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am 1. Juli 2000
Adam Hochschild has written a riveting, meticulously footnoted history of the Belgian Congo and the evil perpetrated by the colonial power on the people who lived there.
While I appreciate the particular nature of King Leopold's colony (it was owned by the individual King Leopold,not by the country of Belgium) This certainly made its rule more arbitrary and less likely to be reined in by common sense and general humanity.
However, the book failed to make its case that the system itself created the environment where atrocity was not only possible, but likely. He tried, but reading through the reviews here, it's clear he didn't communicate that well enough.
As an antidote to the "Bad Belgian" impression some readers may get despite Hochschild's effort to show it was the system of colonialism itself that made it possible. The atrocities didn't occur simply because Leopold was evil (no matter how evil he was) but because the system itself by putting one people over another, creates the necessary structure for mass murder, slavery and genocide.
Another reviewer mentioned Exterminate All the Brutes. If you are interested in this history, you should read that as well. It's a small gem of a book that shows that the dehumanization of colonialism was widespread and not just practiced by the Belgians.
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am 23. November 1999
Leopold II's acquisition and ruthless exploitation of the Congo as a personal fief was an undertaking that was simultaneously epic and squalid. Untold hundreds of thousands of Africans - perhaps even millions, the statistics are uncertain - died under conditions of the most appalling suffering to satisfy this egomaniac's greed. Worse still, the whole callous process, which descended at times into orgiastic sadism, was aided and abetted by a range of administrators, business interests and even missionaries. Leopold dominates the narrative, a malign, hypocritical and wealth-obsessed spider at the centre of a vast web of his own making, busy until the last in creating schemes of breath-taking ambition and of true, unadulterated evil, never visiting the lands he made a hell, never glimpsing the wretches whose lives he ruined. Villains outnumber the heroes in the story by a substantial margin, and the efforts of the magnificent trio of E.D. Morel, Roger Casement and the shipping magnate John Holt to expose the scandal and end the abuses were rewarded with only qualified success. This book covers the basic facts of the story, often in a somewhat sketchy manner, and one longs repeatedly for more detail and for imposition of a firmer chronological sequence on the events described. The writing lacks a real sense and feel for Africa, its landscapes and its peoples, and indeed Thomas Packenham's treatment of the same topic in his "The Scramble for Africa", though more summary, is considerably more convincing and rewarding. An interesting footnote is that when Irish forces went to the Congo in 1960 as part of the UN response to the secession of Katanga, they did so as "The Casement Brigade" and the airbase near Dublin they flew out from has been known thereafter as the "Casement Airfield". One feels that the old champion of Congolese rights and of Irish independence would have approved fully.
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am 25. Mai 2000
One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry--both when reading the book itself and when reading some of the reviews posted here.
On the one hand it's good to see that Hochschild's excellent work of popular history has generated some justifiable outrage. On the other hand it's sad that so many had learned so little about these atrocities before encountering the book--a sad commentary on America's politically correct schools. (Be advised that by "politically correct" I mean "slanted in favor of conservatism, racism, etc.")
Occasional signs of how much racism and moral relativism remains are found in some of the angrier negative reviews above (another indication of the great value of Hochschild's work). Apparently unable to refute Hochschild's main thesis, one reviewer carps about details such as the photographs, then launches into an argument that is every bit as morally bankrupt as the old saw about how Hitler was good because he made the trains run on time:
"Does the author has realized that leprosy, sleeping disease, endemic wars between tribes have created more havoc in Congo before and during the time that king Leopold was sending Stanley to follow the Congo valley?"
Of course, there were wars in Germany before the rise of the Third Reich, and in Russia before the October Revolution. Are we therefore to excuse Hitler and Stalin? This book's negative reviews have deepened my own experience of the book by reminding me that the sources of the evils Hochschild describes are still lurking among us.
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am 3. Oktober 1998
This could have been a very good book -- an historical exploration of a little-known era and series of events in Africa. The author certainly did enough research to craft such a tale, and in spots the narrative is quite interesting. However, the author simply cannot stop trying to wedge this story into a politically correct fable without any real justification for doing so and keeps dragging in irrelevant things he admires -- Amnesty International, pacificists in WWI, etc. Well, it doesn't work and all this does is gradually undercut the author's credibility and make the reader suspicious of the other parts...Too bad, it could have been much better.
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am 25. Juni 2000
One of my favorite aspects of good historical nonfiction is that it conveys a sense of detail, depth, and texture that is sometimes absent from the most perceptive fiction.
Hochshild's book concerns not only King Leopold, as the title seems to imply, but an immense collection of both famous and lesser participants and variables in the Congo issue. One will be shocked by the contradictions latent in Victorian sensibilities, which makes us wonder: "what vices do we unknowingly harbor?". One will be enthralled by the political dexterity of King Leopold, and his procedure for securing and gaining worldwide respect for his mission. Of course, any respect he generated was by means of fraud, and the mechanisms of his deception are practiced still by politicians to this day. What Congos are we now endorsing?
King Leopold's Ghost is all the more readable because it is not polemically charged. Hochschild does not seek a "politically-correct" blanket indictment of Western Civilization. Hochschild, the historian, carefully and explicitly reminds us of the complexity of historical men and motives, of the savagery and benevolence of Africans and Europeans alike.
I read Conrad's Heart of Darkness three times before reading this book: several of the violent incidents described by Hochschild push Conrad's disturbing work far into the category of "realism". Apparently in loading their ships cargoes of railroad spikes and rations, the Europeans had little room to bring along much civilization. (It is ironic that Leopold's pet project, a daunting task pursued by political giants, was ultimately toppled after a series of events initiated by some acute observation on behalf of a lowly shipping clerk who noticed discrepancies in the cargo manifests!)
Perhaps only communist regimes have seen more blood than Colonialism, but why Leopold's name is never mentioned alongside Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin is surprising.
Hochschild's work, as a book, is an immense success. His presentation of an important topic is engaging, quite readable, and multi-faceted. Who ever said history was boring?
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am 23. Juni 2000
Lets face it! Belgium is not a country that readily springs tomind when one thinks of perpetrators of mass murder &genocide. This makes the harrowing story of King Leopold's Ghost all the more harrowing. His single-minded, obsessive desire to carve out a piece of the "African cake", that most of his neighbouring European colleagues were busy doing in the late 19th. century, is fascinating enough. His cunning use of contempory international personalities, the manipulation of the media, the guise of an anti-slavery organisation to further his ends, might even allow one a grudging admiration for the man's abilities. However, his cavalier indifference to the suffering & death of millions of the Congo natives that he caused in the sordid pursuit of personal profit, is quite simply appalling. One is left with a feeling of admiration for the fierce & dauntless opponants of this tyranical regime, contempt for the lily-livered support they received from statesmen of so-called enlightened countries & loathing for the king that brought these deeds to pass. The book, I would mention, is well written, well researched & recommended.
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am 1. Mai 2000
Adam Hochschild's book is subtitled "A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa," and all three can be found in his gripping narrative.
The greed is largely that of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. For years before becoming king, Leopold had been obsessed with colonies and the wealth that could be extracted from them. When he came to the throne, he proceeded to grab a large chunk of the enormous basis drained by the Congo River, much of which was explored for him by the mercenary journalist Henry Morton Stanley (who does not emerge favorably from Hochschild's account). In his Congo Free State, run by a private corporation, Leopold wielded far more authority than he did as Belgium's constitutional monarch, and he used that authority to enrich himself for 23 years.
The terror was visited on the inhabitants of the Congo. Forced labor was used on a massive scale to extract and export the natural wealth of the region--ivory and rubber being two of the biggest prizes--and the chicotte, a nasty whip made of hippopotamus hide, was freely used to lash every last drop of effort out of people who were essentially slaves. Hochschild carefully documents the extent of the human costs paid for Leopold's enrichment. The death toll due to murder, starvation, disease, etc., amounted to about half the Congo's population over a 40 year period--some 10 million deaths to lay at Leopold's door.
The heroism was displayed by people who fought to expose Leopold's crimes and puncture his undeserved reputation as a humanitarian, and who eventually forced him to at least give up his personal rule of the Congo. What was one of the first great worldwide human rights campaigns involved both the famous, like Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle, and the little-remembered. Three men in particular stand out: George Washington Williams, a black American journalist who was the first to expose Leopold's reign of terror by chicotte; Roger Casement, an Irishman who became the first British consul to the Congo, and as such bore powerful, offical witness to the crimes; and Edmund Morel, an English shipping agent who founded the Congo Reform Association, which stands as a forebear to humanitarian groups like Human Rights Watch in our own time.
Hochschild is a meticulous researcher and a gifted writer, and he brings his century old characters, both the virtuous and the malignant, to vivid life. Like many books, "King Leopold's Ghost" is not pleasant reading, but necessary reading. Only by confronting and understanding history's darker episodes can we hope to avoid repeating them.
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am 15. April 2014
Vor 30 Jahren bin ich einmal an eienm nebeligen, regnerischen Tag durch die Wälder rechts der Meuse nördlich von Verdun gefahren und habe mich gefragt, warum dieser Krieg in Deutschland nahezu vergessen zu sein scheint. Kann es daran liegen, dass es kaum Bücher in deutscher Sprache gibt, die ohne zu verurteilen diesen Krieg aus verschiedenen Blickwinkeln beschreiben?

Adam Hochschilds Buch ist so ein Buch, das den grossen Krieg aus dem Blickwinkel einiger Protagonisten der englischen upper class, dem Blckwinkel des einfachen Soldaten an der Front und dem Blickwinkel einiger Pazifisten und Kriegsdienstverweigerer in der englischen Heimat beschreibt. Dabei wird ein sehr kritischer Blick auf die englische kavalerieverliebte Generaltät geworfen (Haig, French), die den Grabenkrieg hasst und die Realität des Krieges ignoriert. Auf der anderen Seite lernt der Leser englische Pazifisten kennen (Keir Hardie, die Pankhurst Familie ua), die viel Mut besassen und dem "Geheul" einer patriotischen Presse widerstanden.
Dieses Buch ist kein Propaganda Buch. Es beschreibt die Grausamkeit des Grossen Krieges vornehmlich aus englische Sicht.
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am 31. Oktober 1999
This is a really good book, make no mistake about it. People should learn about dark periods in our history. Europeans really did screw over the Africans. Still, the author goes a little too far in demonizing the villian, King Leopold. He also makes a more than a few suppositions --"it's safe to assume Mr. X passed by Mr. Y," or "the King might have been thinking this"-- that really have no place in a history book. I would have preferred more fact, more political context. The history here can stand on its own merits and still show this time for what it was, horrible exploitation.
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am 30. Juni 2000
Hochschild really opened my eyes about the tragedy in the Belgian Congo, and for that I'm very thankful I was introduced to(well, made to read actually) :) this book. Hochschild puts a very personal face on the Congo but it seems a bit shallow. It's filled with facts, but it doesn't seem to encompass the whole picture. It's definately not the "tell all, end all" on the subject. This is a good read, filled with biographies, but it is just a start.
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