he leased land to private companies, but he usually had a 50% share in any company, "like the manager of a venture capital syndicate today" (Hochschild, 117), says Hochschild. He could thus attract capital while retaining half the proceeds. The king, however, used troops to shut out other business from his territory. The king would declare a state of siege for a certain area, and when the siege was lifted, all the ivory was gone. The king continued to claim he was not making a profit, but using ivory sales to lessen his deficit. Leopold's agents swept through the bush in the 1890s making ivory raids, getting all the ivory they could, through hunting, trading, and seizure. The natives were forbidden to sell ivory except to Leopold. Africans were not allowed to receive money for their ivory. They got cloth, beads, brass rods, or nothing at all. The key to all of Leopold's operations was labor. Leopold first needed gatekeepers. He had men, women, and children chained by the neck and made to walk in a file bearing heavy loads on their heads. These individuals were skeletons, exhausted and starved. They died by the thousands along the roads and trails.
An instrument called a chicotte was often used as punishment. A chicotte was a corkscrew whip of hippopotamus hide. Flogging with a chicotte was a punishment on bare buttocks which left everlasting scars. Twenty-five lashes could result in unconsciousness and one hundred lashes were fatal. The minimum lashes were twenty-give and even children received this minimum. Stanislas Lefranc, a Catholic magistrate, saw screaming children whipped in this way and was horrified. He described these scenes in Belgian newspapers, but he was regarded as a troublemaker. Few others working in the Congo objected to "officially sanctioned terror" (Hochschild, 121). Natives were hanged for countless violations. Leopold used military force to run his colony. He sent Belgian soldiers and used African mercenaries. In 1888 he established the Force Publique, his state army. It was the most powerful army in central Africa. It employed black soldiers under white officers. There were rebellions by Congo tribes to put down. The Yaka people fought for ten years, and the Chokwe for twenty years, inflicting heavy casualties on the Force Publique, but the tribes were defeated in the end. Leopold's troops used a system of shifting alliances among the tribes to weaken their unity. One chief named Nzansu was able to kill a notorious agent named Eugene Rommel, who rounded up fifty thousand porters a year to do forced labor. A Swedish missionary recorded that the source of the uprisings was the state itself. There were many mutinies of black soldiers against cruel white commanders as well. Meanwhile, Leopold kept issuing edicts banning the slave trade, but there were few witnesses who came forth to challenge him on his hypocrisy. His own slaves were referred to as "volunteers" (Hochschild, 130), but they were in chains. He also called the conscripted blacks in his army, "liberated men," since he had bought them from a slaver to serve for seven years in the Force Publique. He bought them from the Afro-Arab slave boss called Tippu Tip, whom Leopold recruited to run the colony's eastern province. Leopold also set up children's colonies of young African boys taken from their villages that he had trained to be soldiers. The death rate in those colonies was over 50 percent. Hochschild begins now to unfold the history of the atrocities in the Congo Free State and the hypocritical lies of the king, who was obviously responsible. Some interesting points about this long chapter include Hochschild's analysis of how humans can commit atrocities against other humans. He blames racism as a major factor. Not all Europeans agreed, but a common perception was that Africans were inferior, lazy, uncivilized, and to be treated like animals or beasts of burden, since they were not intelligent. Another factor is that the terrorism was sanctioned by the authorities, and everyone was participating in it. As with the Nazis, a lot of the atrocities were delegated to subordinates in order to put distance between the one ordering them and the execution of the order. Or, Africans were forced to torture each other; the whippings were administered by Africans to other Africans, a terrorist technique also used in the Soviet gulag and Nazi camps. Finally, as is evident with Stanley's behavior, shooting the natives was seen as a manly virtue, a sign of toughness, like shooting an elephant. To counter the idea that the natives were passive victims, Hochschild records the uprisings and rebellions that the Force Publique was hardly able to quell. Many warrior tribes and their heroic leaders fought against Leopold's troops during the whole Belgian occupation of the Congo, says Hochschild, of the Congolese guerilla wars of the 1960s. He highlights the stories of some of these Congolese leaders like Muleme Niama of the Sanga people who fought bravely against troops with artillery. He refused to surrender and was killed with all his men. Nzansu was the chief who killed the villainous agent Eugene Rommel, whom even the whites reviled. A sergeant in the Force Republique, Kandolo, led a mutiny against a cruel commander, Mathieu Pelzer. His rebels took over the Kasai region. Hochschild identifies the sort of white men who went to the Congo to become agents or soldiers. They were often "hard-bitten men fleeing marital troubles, bankruptcy, or alcoholism" (Hochschild, 139), and they often left their morality at home.
Meanwhile another hero in the Congo was beginning to speak out against what Stanley had stood for. This man was William Sheppard, a black American Presbyterian minister. As part of the movement to send American blacks back to Africa, sponsored by white supremacists, such as Alabama Senator John Tyler Morgan, black American missionaries left for the Congo as a preparation for others to follow. The Reverend William Sheppard was born in Virginia in 1865 and had attended Hampton Institute and the Colored Theological Seminary in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He had worked as a Presbyterian minister in Montgomery and Atlanta. He was a big man with energy and physical courage. His church, however, would only let him go to Africa with a white superior, Reverend Samuel Lapsley. The two men established the first Southern Presbyterian mission on the Kasai River. Sheppard was at home in the bush and recruited the Africans to help. Lapsley's letters home were full of praise for Sheppard's fearless strength and skill as a born trader and hunter. Sheppard was actually the true leader of the mission. Sheppard worked in Africa for twenty years, wrote a book, letters, and articles; he gave speeches to fascinated American audiences. His tone towards the natives was noticeably different from other African explorers. He was happy in Africa and studied the language. He saw the Africans as the land of "'his forefathers'" (Hochschild, 155). The Kuba people were great artists in masks, sculpture, textiles, and carved tools. Sheppard made ethnographic notes on them and other tribes of the Kasai region, noting their myths, rituals, and other details. He felt they had a great civilization. Sheppard recorded his impressions in his book, Presbyterian Pioneers in the Congo and lectured at Exeter Hall in London, being made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. The Kuba were at first protected by their remote location in the rain forest. What destroyed them was the discovery of rubber. With the use of rubber for automobile and bicycle tires the rubber boom was on. It became Leopold's main revenue now. He presided over the wild rubber boom for twenty years. The only thing he needed was labor. It required that workers spread out through the rain forest and climb trees. Rubber is a sap, and the French word for it means, "the wood that weeps" (Hochschild, 160). It came from a vine that twined around a tree perhaps going hundreds of feet in the air. It was necessary to slash the vine and hang a bucket to collect the sap. The workers had to go deeper and deeper into the forest to find fresh vines. The work was hard and painful, and the natives were not willing to do it. Leopold's army used forced labor by looting all the food sources of a village and holding women, children, and chiefs as hostages until the men produced a certain amount of rubber. The hostages were held in stockades, and many died of starvation. Women were raped. Leopold did not proclaim this as official policy and could claim it was not true, but in the field, it was the way rubber was produced and sent to Brussels. There were instructions on how to take hostages in a field manual that Hochschild quotes. One of the editors of the manual was LÈon Rom, the model for Mr. Kurtz. Hochschild frequently compares the Congo terrorism to the Soviet gulag, operating by quotas. The men had to sleep in the jungles far from home and made themselves cages to protect themselves from leopards. The Force Publique enforced this system. Desperate refugees came to William Sheppard's mission station. He went into the bush to investigate, risking his own life, and found destroyed villages and many bodies. He was shown a fire roasting human flesh. The chief told him they had to cut off the right hands of rebels to show the State how many they had killed. The smoking preserved the hands. The cutting off of hands and feet became part of the rubber regime in the Congo. It was used as a terrorist tactic to subdue the natives. If a village refused to cooperate, sometimes the whole village was executed. Sheppard wrote articles on these conditions for missionary magazines, and his articles were quoted widely in Europe and the United States. As a prelude to this grisly account, Hochschild builds up the portrait of another hero who tried to expose Leopold's methods.
Leopold kept his profits from the Congo secret, so that he would not have to pay back his loan to the Belgian government. The bonds he was able to issue made him as much money as the rubber. The bonds were supposed to develop the Congo, but little of the money was spent there. Leopold spent his money in Belgium, for monuments, museums, new palace additions, a golf course, and pavilions. Hochschild describes Leopold's regal lifestyle and his daily schedule to illustrate his enormous lust for power and his indifference to how he got his money. In the Congo, the railroad was a priority, and it needed six thousand workers at a time, a very difficult construction project around the Crystal Mountains and the falls. When Chinese workers were brought in hundreds died or fled into the bush. Hijacked workers from Barbados rebelled. It was said each tie on the railroad cost an African life. In 1898, the railway opened. Eleven million pounds of rubber a year now had a way to get to the sea. Missionaries became the witnesses to Leopold's crimes. Swedish missionary, E. V. SjË†blom, for instance, published detailed descriptions of the rubber business in 1896. He explained how Force Publique soldiers were paid according to the number of hands they collected from dead rebels. Leopold was able to derail their attacks by his own skilled public relations officials. Leopold appointed a Commission for the Protection of the Natives, composed of Congo missionaries. This took the pressure off, but none of the missionaries appointed were in the rubber district; they were scattered all over the Congo. The Commission had no power and did nothing. Cargo was carried to and from Africa by Elder Dempster, a Liverpool shipping line. Edmund Dene Morel, a bilingual clerk, was sent to Belgium to supervise the ships that docked in Antwerp. Morel noticed that the records for his employer did not conform to the statistics given by the Congo Free State about what was produced there. He realized there was a fraud. He discovered the secret arms shipments to the Congo. He realized someone was skimming off the top, when he saw the figures published by the Congo Government. He also understood that there was no trade going on. His first thought was slave labor. Hochschild quotes Morel's description of his discovery: "It must be bad enough to stumble upon a murder. I had stumbled upon a secret society of murderers with a King for a croniman" (Hochschild, 181). Hochschild turns his narrative now to focus on the mounting criticism of Leopold and his colony of forced labor. Leopold was able to discredit the missionaries or pacify criticism with his investigating Commission, which had no power. Now, an Englishman, Edmund Dene Morel, who was in a position to amass financial and specific evidence, would prove to be a facilitator for a larger movement against Leopold.
Sir Henry Morton Stanley had been elected to Parliament but found it a bore after his active life. He retired to write his autobiography and always defended Leopold and his policies in his public statements. He died in 1904 as the criticism against Leopold escalated. Leopold fought back, using newspapers and pamphlets on which he used lavish amounts of money to control his media image. Yet Alice Harris's photographs of maimed children outweighed Leopold's campaign.Leopold then sent an aide to British Africa to document British abuses there, to show that he was not unique in his colonial methods. The British Empire had its own shocking headlines, concerning the opium trade in India, flogging in South Africa, and excessive native deaths in Nigeria and Australia. Leopold threatened to withdraw his shipping contract from Sir Alfred Jones's Elder Dempster Company if he did not stop the British criticism. Leopold also had his paid lobbyists to the British Parliament and American Congress. He founded his own Press Bureau to produce articles and to bribe newspapers. The quote in the chapter's title is from Leopold to his pay-off agents to journalists, urging that there be no paper trail. Yet the campaign against Leopold could not be stopped. Morel traveled to the United States, enlisting such notable figures as Booker T. Washington and Mark Twain. Twain even wrote a pamphlet against Leopold. Leopold fought back with his own American lobby, promising Congo concession rights in the rubber trade to industrialists and getting the backing of the Catholic Church. He made a major mistake in hiring a flamboyant American trial lawyer, Henry Kowalsky, to lobby for him. At first flattered by Leopold and then dumped by him, Kowalsky got his revenge by publishing in William Randoph Heart's newspapers the story of Leopold's attempts to influence Congress, using incriminating documents. Leopold made another mistake in forming his Commission of Inquiry, composed of three judges, to go to the Congo and report on conditions. Leopold meant this to be another lame committee to quiet criticism. Instead, the Commission came back with a damning report, confirming all the charges Morel and others had made.
Hochschild gives examples from native testimony of the Commission of Inquiry that Leopold sent to the Congo. Though a summary report was published, the raw testimony of the Congolese natives was never read until the 1980s when researchers had access to the state archives in Brussels. It was the voice of the Congolese themselves speaking out, and the effect of reading the accounts, says the author, creates an "overwhelming horror" (255). Finally, there could be no more denial. At this time Leopold was seventy, living in luxury with his mistress, Caroline. Pressure mounted for him to divest himself of the Congo, and he knew he had to cede it to Belgium. He had wanted to wait until his death, but now, he had a crafty plan to sell the Congo territory to the Belgian government, to whom he still owed a debt for the development loans. They agreed to his outrageous terms to keep the Congo away from Britain or France or Germany. Leopold made a killing on the deal. Finally in 1908, the Congo Free State became the Belgian Congo. The change of hands did not immediately change the conditions in the Congo as the reformers had hoped, because the concession companies still did business in the same way. One of the defenders of the natives, the African-American missionary, William Sheppard, wrote of the toll Leopold's Congo had taken on the Kuba people: "'These great stalwart men and women, who have from time immemorial been free'" had changed into starving slaves within three years of the rubber company's invasion with armed force (261). The company stock fell with Sheppard's story, and the company sued Sheppard, whose trial was held in Leopoldville. Sheppard was acquitted and became a hero and a much sought after speaker in the United States.
The king fell ill when he was seventy-four and hastily married Caroline, transferring his property to her and her sons, instead of to his daughters, right before he died. There was little public grief with his passing.Roger Casement, Morel's partner in the Congo Reform Association, and the author of the British report on the Congo, had finally been vindicated by the corroboration of Leopold's own investigators. Morel claimed official victory in 1913 after Leopold died and all the evidence of his crimes was in. But was the case truly closed?
Hochschild mentions that when Leopold transferred his "secretive royal fief" (257) to the government of Belgium during the first decade of the twentieth century, the idea of Congolese independence and self-government occurred to no one. The Congo was a piece of property to be bought and sold, and no one thought of it as stolen from the people who lived there. There was still competition for colonial property among the European nations, and Belgium would have lost a lot of its power and income if it had not agreed to Leopold's deal. Though Morel and his Congo Reform Association announced their cause as won in 1913, the author hints that the atrocities did not stop as the reformers assumed they would. The same companies were still exploiting the people to get rubber, though the public was now aroused by their well-documented methods of terror. There was, however, only public opinion that had acknowledged the crimes. There was no enforcement of justice. It was the Congo's tragedy that it was still rich in raw materials that western countries wanted. The new minister of colonies in the Belgian government was a former official of a Congo company guilty of forced labor. As the world geared up for two world wars, the demand for Congo materials would only increase. Leopold's chapter in the crime was closed, at least. He went down in history as a bloody tyrant, as witnessed in the verse from American poet, Vachel Lindsay, furnishing the title of the book and quoted by the author:Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host, Hear how the demons chuckle and yell Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.
Leopold's ghost did not vanish. Leopold had probably made something like $1.1 billion in profits. Most of the funds eventually went to the Belgian government.There was a marked drop in reported atrocities in the Belgian Congo, partly because there was a shift to cultivated rubber once the wild rubber decreased. There was a new system, however, that kept the people enslaved, forcing them to work on rubber plantations: the imposition of a head tax. Congolese natives were also conscripted as soldiers or porters during World War I, and they were still worked to death in copper, gold, and tin mines. The main accomplishment of Morel and the reformers had been to keep the Congo in the spotlight. But, Hochschild concludes, "what happened in the Congo is, unfortunately, no worse than what happened in neighboring colonies" (280). France's rubber colony also had a 50 percent decline in the native population. In German South West Africa (Namibia), the rebel Hereros were the victims of planned genocide, openly announced in advance by the German military. Some sixty-thousand were "exterminated" (282).
The author finishes the stories of the founders of the Congo Reform Association. Roger Casement took up the cause of Irish Home Rule, understanding that Ireland was also a victim of colonial policy. Casement had been knighted for his Congo reform but became an enemy of Britain with his Irish Republican projects. He was part of a group that collaborated with the Germans during World War I to get arms for the Irish Rebellion. He was caught and executed for treason. Edmund Morel became an anti-war activist during World War I, losing his popularity and becoming hated in an era of war fever. He called for disarmament and a negotiated peace. He was arrested and served six months of hard labor in Pentonville Prison, remembering the Congolese as he had to carry one hundred pound bales of jute on a starvation diet. After the war, however, Morel was elected to Parliament on the Labor ticket, beating Winston Churchill. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In the last two chapters, Hochschild puts Leopold's story in a larger historical perspective. Here, he makes the shocking and depressing point that Leopold was no worse than other colonial powers, though he took the brunt of the criticism, because his rubber business was so big. Despite the humanitarian rhetoric and moral justification about the benefit of imperialism to all parties, racism and colonial mentality were to blame for the human rights abuses in the colonies, more than the villainy of one individual. Africans lived in an occupied country in a state of continual warfare. The experience Morel and Casement had with the Congo seems to have radicalized both of them. Casement worked for the British government in the beginning but later identified with the demands of his native Ireland, feeling the tyranny of colonialism personally. He was helping to prepare for the Easter Uprising of 1916 when caught and tried for treason. Morel died with respect but went through a very hard time during the war, as he was one of few who saw what a waste it was. He began to understand near the end of his Congo work that the land of Africa belonged to the Africans. Many of those who stood up for human rights in the Congo, black and white, had to pay a price for their courage and the author implies these sorts of sacrifices have to keep being made.
Hochschild now turns to why this Congo story, which galvanized public opinion for twenty years and had so many famous people involved, was forgotten. Nowhere was it afterwards referred to in textbooks, museums, or in the city of Brussels, though the blood of the Congolese paid for many of the Belgian monuments. This is not singular, as there is no memorial to colonial martyrs in any European city, nor are there monuments to slavery in the American South. The Congo is an example of "the politics of forgetting" (294). Leopold made it more difficult to remember by spending a week burning his Congo papers before he died. Investigators had a hard time following lost paper trails when interest in the event was revived in the 1970s and 1980s. Forgetting is not passive, the author asserts, but an "active deed" (295). In Africa, the colonizers wrote the textbooks. Books on the forced labor were banned and press censorship helped to erase the past. Today, rapid urbanization in Africa contributes to forgetting not only the colonial past, but also the tribal past. In the Mongo language, this period of Congo history is known as lokeli, "the overwhelming" (300). Though Africa's troubles are not entirely due to the Europeans, the colonial legacy to Africa was not democracy but harsh authoritarian rule. The Congo has had a harder time emerging as a modern nation than other African countries. The first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated because he knew that to overcome the colonial past, the economic domination from outside had to change. This was an alarm to western powers with heavy investments in the Congo. The U.S. chose to support a dictator friendly to western interests, Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the Congo from 1965 to 1997. Mobutu copied Leopold's methods of dictatorial rule, terrorism, and personal plunder of the national wealth. The author tells the story of Belgian historian Jules Marchal to whose work we owe most of the records of Leopold's crimes today. He was the one who found the lost testimony of the African witnesses before the 1904-05 Commission of Inquiry, in the inaccessible files of the Belgian government. A retired Belgian diplomat, Marchal became obsessed with Leopold's Congo and devoted himself full time to research. Hochschild traces the development of Marchal's meticulous data and points out, "Although virtually ignored in Belgium, [Marchal's] books are the definitive scholarly study of the subject" (298). The lasting achievement of the campaign against Leopold has been in the tradition of human rights movements that keep alive the outrage against injustice. Thus, the Congo reform movement was "a vital link in that chain, and there is no tradition more honorable" (306).
Hochschild concludes that it is important not to forget atrocities like the Congo, because it would blunt our human sensibilities and outrage against injustice. Seen in a larger context, it was not an isolated event with one man as the sole cause. It was part of a social fabric, a collective mindset, and yet the author makes a convincing case for individuals of conscience standing up to say "No." If such protests were not as much a part of history as the mass murders of a Hitler, Stalin, and Leopold, Mr. Kurtz would be the sole representative of human nature. On the other hand, a George Washington Williams, a William Sheppard, E. D. Morel, or John and Alice Harris are part of the vital tradition of moral heroes who define a common humanity that goes beyond cultures and times.
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