Congo Free State

One of the less remembered atrocities of the 20th Century was the Belgian rape of the Congo. King Leopold acquired control of the Congo in 1885 and soon set up a trading system that effectively enslaved the entire population of the country. The export of rubber and ivory was the only thing that mattered to the Belgians and their treatment of the native populations was so harsh as to be counterproductive to even their brutal goals. Villages and families were broken up in ever increasing demands for slave labor, and torture and murder were the rule when impossible quotas weren’t met. In a bazaar perversion worthy of hell, when slaves were ordered killed by the thousands when their quota weren’t met, the Belgian bean counters became concerned that the murderers were wasting or reselling gun shells. To prove that each shell caused one death, they demanded a severed right hand to prove that the cartridges were doing their task. Baskets of hands were shipped down river daily and if too many cartridges were expended in a massacre, hands were indiscriminately lopped off whomever the Belgians could find to balance out the number of gun shells used. International outrage eventually ended the Belgian atrocities but not before Leopold had bled the country for 25 years and murdered an estimated ten million people.

 In the genocides of the 20th Century, this ranks as one of the largest and most brutal. And it was no secret. While it was happening Joseph Conrad wrote about it in Heart of Darkness and A Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) wrote an 80 page essay about it. And still the murders continued. History has its greatest value in this: the capacity for horror exists in all people at all times. By studying it and keeping its worst examples before us, maybe we can guard against it happening again.

Share on:
Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top