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HOCHSCHILD, Adam



King Leopold’s Ghost

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Furthermore, unlike many other great predators of history, from Genghis Khan to the Spanish conquistadors, King Leopold II never saw a drop of blood spilled in anger. He never set foot in the Congo. There is something very modern about that, too, as there is about the bomber pilot in the stratosphere, above the clouds, who never hears screams or sees shattered homes or torn flesh.

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From the colonial era, the major legacy Europe left to Africa was not democracy as it is practiced today in countries like England, France, and Belgium; it was authoritarian rule and plunder. On the whole continent, perhaps no nation has had a harder time than the Congo in emerging from the shadow of its past.

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A parade of witnesses offered horrifying testimony. One of the most impressive was Chief Lontulu of Bolima, who had been flogged with the chicotte, held hostage, and sent to work in chains. When his turn came to testify, Lontulu laid 110 twigs on the commission’s table, each representing one of his people killed in the quest for rubber. He divided the twigs into four piles: tribal nobles, men, women, children. Twig by twig, he named the dead. Word.

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