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The Crime of the Congo by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Crime of the Congo

by Arthur Conan Doyle

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This is Conan Doyle's excellent denunciation of the appalling atrocities committed by the Belgian authorities in the Congo in central Africa between the 1880s and the end of the 1910s when this book was written. It is written as a call for action and encourages its readers to campaign against oppression - it is no mere statement of an intellectual opposition. His descriptions of atrocities are chilling, his gathering of condemnatory evidence from a variety of sources compelling. His political analysis reads well, if at times a little naively to the modern reader; he considers that such atrocities would not have happened in the "slower days" fifty years earlier where there was "more decorum and principle in life", and that other imperialisms, not only British, but also French, German and Portuguese, are above such things. That said, I think it is fair to say that British imperialism, while certainly not above individual atrocities, did not as a rule employ such appalling tactics as a key weapon of day to day state policy. Indeed, had the British Empire employed such methods as a matter of course, it would not have lasted so long; successful empires are much more subtle and accommodating to local practices and customs. Finally, Doyle's list of the excuses offered by Congo apologists are very reminiscent of those offered by dictatorships and their apologists since then (it's none of your business what we do in our own country; you/others are just as bad, so why pick on us; you're just jealous of our economic success; it's all propaganda concocted by X; Y has been to the country and didn't see anything wrong, etc.). Most sinisterly, the excuse that the massive deaths caused by shooting, whipping and mutilation, were actually caused by sleeping sickness (cf. Nazi apologists claiming gas chamber deaths were caused by disease). Anyway, it is riveting stuff and shows a side of Conan Doyle we don't often hear. 5/5 ( )
  john257hopper | Apr 6, 2012 |
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