News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Leopold & George: Kings of Atrocity [& Corruption]

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Leopold & George: Kings of Atrocity [& Corruption]

Adam Hochschild, the author of "King Leopold's Ghost: a Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa", a novel that exposed the genocidal colonialist project of Belgium's King Leopold, has some words for GW.

(h/t Crooked Timber for linking to the article and for this post's title, which in my mind alludes to Leopold and Loeb)

NB Belgium's Congo was the inspiration for Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

PS Hochschild seems to be responding to reports that GW has read the book.

Hochschild writes in the LATimes:

First, as you [GW] now know, the long effort by King Leopold II of Belgium to bring Congo under his control was driven by his avid quest for a commodity central to industry and transportation: rubber. Does that remind you of anything?

What's more, the king justified his grab for Congo's natural resources with much talk about bringing philanthropy and Christianity to darkest Africa. Now what did that remind you of?

Leopold cleared at least $1.1 billion in today's dollars during the 23 years he controlled Congo, and his businessmen friends made additional huge sums. Much of the money flowed into companies with special royal concession rights to exploit the rain forest. Final question, for extra credit: Do those companies remind you of anything? If you mentioned Halliburton or DynCorp, you're right again.

As a reader of history, you must have been interested, I'm sure, in something else in the Congo story: the case of another world leader facing his own Abu Ghraib scandal.

As you noticed, Mr. President, King Leopold II was a master of public relations. He was really his own Karl Rove — which saved money on staff salaries at the royal palace in Brussels. For years the press at home and abroad dutifully praised his efforts to bring "civilization" to Africa; a whole shipload of Belgian journalists went to Congo in 1898 to enthuse about the opening of a new railroad.

But, like you, he got into big trouble through photographs. These were mainly taken by a British missionary named Alice Harris, and they showed Congolese being whipped, chained as hostages and with their hands cut off by Leopold's soldiers. Through the efforts of a British journalist named Edmund Dene Morel, whom the king liked about as much as you like Seymour Hersh, these photos were splashed on front pages all over the world.

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