Leopold II, King of Belgium
King Leopold II was born April 9, 1835 in Brussels, Belgium. He was Queen Victoria of Britain’s first cousin and became the Duke of Bradant in 1846. Leopold also served in the Belgium army. In 1853 Leopold married Marie-Henriette. He became King of Belgium in December 1865 after his father’s death.
Leopold is ” responsible for widespread atrocities committed under his rule against his colonial subjects” ( Leopold II, King of Belgium, by Adam Hochschild) No colony more clearly demonstrates this than the Congo Free State during the rubber industry. In 1876 Leopold held a ” international conference of explores and geographers at the royal palace in Brussels”(Leopold II, King of Belgium, by Adam Hochschild). A few years later Leopold hired Henry Morton Stanley to be his man in Africa. For the next five years, Stanley travels the immense waterways of the Congo. He built trading posts, roads, and persuaded local leaders to sign treaties. Interestingly, many of the chiefs were illiterate. With this strong hold on the Congo area, Leopold created the Congo Free State, which was the world’s only private colony. From the Congo Free State Leopold began to accumulate a vast fortune through ivory and then in the early 1890’s through rubber. Leopold’s interest or motivation for ruling the Congo Free State seemed to be purely rooted in financial greed. His greed lead him to every so often send out men from his private army of 19,000 men, which was known as the Force Publique, to the villages in Congo. Once there, the solders would hold the woman for ransom and send the men out to find rubber. Many of the woman starved while being held hostage and many of the men died in the rainforest while searching for rubber. Along with this soldiers were allowed to shot men or woman if they tried to escape but they had to bring back a hand to prove that their bullet hadn’t been wasted or could be used against Leopold in a rebellion. Many soldiers would cut off the hand of a live victim if they missed or went hunting to make sure they would not get into trouble. Leopold’s wealth was accumulated by a forced labor system. this system was devastating to the people of Congo.
Leopold dies on December 17, 1909 in Laeken, Belgium. He had done many things in his life but his ” most important legalcy remains the human catastrophe that the rubber forced-labour system brought to the Congo”(Leopold II, King of Belgium, by Adam Hochschild).
What occurred in Congo under Leopold II’s rule is similar to the Jewish Holocaust in some ways but I think it is also vastly different. Hitler’s goal was to wipe an entire group of people off the face of the earth along with all those he considered ” undesirable”, where as Leopold just wanted the wealth that lay in Africa and used the people of Congo to get it for him. Now both Hitler and Leopold II abused and tortured people and in that way they are similar but their goals and motivation were different.
If what happened during Leopold II rule happened today I believe that the United States would need to act in such a way that would not only stop this type of genocide but also set in place an organization or set or laws that would prevent any country from treating their citizens in such a cruel and unnecessary manner.
and on this Also ..
Have you ever watched one of those shows on television where a magician walks around the city blowing people’s minds with the art of deception and slight of hand? I think racial prejudice motivated Leopold II more than financial greed. I also think his motivation presents just as much smoke and mirrors as his campaign to obtain Congo for his sovereign rule, or a good old fashioned magic trick. Leopold II wanted to be significant, and money was but a means to this end. As a master trickster, Leopold II fooled Congo and the world into believing he was bestowing the rewards of civilization and Christianity upon the Congolese. “Underpinning this as usual is an idea; it’s not just practical politics. This is the high point of scientific racism and a view that in Africa you have a quite distinct group of people with different physiogramy, with a different mentality, with different intellectual capacities, and that they basically whether it’s because of their inherent biological nature or because of their culture they won’t work for money, they won’t work for the normal incentives, they’re lazy and barbaric and savage” (QuartaPhilosoForum). Like a good magician, Leopold II tricked the world into believing they saw financial greed when in fact racial prejudice was right in front of them the entire time.
In my eyes, I initially didn’t think this genocide compared to Hitler and the Jewish Holocaust much at all because I honestly hadn’t even heard of Leopold II until I did the text reading and did some research. “But the sheer scale of terror, the role of bureaucracy and the near-genocidal numbers of dead draw comparisons with Hitler’s Lebenstraum” (Stanley). One thing I think Leopold and Hitler had in common was a need to be significant, and they both felt racially superior to those whom they mutilated and killed. Hitler is well-known for his belief in promoting a master race, and Leopold II suggested he believed he was part of a race superior in every way to the Congolese. “A people which is content with its homeland, and which dreads even the shadow of a conflict lacks the characteristics of a superior race” (QuartaPhilosoForum). One could interpret this as Leopold II’s self-reflection about his feeling this way toward Belgium just as much as Congo. What was the significance of cutting off right hands? I think Leopold II did this to symbolize he was the right hand of God either in an effort to trick the Congolese into believing he had a link to the supernatural, or perhaps because he really thought he was god-like.
If this type of genocide was taking place again in Congo today, the United States should use media coverage as an intervention point in order to address such a human tragedy. One of the reasons Leopold II was never held accountable for his reign in blood was because he was such a talented trickster, and also because Belgian bureaucracy, undoubtedly influenced by the flow of rubber money, turned a blind eye to the horrors being documented by missionaries in Congo. If Leopold II believed Blacks could only be conditioned with the whip, then perhaps exposure to the world is the only way to bring mad men to justice.
Stanley, Tim. “Belgium’s Heart of Darkness.” History Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2016.
QuartaPhilosoForum. “The Colonization Of The Congo Pt. 3.” YouTube. YouTube, 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 30 June