10 February 2011
King Leopold's Ghost Essay
The era known as the Industrial Revolution was a period of unprecedented growth, not only limited to technology, but to economic systems, policies, and ideologies. Industrialization ignited great nationalism in industrialized countries, hence leading to the rise of the empire builders of Imperialism. King Leopold II was an empire builder of this age who "found a number of tools at his disposal that had not been available to empire builders of earlier times" (Hochschild 89). He cunningly employed these technologies to build an ethereal reputation amongst the Congolese; they were white men who rode on long steel snakes, possessed weapons that vomited fire, and had medications of a divine nature. Although these tools were a crucial part of Belgian's Imperialist endeavors, it was not solely based upon these physical and economic tools that allowed King Leopold's efficient colonization of Africa, but rather the clever and brutal exploiting of these factors of the Industrial Revolution itself to spark power over and terror amongst the Congolese, not dissimilar to the late Aztec Empire of Mexico. It was a "revolution" pertinently named, as it thoroughly and abruptly eradicated the old fashioned way of doing things, and altered the lives of the Congo and its natives for generations to come.
"To begin with, there was weaponry" (Hochschild 89). 19th century advancements in engineering and machining with regards to warfare technology brought upon the breech-loading rifle, as opposed to the "primitive muzzle loaders which were the best arms that most Congolese could obtain" (Hochschild 89). The breech-loaded rifle was the forefront of Belgian diplomacy in the Congo, and these new rifles proved to be far superior to the archaic weapons of the Africans. The repeating rifle, also known as the Maxim Gun, further enhanced the terror of all Congolese, especially those who were unlucky enough to be on the other side of the crosshairs. One such eye-witness account details an encounter with these weapons: "they killed many of the Basoko with sticks, which sent forth thunder and lightning" (Hochschild 54). King Leopold effectively used these weapons to build upon the mystical presence of the "White Man" because these weapons were relatively unknown to the Congolese. These "officially sanctified terror" tactics proved to be an effective tool in quelling Congolese thoughts of resistance.
"Another tool was medical knowledge..they learned that quinine was a useful defense" (Hochschild 90). Prior to medical advancements, the Europeans were extremely susceptible to African diseases, much like American indigenous people were to European diseases, and malaria was to blame. However, the discovery of quinine as a defense to these illnesses, coupled with fruitful medical research of African illnesses, caused the "awesomely high death rate for Europeans in the African tropics to drop" (Hochschild 90). As the death rate decreased, we see that the longevity of the European populace in Africa starts to grow, thereby establishing a firm foothold for European occupancy in the Congo.
Finally, these technologies could only be employed by industrial progress in the transportation department allowing the punctual delivery of rubber, which was in high demand due to the rubber boom. The steamboat provided relatively smooth travel across the unusual geography of the Congo for white men working in the Congo. The popular development of railroads in the Industrial revolution provided quick transportation for rubber, ivory, and "without it, the territory's riches could not be brought to the sea except on foot" (Hochschild 91).
The Belgian rule of the Congo, in terms of economic rule, was an overblown sense of mercantilism, where metropole Belgium was an economic leech, sucking the life and riches out of the Congo. Using philanthropy as an excuse, King...
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