King Leopolds Ghost
Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost” is an account of a man’s rise of power who was very cruel and did unimaginable things. When I began reading, I wasn’t sure where the novel was going, but I soon caught on to what Hochschild was revealing. As the story begins to unfold he tells a story of King Leopold II of Belgium who managed to seize land next to the Congo River in Africa. King Leopold used political manipulation and lies to get what he wanted. King Leopold had everyone fooled that he was a humanitarian and he was in the Congo for the greater good, but that was not the case.
He claimed that civilizing the Congo would keep out “Arab slave- traders” to gain support of people, but Leopold wanted something else. Leopold was very greedy, and his greed resulted in the slaying of millions of innocent people. As the story begins, Leopold uses Henry Morton Stanley like a puppet to help colonize the Congo. He starts out helping Leopold gain support from political leaders and from large powers including the United States. Leopold tells countries that he wanted to set up a “Free State” in the Congo so he could civilize the region.
King Leopolds Ghost Essay Example
He claimed that he would set up schools, set up trade routes, and creates jobs. Although, this was obviously just a cover up that way people would not be suspicious of what he was doing in the Congo. When Stanley sets out to find Livingstone, and explores Africa it’s the start of the colonization. Stanley followed the Congo River for “fifteen hundred miles”, which intrigued Leopold because it gave him an idea on what he had found (Hochschild 61). Leopold instantly was fascinated, but was the most interesting to him was the Congo’s ivory and rubber because Americans and Europeans we’re already buying it.
Stanley and his men landscaped the area, and Stanley helped wreck their homes, and played a huge role in robbing them from their heritage. Leopold and Stanley both were alike in ways and believed “Africa was a chance to gain upward mobility towards wealth and glory” (Hochschild 63). Furthermore, as the story continues to slowly unfold and Leopold begins his rule over the Congo someone is caught on to Leopold’ intentions. A gentleman called Edmund Dene Morel is sent to Belgium from his company to watch ships being unloaded by from the Congo.
Although, Morel notices something that others do not. As he investigates he then discovers that barely any trade was being exchanged for the ivory and rubber coming from the Congo. Morel came to a conclusion that it had to be indeed some kind of slave labor. As he begins to investigate he realizes his conclusion was correct. As he continues to look into this matter, he then discovers that Leopold had a lot more power over the “Congo Free State” than he originally thought (Hochschild 4).
Morel began to see for himself what was happening in the Congo and began to tell other officials and he wrote many essays about the current events. His plan was to make the world aware what was going on through his writings. Hochschild notes in the book that, “Morels attacks soon drew a response from the Royal Palace” (Hochschild 192). As Morel began his writings it started to gain a lot of attention. Morel sent a man called Roger Casement to the Congo to investigate Morels statements which ended up being true.
After this happened they formed an association called the “Congo Reform Association” which “exerted a relentless, growing pressure” (Hochschild 209). Morel and Casement we’re two of the most influential people in the book and who know what would have happened if they didn’t spend years of their lives to help these people. Leopold worked most of the slaves to death, and the others were badly beaten or either tortured as they were working to meet his production standards. For example, if the “men” were not meeting his standards they often held women hostage and raped them to ensure productivity was sufficient.
Although, innocent blood was being spilled and they even cut limbs some people and surprising part is Leopold never set foot in the “free state”. Hoshschild even makes the comment that “there was something very modern about that“(Hochschild 4). King Leopold II had no human respect, and his own family had barley anything to do with him. I personally don’t understand how someone could stand to look themselves in the mirror after doing such horrible things, and it shows how far people would go for wealth.
Throughout the book Hochschild shows the dedication of Morel, and major roles that characters played to shape the history of the Congo like Stanley, and William Sheppard (who was one of the most outspoken out of all American Congo missionaries. ) The author examined the Congo because it shows how extreme colonialism is and what it was like for people that were under a colonial rule. I think this book has a clear meaning and thesis, Hochschild wanted to expose what happened in the Congo because he felt like it had been covered up and he wanted to paint the readers a picture that they would never forget.
My theory is I don’t believe that King Leopold was there for the greater good and to better the Congolese people. I think it’s obvious from the evidence I’ve already stated supports that theory. What was going on in the Congo was genocide without a doubt and I don’t think the “term” slavery doesn’t do the Congolese people justice. Following this further, some people might argue and say that what King Leopold did was not genocide because he wasn’t trying to wipe out the Congolese, just for the simple fact that he needed them to do the labor.
Leopold was pushing to extract the biggest amount of rubber he could possibly get from the wild rubber vines before other tree plantations by other countries matured and reduced the cost. Basically, Leopold’s goal was to push for a high rate of goods even if that meant huge death tolls which were not just thousands; it was millions. So both could be true, but only Leopold knew what his intentions were. The author states that “The Congo in Leopold’s eyes was not the one of starving porters, raped hostages, emaciated rubber slaves, and severed hands.
It was an empire of his dreams, with gigantic trees, exotic animals, and inhabitants grateful for his wise rule” (Hochschild). After Leopold’s death in 1909, some thought it would be the end of the “era” as the author puts it, but that’s not the case. A few years later, Britain recognized the Congo as the Belgian Congo and they made vast improvements. They switched the rubber industry to cultivated rubber rather than wild rubber and taxes replaced “severed” hands as a way of forcing labor.
However, the Belgian did no better running the new Congo than Leopold and realized that they needed cultivated rubber instead of wild rubber vines, and noticed that the vines were getting scarce. This caused them to harvest other products like cotton, and palm oil as well as some wild rubber. This was the process until the 1920’s when “white traders bought wild rubber from villagers pressed to pay their taxes”(Hochschild 276). Leopold’s “Ghost” lived on for many years after he died and when WWI came around forced labor still was brutal.
Furthermore, you might ask yourself what happened to all the money that Leopold invested from his rule in the Congo. Since he didn’t get along with his three daughters, Hochschild mentions that his wishes were to “disinherit” the money from them and to “die a billionaire” (Hochschild 275). Leopold hid his money in the German Foundation, and even went as far as buying fifty-eight pieces of real estate. The Belgian government spent years trying to find out what to do with King Leopold’s money and was interrupted by WWI since most of the “entities” involved were Belgium, France, and Germany.
In conclusion, I think the book was quite interesting to read although it took a while to really understand the theme. Ultimately, I do think what happened here was genocide and was one of the cruelest happenings in history. Overall, I thought it was a very interesting book and Hochschild shows how characters like, Morel and Sheppard define these people. Hochschild wasn’t afraid to reveal the greed that Leopold had and how he demonstrated “justification” for his doings. Although, the author raised a lot of question in the book because he really wasn’t clear on how he felt about colonialism himself.
At times he shows that Belgian Congo was the worst things to have happened in that time and other times he shows that colonialism was everywhere at that time. In the end, the story of the native people here will live on forever and they will never get the justice that they truly deserve. However, in a way this book lets their voices be heard, and Hochschild makes it a point for them not to be just “erased” from history.