From the end of the 19th century through the turn of the 20th century, King Leopold II of Belgium ran the so-called Congo Free State as his private property, amassing an enormous fortune by turning most adult males into slaves to collect wild rubber and ivory from the jungle. The women and children were held hostages—their hands, noses and ears often chopped off when the men in their families did not meet their rubber quota or failed to return.
For over 23 years, Leopold’s army forced hundreds of thousands of slaves to work in killing conditions where many died from exhaustion. Some 20 slave uprisings were put down with extreme bloodthirstiness. After the Belgians discovered gold in 1903, they worked thousands to death in gold mines. It has been estimated that about 10 million people out of a population of 20 million lost their lives under King Leopold’s barbarous rule.
Villages which failed to meet the rubber collection quotas were required to pay the remaining amount in severed hands, where each hand would prove a kill. Sometimes the hands were collected by the soldiers of the Force Publique, sometimes by the villages themselves. There were even small wars where villages attacked neighbouring villages to gather hands, since their rubber quotas were too unrealistic to fill.
One junior white officer described a raid to punish a village that had protested. The white officer in command
‘ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades … and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross.’
After seeing a Congolese person killed for the first time, a Danish missionary wrote:
‘The soldier said “Don’t take this to heart so much. They kill us if we don’t bring the rubber. The Commissioner has promised us if we have plenty of hands he will shorten our service.”‘
In Forbath’s words:
The baskets of severed hands, set down at the feet of the European post commanders, became the symbol of the Congo Free State. … The collection of hands became an end in itself. Force Publique soldiers brought them to the stations in place of rubber; they even went out to harvest them instead of rubber… They became a sort of currency. They came to be used to make up for shortfalls in rubber quotas, to replace… the people who were demanded for the forced labour gangs; and the Force Publique soldiers were paid their bonuses on the basis of how many hands they collected.
In theory, each right hand proved a killing. In practice, soldiers sometimes “cheated” by simply cutting off the hand and leaving the victim to live or die. More than a few survivors later said that they had lived through a massacre by acting dead, not moving even when their hands were severed, and waiting till the soldiers left before seeking help. In some instances a soldier could shorten his service term by bringing more hands than the other soldiers, which led to widespread mutilations and dismemberment.
Why am I posting this, of all things? There’s talk in the MSM that presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is a legitimate historian and a renowned academic. His only real academic work, his PhD dissertation, which has never been cited, concludes that Belgian rule over the Congolese was positive and modernized the country, mentioning King Leopold but once. Does this look like positive modernization to you?
Newt Gingrich is not an academic, just a very poor storyteller of fiction.
What I want to know is who the hell was on his dissertation committee and how the hell did they find it appropriate to give him his degree? Those people, if still living, should probably be removed from their academic posts. Seriously, that would be like if I wrote my dissertation about how Tuberculosis is a good thing and we should actively try to spread it around to more people.
His dissertation adviser was Belgian.
this relates to an elaboration i half-wrote in my head on susan buck-morss’s discussion of rousseau and the chopping off of slave limbs in haiti. i am too scattered and my heart is too clogged to write it now.
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