Category Archives: world history

What do you know about the history of the Congo?

I have been doing a lot of reading this summer preparing for my World History class this fall. Here is what I have read so far:

As you can see it was focused on indigenous peoples, imperialism, and the effects of it. I also watched the excellent documentary The Canary Effect.

But my most recent book has been the most disturbing to me. How much do you know about the killing that happened in the Congo from 1890-1920? Conservative estimates put the number of Africans killed at least 10 million or over half of the population. 

I must confess that I knew nothing about this before I started reading King Leopold’s Ghost . Everyone knows about the Holocaust but this history is mostly ignored. This book disturbed me on many levels: the cruelty of the Europeans toward Africans, the racism, brutality, torture, rape, and forced labor. But this book also presents “heroes” who fought against the evil acts of the Europeans. But even the “good guys” are flawed often criticizing the Belgians but ignoring the same imperialistic acts being perpetrated by their own country (Britain and the United States) against other indigenous peoples around the world. The Africans are not totally innocent either as many of them worked as soldiers for the Europeans committing terrible crimes against their own people or neighboring tribes. It was also very disturbing to me that I had never heard of these events before and I know that most Americans know nothing about it.
Africans cut off hands of people murdered to prove that they did not “waste” ammunition on animals by Gastev
I find myself a bit depressed by this book (but I highly recommend it). The more I research and learn about the history of the world I find it is full of powerful, greedy people who abuse others and endless wars. Evidence of corruption, bribery, and coverup is in every government. The United States often pretends to act for democracy and “the common good” from a moral perspective, but when the truth comes out money, power, and personal advantage in the world are the true motivations of its actions. 

Mankind never seems to learn from its mistakes and disease, poverty, wars, ethnic cleansing, and genocide continue to this day. Meanwhile the wealthy hiding behind multi-national companies build their wealth while the poor fight their battles in the name of democracy.

The only redeeming people seem to be outside of the government working for missions or human rights organizations. I want to give students a positive view of the future, but the patterns seem eternal to me. The best I may be able to give them is the power of a few strong voices to bring change. Certainly the United States has improved its treatment of many people over time but there is still much work to be done. How do you balance the truth with a positive view of the future?