Leopold II of Belgium

Brussels Travel Blog

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After visiting the Royal Museum for Central Africa yesterday, which barely touched on the horror of Leopold II's genocide in the Congo, I thought I would give a more accurate description of Leopold II.

First and foremost, Leopold II was power hungry and not content to be the king of a small country in western Europe. To further his ambition, Leopold II was mad keen to start a colony to expand his power. He not only tried in Congo, but also made attempts in Guatemala and China. He also looked into buying parts of Egypt, Argentina, Uruguay, Ethiopia, Philippines and Fiji. He was even involved in an odd attempt by Maximilian and his mad sister Charlotte in an attempt to take over part of Mexico. When the Mexican attempt failed miserably, Charloette went to the Vatican to petition the Pope for aid, and under paranoid delusions she broke into the Pope's chambers while he was having breakfast and refused to leave until he arrest her entire entourage (when she wouldn't leave they had a bed made up for her, making her the first woman to officially spend the night with the Pope)

In order to fund his mega projects (like the Palace of Justice across the road from us), Leopold destroyed the Congo, ripping apart families and villages to force people into the jungle to collect rubber. He essentially used a strategy of murder, torture and rape to force the Congolese to do as he ordered. By his orders hands, feet and noses were cut from children and entire countries were massacred. Just how many people he killed is unknown, perhaps more than 20 million, probably more than half the population of the Congo at the time, putting him up there with Hitler, Mao and Stalin in terms of death tolls.

The defence of Leopold II has been vocal and continuous. It is based on first of all stating that the rape of the Congo has been exaggerated and secondly that Leopold II was not aware of conditions on the ground. Ultimately, the preservation of statues to Leopold II and a general forgetfulness of the entire issue indicates that the campaign of lies by Leopold II's defenders has succeeded. Like his fellow megalomaniacs, Hitler and Stalin, Leopold II was also a chronic micro-manager, personally choosing even minor officials and writing detailed policies, such as on tactics to be used when taking hostages to enforce slave labour. He had constant flows of reports from Leopoldville to Brussels, including lists of hostages held and executed, and wrote daily in return. The most horrific policies were his personal ideas - a note written by Leopold II on April 27 1890 called for child soldiers to be created: "I believe we must set up three children's colonies.... the aim of these colonies is above all to furnish us with soldiers. We thus have to build three big barracks". Tellingly, the order sent out to the Congo (specifying even the height of the male children to be enslaved) included the warning that the order "must under no pretext be removed from your archives. You will convey to your subordinates such explanations as may be necessary in connection with this circular, verbally". When forced to finally give up the Congo to the Belgian Parliament, Leopold II first burnt his extensive archives of correspondence. The furnaces had to run for eight days. Even so, enough material leaked out or was preserved by Parliament (shamefully suppressed from public view until the 1980s) to damn Leopold II many times over. Not only designing the rape and coordinating it, he micromanaged the PR silencing criticism around the world, with even requests for reimbursement for expenses in bribing newspaper editors being preserved.

As if to defy any attempts to hide his personal responsibility, Leopold II not only ordered the rape of Congo by proxy, he also found the time to rape in person. In 1885 a trial in London started by the "London Committee for the Suppression of the Continental Traffic in English Girls" found a Madame guilty of prostitution. Largely kept secret (as the Prince of Wales was listed on the customer records), evidence entered during the trial demonstrated that Leopold II had been paying the Madame 800 pounds a month for a supply of guaranteed virgins, aged between ten and fifteen. A monster in Congo, a monster in Belgium, a monster to his own family, King Leopold II died in 1909. He was 74 years old, and died peacefully in bed as a billionaire, doted on by his 25 year-old mistress. His last act was to sign a law requiring compulsory military service.
Adrian_Liston says:
There is the same problem in counting the dead by Stalin - do you include the number of dead due to the famines that his policies created? There seem to be legitimate reasons for either position.
Posted on: May 25, 2010
Adrian_Liston says:
Estimating the numbers of deaths is always very difficult. Do you just count the number of those who are directly killed and recorded? (Iraqi Body Count style). Or do you include all excess mortality introduced? (Lancet Iraq study style). I'm inclined towards the second, even with the risk of sensationalism, because they are the result of policy and treatment. Why the high death rate from diseases? Because of the destruction of village structure and partial starvation, etc etc.
Posted on: May 25, 2010
lamadude says:
"Just how many people he killed is unknown, perhaps more than 20 million"

not to defend Leo 2 AT ALL of course, he was a monster, but the number is probably lower (still outrageously high of course) and includes Africans who died from Western diseases that were brought in without the carriers even knowing it so it's not always direct "killing." 20 million seems a bit sensationalistic.
(The entire continent of Africa had around 90-130 million inhabitants at the time)

One of the reasons for cutting of hands I've always heard is that the guards were supposed to cut of the hands of the people they shot (after they were dead" to prove they didn't "waste their bullets" shooting wildlife for fun. (I also saw a letter complaining about the wasting of ammo in the museum) but the guards liked hunting wild animals so they did it anyway and later cut of the hands of other people to make the bullet/hands math work out after all... :-s
Posted on: May 24, 2010
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