Thursday, January 11, 2018

A long time ago, on a blog far away...

Title: Phasma
Author: Delilah Dawson
Genres: books to movies, Star Wars, scifi

I recently saw The Last Jedi in theaters and while I liked the movie overall, I was disappointed with the lack of Phasma’s screen time- she only had about 5 lines in the film. We’ve been told that Phasma is a badass but there has been no background story or character development in the last two movies that live up to the hype. So imagine my delight when I saw Phasma by Delilah Dawson available for checkout at my local library- finally, I can get some background info on Star Wars’ latest mysterious character!

Vi Moradi is a Resistance spy captured by the First Order; she is secretly interrogated by a mysterious red-clad Stormtrooper known as The Cardinal. The Cardinal is obsessed with Phasma- he was the cream of the crop under General Brendol Hux, and Hux’s personal bodyguard, until General Hux brought Phasma into the First Order. Now The Cardinal is intent on ruining Phasma and he needs information extracted from Vi Moradi to do it. While under duress, Vi Moradi tells The Cardinal about Phasma’s tough upbringing on Parnassos (this part reminded me of Scheherazade in Arabian Nights- she draws out the story as long as she can to save her own neck).

Phasma was the tallest and strongest warrior and a respected co-leader in a small, hardscrabble band of people on Parnassos, the Scyre. The Scyre lived on an inhospitable part of Parnassos and constantly fought for survival against geography, the elements, and other small groups of people desperate for what little resources were left. The Scyre were an egalitarian group with an uncertain future since miscarriages and childhood mortality were common misfortunes. One day, a starship crashes on Parnassos and Phasma and her warriors rescue Brendol Hux and his Stormtroopers. Phasma uses this opportunity to learn more about the First Order and to strike a deal with Hux to get her people off of Parnassos to ensure their survival. Unfortunately, the longer Phasma is around Brendol Hux, the more she starts to think only for herself and less about the Scyre’s survival.  Phasma uses this opportunity to shed herself of the Scyre with tragic results (for the Scyre). The Cardinal (and the reader) learns that Phasma’s heart is as cold as the chrome armor she wears.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Historical Fiction Triple Play

I was blessed and privileged to be a part of the Berry Fleming Book Festival this past September. Not only was I on the planning committee, but I also served as the moderator for the Historical Fiction panel featuring Jim Minick, Julia Franks, and Daren Wang. All three of their books were excellent and gave me a “reading hangover!” (A reading hangover is when a book is sooo good that the reader must stay up past his or her normal bedtime to find out what happens next, get some answers, etc. The next day this poor reader fails at all adulting responsibilities due to sluggishness and lack of sleep).

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires
Mary Willis returns home with a brand-new college degree and a spirit of abolitionism. Her brother, Leander, is the 1860s version of a slacker and their veteran father, Nathan, is one of the pioneers of Town Line, New York. Although the Willis family lives in the North, escaped slaves are not welcome in the communities of Town Line and Alden due to fears of job and property loss (sound familiar?). Some Northerners (called copperheads) earn money returning escaped slaves to their owners across the Mason-Dixon line. When Mary stumbles across a family of escaped slaves, abolitionism changes from an abstract ideology to real-world activism when she hides a slave in her family’s root cellar.
At first, the citizens of Town Line are overcome with war fever and cheer as the young men of the community sign up to fight for the Union. Their passion and fervor is quickly deflated and reality sets in when most of the young men are killed in battle; the town’s grief turns to rage against President Lincoln and the citizens secede from the Union. Mary’s family soon comes under suspicion for hiding a fugitive slave and tragedy results when the Willis’ are caught attempting to transport Joe (the escaped slave) to a safe house.
(Yes, Town Line, New York did indeed secede from the Union and Daren Wang also manages to sneak in a little-known bit of history into his novel: the missions of the Confederate Secret Service.)

Fire is Your Water
Fire is Your Water takes place in the Pennsylvania mountains and along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1953. Ada Franklin is known throughout the mountains for her powwow skills (healing abilities). After a fire in the family barn and experiencing an eerie vision, Ada unexpectedly loses her healing skills and is unable to heal her mother’s burns: “She had entered the fire, and now she didn’t know who had come back out” (22). Meanwhile, on the other side of the mountain Will Burke rescues and adopts Cicero, an injured raven who lost his family in a thunderstorm. The book is told from the alternating viewpoints of Ada, Will, and Cicero. Ada and Will start a quiet, budding romance but their relationship and Ada’s faith is tested when tragedy strikes the gas station where Will works.

Over the Plain Houses
Irenie Lambey is stuck in a loveless marriage. She and Brodis used to love each other but the dynamics of their relationship changed after the death of their infant daughter. Brodis gave up his dangerous logging job to preach; his brand of Christianity is rigid and stifling. The power and social status Brodis receives as a preacher turns him into a strict, unbending father and a controlling, abusive husband. Irenie starts taking midnight walks to combat her feelings of loneliness and stores the various mountain treasures she finds in a secret cave. Brodis is alarmed by his wife’s nightly absences and he assumes that Irenie is engaging in some form of witchcraft. Brodis is also disturbed at the growing friendship between Irenie and Virginia Furman, the new USDA agent sent by the government to assist mountain families with modernizing their farms and kitchens. Brodis is distrustful of outsiders in general (they always want to make someone change), but the nighttime walks and new friendship fuels a paranoia inside Brodis, a paranoia that soon manifests itself in a disastrous way.

Photos courtesy of Rhian Swain

Questions for the authors:

Jim Minick
·       How did writing historical fiction differ from writing a memoir?
Daren Wang
·       In your novel the hamlet of Town Line, in upstate New York, secedes from the Union. Can you tell us about any real-life Northern towns that seceded from the United States?
Julia Franks
·       How did your Appalachian roots and the love of the outdoors assist you in your writing process and research?
Questions for all
·       What was the inspiration for your story?
·       How long did it take to write your books and were you prepared for how long it took?
·       Julia and Daren, you are debut authors- what surprised you the most about the publishing process?
·       What aspects of your story did you have to research for your books for historical accuracy? Where did you do this research?
·       What projects are you working on now?

      This was my first time as a panel moderator at a book festival. Although I was nervous at first, my butterflies soon dissipated after Jim, Julia, and Daren enthralled the audience regarding their writing and research processes and experiences within the publishing industry. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Title: Digging for Hitler: The Nazi Archaeologists Search for an Aryan Past
Author: David Barrowclough
Genre: non-fiction, archaeology, World War II, European history, archaeological ethics

I had to read this book for my Anthropology and Pop Culture class this semester during our unit on Nazi archaeology. Yes, the Nazi search for supernatural artifacts as portrayed in the Indiana Jones series of movies was inspired by real life. In this book, Barrowclough explains how the Nazi regime hired archaeologists and anthropologists to look for historical proof of a superior Germanic "race" as part of the Nazi propaganda machine. Nazi archaeologists were also hired by Himmler to "look for evidence of an alternative pagan religion to replace Christianity" (96). Cave paintings, geological formations, Scandinavian folk tales, Atlantis, and runes are some of the things that Nazis used to link early 20th century Germany to a mythological past.

This book had a lot of potential but, unfortunately, Barrowclough didn't flesh out certain chapters enough and others were a confusing mess, which was a shame since Barrowclough had plenty of time to research and flesh out this book while he was in jail for fraud. What really bothered me about the book was the multiple spelling errors I found throughout the book (and these weren't differences in British and American spelling of common words). Where was the editor?

Monday, January 1, 2018

New year, new reading challenge

Happy new year, dear readers! I don't make resolutions in real life, but every January 1st I sign into my Goodreads account and enter the annual Reading Challenge. For 2017 I challenged myself to read 50 books and I ended up reading...45! (sooo close!!). For the 2018 Reading Challenge I have once again challenged myself to reading 50 books. While my reading challenge is pretty basic and limited to number of books read, there are other annual reading challenges that are more creative. For example, I stumbled across this master list of reading challenges today.

What are your reading goals for 2018?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

All the Shah's Men

Title: All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
Author: Stephen Kinzer
Genre: non-fiction, American history, Middle Eastern history, Iranian history, politics

**This review has been adapted from an essay I wrote for my Modern World Civilization class**

            Before I read All the Shah’s Men, my personal knowledge about Iran was very limited. I knew that the Shah had been overthrown in the 1970s, with help from the United States government, and that the Ayatollah was put in place as ruler in the Shah’s stead. I have also hard about the American hostage crisis that took place in Iran in the late 1970s, but I have not completed any in-depth research about either event. Before reading this book, I had never heard about the 1953 coup in Iran (orchestrated with assistance from the U.S. government). I knew that Iran and the United States have had unfriendly diplomatic relations for decades and this book explains the beginnings of this animosity. I have described the events of this book to a few other people and they had never heard of the 1953 Iranian coup either.
            Iran, like the Congo, was a victim of European imperialism. Africa was carved and divvied up between European powers in 1885 at the Berlin Conference, with no African input. Iran suffered a similar fate in 1907 when Great Britain and Russia met in Saint Petersburg and divided Iranian soil between them, with no Iranian say-so in the matter (I see a disturbing pattern here….): “Britain assumed control of the southern provinces, while Russia took the north. A strip between the two zones was declared neutral, meaning that Iranians could rule there as long as they did not act against the interests of their privileged guests” (38). Britain was interested in Iran because of its proximity to India and the Russians were also interested in Iran since it was adjacent to its southern border. This paternalistic attitude towards Iran was indicative of the imperialistic and condescending attitudes many powerful Westerners held towards non-Western peoples and societies.
Iran’s relationship with Great Britain can be traced back to numerous bad business and economic decisions made by Nasir al-Din Shah, who “came up with the idea of raising cash by selling Iran’s patrimony to foreign companies and governments” (31). The Shah’s plan was implemented after he and his hundreds of children had bankrupted the country with their lavish lifestyles. Soon after the Shah put Iran’s various industries up for sale, the British obtained exclusive control of Iran’s agriculture, mining, railroad, banking, and tobacco industries. Muzzafar al-Din Shah continued his father’s poor business legacy with the sale of Iran’s natural gas and oil industry to British banker William Knox D’arcy in 1901. With the growing popularity of automobiles in the early twentieth century, the British realized if they “could not find oil somewhere, they would no longer be able to rules the waves or much of anything else” (48).
After the confirmed discovery of oil in Iran, the British created the Anglo-Persian Oil Company “to take control of oil exploration and development in Iran” (49) and to enrich British coffers. Unfortunately, only the British were enjoying the perks of the booming petroleum profits. While British petroleum workers lived in individual, comfortable housing with access to many amenities (shops, theaters, swimming pools, etc.), the lower class Iranian workers enjoyed no such luxuries and “lived in slums and long dormitories with only primitive sanitation” (50). Iranians viewed the Shah as a literal sellout and his most vocal critic was Mohammad Mossadegh who despised the British takeover of his country: “If bringing prosperity to the country through the work of other nations were of benefit to the people, every nation would have invited foreigners into its home. If subjugation were beneficial, no subjugated country would have tried to liberate itself through bloody wars and heavy losses” (59). The British government offered a Supplemental Agreement in 1949 that guaranteed increased petroleum royalties, more Iranian promotions, and less drilling. The Iranian legislative assembly debated for months on whether to accept this deal and things were coming to a stalemate when the Iranian government learned that Saudi Arabia had reached an agreement with Aramco to split all oil profits on a 50/50 basis. When a similar idea was floated to the British government regarding Iran, they rejected the idea of an even split of profits (77). In Iran, calls for nationalization of the country’s oil field divided legislators, angered the British, and was looked upon favorably by the Truman administration who felt that “if the United States did not align itself with nationalist forces in the developing world, those forces would turn toward Marxism and the Soviet Union” (88).
Mohammad Reza Shah officially dismantled the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company on May 1, 1951, and created the National Iranian Oil Company; the British were furious since they considered Iranian oil, found on Iranian land to be British property. The Truman administration “worried that the argument between the United States and Britain over how to deal with Mossadegh might spiral out of control and split the Atlantic alliance” (99). During this time of heightened tensions with the Soviet Union, the United States wanted to maintain as many alliances as possible to stop the spread of communism.
When outright political demands and hostility refused to sway the pro-nationalist Iranians, the British took to more subtle forms of economic sabotage: British refinery managers refused to repair or replace equipment and refused to properly train new managers; the British persuaded their western European allies to deny visas to petroleum workers applying for relocation to Iran. In a desperate move, the British government took their case to the United Nations to justify their monopoly on Iran’s oil industry. That tactic failed as well but a change in the leadership and diplomatic styles in the American and British governments in 1952-1953 brought the United States, Great Britain, and Iran on a collision course. The United States and Great Britain co-authored plans for a coup to overthrow Mossadegh titled Operation Ajax. “One looked forward to recovering its oil concession. The other saw a chance to deliver a devastating blow against communism” (164). Intelligence operatives from both countries used their extensive network of local contacts to start protests and counter-protests to keep the Iranian government and people distracted from the true architects of the imminent coup. After Mossadegh’s overthrow, the British government tried to reinsert itself on the Iranian oilfields but ironically “the logic of power dictated that since the United States had done the dirty work of overthrowing Mossadegh, American companies should share the spoils” (195).
From the 1950s American perspective, the overthrow of Mossadegh and reinstatement of the Shah appeared to be a success but six decades later the world is paying the price of American and British greed and demand for oil that was deemed more important than Iranian democracy. The proverb “Oh what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive” is an apropos viewpoint of the 1953 coup and its after effects. The Middle East is in a constant state of political, economic, and religious turmoil, most Iranians hate the Americans for butting into situations in which they weren’t asked to assist, and the West has inadvertently contributed to the spread of terrorism. Some members of the British and the US governments still subscribed to imperialism in the 1950s and this narrowmindedness and ethnocentrism blinded government leaders to the long-term consequences of interfering in another country’s politics and industry. The Western powers did not realize that interfering in Iran would have negative ripple effects in a globalized world. I think the worst thing about this is that the United States still has not learned its lesson in orchestrating coups. The US was also involved in disastrous diplomatic incidents in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran again in 1979; this is why studying history is so important- so we don’t make the same mistakes as our predecessors!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Title: Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World
Author: Sharon Waxman
Genre: archaeology, museums, history, non-fiction

**This review has been adapted from a book review I wrote for my Anthropology and Pop Culture class**

            The phrase “All that glitters isn’t gold” could be applied to the museum world. Museum goers only see the “finished product” carefully displayed in a well-lit, climate-controlled setting. The public rarely finds out about the dark underbelly of museums: the looting and illegal sales of antiquities. In Loot, Waxman examines the histories and procurement processes of four of the world’s most prestigious museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), The Getty Museum (Malibu, California), The Louvre (Paris, France), and the British Museum (London, England). As a journalist, Waxman also interviewed people involved in multiple aspects of the antiquities debate: repatriation activists, lawyers, curators, museum directors and staff, archaeologists, smugglers, and legitimate antiquities dealers. Everyone that Waxman interviewed had passionate (and biased) positions regarding the sale and restitution of antiquities. Her numerous interviews revealed that imperialist attitudes are still rampant in the antiquities trade, restitution/repatriation of cultural objects is a controversial subject in the art and archaeology communities, and provenance of objects is related to nationalism and the national identity of source countries.
            Egypt, Turkey, and Greece were conquered by various Western empires in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and these empires’ “urge to possess” (Waxman 2008:225) ranged from land and resources to a conquered nation’s art and other cultural objects.  The armies and agents of these empires experienced no qualms about removing artifacts and shipping them off to England, France, or Germany: “After conquering foreign cultures, Europe brought back home the trophies that it desired along with slaves, spices, treasure, and raw materials” (Waxman 2008:4). These spoils of war were carried off to Europe and filled up the new museums created in Western nations, whose purpose was to glorify the might of empires: “This nationalistic competition by European powers was about getting the biggest, most noticeable stuff” (Waxman 2008:25). Looted art from ancient civilizations was also a status symbol among the European elites; the artifacts not sold to museums were sold to wealthy, private collectors to grace their domiciles (Waxman 2008). The locals were not involved in the excavation and partage processes; for example, “The antiquities authority in Egypt was headed by a Frenchman… The reason for this was simple: Egypt produced no archaeologists of its own. There was a reason for this, too: Egyptians were not allowed to study Egyptology” since the French considered the Egyptians a primitive people incapable of studying and understanding a past civilization (Waxman 2008:57).
            Unfortunately, imperialist attitudes are alive and well in the modern museum community. Phillipe de Montebello, director of the Met stated that “people should not so ‘blithely’ accept the idea that cultural objects belong in the countries where they happen to have been dug up” (Waxman 2008:176). And Aggy Lerolle, press attaché for the Louvre told Waxman, “Who would be interested in Greek sculpture if it were all in Greece? These pieces are great because they are in the Louvre” (Waxman 2008:65). [This is just my personal opinion, but if a sculpture was deemed “great enough” to be shipped halfway across a continent to reside a museum, it’s great enough to be placed anywhere. A true art fan can appreciate and respect art from various sources and geographic locations.]
            These snobby and elitist quotes are indicative of the Western mindset in the art and antiquities world to restitution demands from source countries such as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and Italy. These countries want their cultural patrimony returned home to their original environments. Repatriation, or the return of artifacts to their source country, “is usually connected to the idea that a country’s modern cultural identity is tied to objects of its ancient history, that these objects are the tangible symbols of the link between a nation’s past and its present” (Waxman 2008:142). Repatriation activists claim that looted objects are tied to national identity: “As once-colonized nations seek to stand on their own, the countries once denuded of their past seek to assert their independent identities throughout the objects that tie them to it” (Waxman 2008:4). The countries mentioned above have also criticized the use of wealthy donors in the West to supplement museum collections and Western museums’ unwritten procurement philosophy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which repatriation activists believe encourages the cycle of looting and illegal selling of antiquities (Waxman 283).
            Waxman found during her research, that while repatriation activists have the best intentions regarding their country’s heritage, the reality is far different. Many people in these countries (especially Egypt and Turkey) have low literacy rates with lives that are a daily struggle. For generations, there has been little emphasis or value placed on these “national treasures” which has resulted in extremely low museum attendance numbers, abysmal government funding, staff shortages, outdated or broken security, and limited storage space. “If Egypt has taken too long to claim ownership of its past, and to expend political and financial capital to preserve it, it is partly because Egyptians were actively excluded from the process of discovery and knowledge” (Waxman 2008:58). Western museums criticize Greece, Egypt, and Turkey for focusing on the return of objects looted centuries ago while modern looting remains unchecked, and express concerns about the safety of antiquities in countries that have a history of political and economic instability and horrible environmental pollution.
            In contrast, the West has high literacy rates and high value is placed on cultural objects; yearly attendance can number in the millions for well-known, high-traffic museums. Western museums also benefit from access to multiple funding sources (especially from wealthy donors) state-of-the art security systems, organized storage, and paid, knowledgeable staff members. While Western museums are full of treasures from the ancient world, most of these objects lack clear provenance which means they were probably illegally excavated, illegally exported from their source country, and illegally sold to museums. Most Western museums are unconcerned about provenance issues until legal action forces them to revise their procurement and display policies. Western museums also like to highlight the fact that their museums and artifacts are in economically and politically stable regions of the world which brings “an element of safety in dividing the sculptures should something catastrophic happen in one place or another” (Waxman 2008:269 and “saves the monuments from extinction” (Waxman 2008:70).
            Italy has experienced both sides of the repatriation debate: “Italy does not fit the postcolonial paradigm of Egypt and Greece. Italy itself was a colonizer, not a country that was colonized” (Waxman 2008: 285). Italy looted its own colonies in the past and is now one of many source countries demanding restitution of cultural objects, believed to be critical to Italian identity, “and yet when plundered countries have asked Italy for objects to be returned to them, Italian officials have been slow to respond, much in the manner of other Western institutions” (Waxman 2008:286). Italy also suffers from funding and preservation issues similar to Greece and Turkey alongside a reputation for rampant corruption within the government.
            So, what is the solution to the looting and repatriation in the museum world? Everyone that Waxman interviewed had opinions on fixing the antiquities world as well. While the smugglers, antiquities dealers, and most major museum directors thought nothing wrong of the status quo, Anne Distel, a Frenchwoman that handles the repatriation requests sent to the French national museum system, “envisions a different system where museums would no longer buy works but would exchange them with source countries, under agreements worked out in advance” (Waxman 2008:122). Özgen Acar, a Turkish investigative journalist believes that, “the rich Western countries must help the poorer nations. It is the only way…to protect what is the cultural patrimony of the world” (Waxman 2008:171). Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, states that the values and mindset of museums themselves need to change; instead of cultural hierarchy, “every culture has its place” and museums need to build around the future of an object instead of its past (Waxman 2008:372).


Sunday, December 10, 2017

King Leopold's Ghost

Title: King Leopold's Ghost: A story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
Author: Adam Hochschild
Genre: non-fiction, African history, colonialism, racism

**This review is adapted from a reflection essay for my Modern World Civilization class**

            Before reading this book, I knew that Africa had been politically “carved up” between various European powers without any input from Africans and I knew that the Belgians had colonized the Congo but I had never read or learned about the details of Belgian colonization until now. After reading this book, I think the Belgian regime can be summed up in two words: greed and brutality. The Belgians were in Africa due to the restlessness and greed of King Leopold II. His ambition and restlessness affected his personal life (his wife and daughters despised him; Leopold disowned his daughters), he constantly defrauded the Belgian government to raise money for his insatiable desire for land and empire, and his race-based, Euro-centric regime killed and maimed millions of Congolese. After thirty-eight years on this Earth I am aware that humans have been cruel to each other since the beginning of recorded history, yet I am always horrified to find out how that cruelty is manifested.
            Hochschild uses the phrases “African cake” or “cake of Africa” many times throughout this book, a sentiment first expressed by King Leopold to one of his staff members (Hochschild 1998:58). This phrase confirms the European attitude towards African and its inhabitants: an object or thing to be devoured or consumed instead of a continent that was (and is) home to millions of human beings. After Britain abolished slavery in the early 1800s, the British empire focused on abolishing slavery in other parts of the non-European, non-Christian world as well: “Righteous denunciations poured down on a distant, weak, and safely nonwhite target: the so-called Arab slave-traders raiding Africa from the east” (28). Africa became an object of desire in the Victorian era since “these were the years when, to the distress of many young male Europeans, Europe was at peace. For a young man looking for a battle…the Congo was the place to go. For a white man, the Congo was also a place to get rich and wield power” (136). When it was confirmed that Africa could provide the raw materials needed to fulfill increased manufacturing and consumer demand during the Industrial Revolution, (27) Africa’s fate was doomed. Once Europeans reached Africa they viewed Africans as lazy (68) yet forced them to do hard labor that benefited European interests: “To Europeans, Africans were inferior beings: lazy, uncivilized, little better than animals. In fact, the most common way they were put to work was like animals, as beasts of burden” (121). Thanks to this inhumane treatment and racist mindset, thousands of African men died from the intense physical labor, meager food rations, and disease.
            Victorian-era explorers, soldiers, and businessmen cloaked their racism under the banner of guns and glory; unfortunately, some missionaries also hid their racist biases under the guise of humanitarianism or a spiritual call to serve. British Protestant missionaries were originally sent to Africa to help Africans improve their quality of life (according to European quality of life standards) (211). This goodwill eventually morphed into the belief “that improving the lot of downtrodden people everywhere was good for business” (212). Sometimes missionary zeal developed and colluded with something more sinister: Leopold planned for military, religious, and vocational schools to be set up for African children (133). The military schools were filled with children whose orphan status was in doubt- these schools were run by Catholic missionaries loyal to King Leopold who rewarded their loyalty through financial means. Like the male adults, African children often died of disease or starvation on their way to the orphanage or soon after their arrival.
            The Belgians maintained control of the Congolese through firepower and the much-feared chicotte which was a “whip of raw, sun-dried hippopotamus hide cut into a long, sharp-edge corkscrew strip” (120). Lashes from the chicotte were unleashed on a victim’s bare buttocks while the victim was tied to two poles laying on the ground during the administration of his punishment. To add salt to the wound, “the bulk of the chicotte blows were inflicted by Africans on the bodies of other Africans” (122). This allowed the Belgians to physically and psychologically separate themselves from the dirty work of administration and “created a class of foremen from among the conquered” (122) and probably soured relations between Africans.
            Other terror tactics included alliances with certain ethnic groups (which did not protect them from later enslavement by the Belgians), the lack of promotional opportunities for black soldiers (who were mostly conscripted), and state-sanctioned kidnapping. In a cruel twist of irony, Hochschild points out that “white officers who bargained with village chiefs to acquire ‘volunteer’ soldiers and porters were sometimes dealing with the same sources that had supplied the east coast Afro-Arab slave-traders” (130). During the natural rubber boom of the 1890s, male laborers were forced to meet rubber-harvesting quotas. To prevent rebellion and runaways, the Belgians would loot a village of all its foodstuffs and food sources and then kidnap the village women until the required rubber quota was met (161). Rubber-harvesting areas were also controlled through the issuance and denial of travel permits for Africans (similar to the travel permissions in the antebellum South). Males were required to wear a metal disk around their necks that noted the status of their rubber quota (163). Sometimes rebellious Africans were shot on sight by the colonial police force (the Force Publique) but this practice was frowned on by the officers who wanted proof that bullets had been used in military skirmishes, not in recreational hunting (165). The proof soldiers brought back was the right hand of dead Africans (165). Like all unofficial policies, this was not enforced, and soldiers amputated hands from living Africans to cover up personal use of ammunition.
The atrocities in the Congo were finally exposed through the words and evidence provided by three whistleblowers: Edmund Dene Morel, William Sheppard, and George Washington Williams. Williams was an African American Civil War veteran, pastor, journalist, and lawyer. He was no stranger to controversy- while in the States he often spoke out against post-Civil War violence against blacks. The purpose of Williams’ trip to the Congo was to scope out work opportunities for African Americans: “In Africa, surely, there would be the chance for pioneering and advancement then denied blacks in the United States” (105). Williams’ idealistic vision of opportunity was quickly dashed by the horrors he personally witnessed. Williams used his outrage to publish a pamphlet exposing King Leopold’s regime to the world. Williams’ Open Letter “was the first comprehensive, systematic indictment of Leopold’s colonial regime” (109). Williams accused the Belgian regime of fraud, widespread death and destruction, excessive cruelty, starvation, kidnapping, slavery and other “crimes against humanity” (112). The Belgian government issued a rebuttal against these accusations while Belgian newspapers defended Williams. Williams died soon after his exposé which allowed the Belgian government to save face.
Edmund Dene Morel was a clerk for the Elder Dempster shipping company which held a lucrative and exclusive monopoly on all shipping between Antwerp and the Congo. Morel was tasked with supervising the shipping between Liverpool and Antwerp and he soon realized that his reports submitted to the Belgian government did not match up with the trade statistics released to the public. Upon further investigation he discovered that weapons were being secretly shipped to the Congo, someone was making a huge profit (King Leopold), and African workers were not being paid for their labor: “From what he saw at the wharf in Antwerp and from studying his company’s records in Liverpool, he deduced the existence-on another continent, thousands of miles away-of slavery” (180). Morel quit his job at Elder Dempster to focus on exposing Leopold’s lies full time; Morel created and edited the weekly journal, The West African Mail. Thanks to his extensive research and fact checking, documents and photographs were smuggled to him by missionaries and others within the Congo (190). The photographs were the most important pieces of evidence against King Leopold for they “provided evidence that no propaganda could refute” (215).
William Sheppard was an African American, Presbyterian missionary who brought joy to everyone he met in Africa. Hochschild notes that Sheppard grew in self-confidence while in Africa once he was away from the chafing restrictions of American society and the Southern Presbyterian denomination. His outlook as a marginalized American allowed “his writings [to] show an empathetic, respectful curiosity about African customs” (156). His demeanor, curiosity, and language skills allowed him to meet with the Kuba, one of the last African kingdoms, unharmed. Unfortunately, not all of his discoveries and adventures were pleasant- he discovered the policy of severed hands mentioned above and published his findings in numerous missionary magazines upon his return to the United States. His reports along with the photographic evidence submitted to Morel was the beginning of Leopold’s downfall in the public eye.
I think the truth of the Congo was able to stay secret for so long was due to multiple factors: Leopold put a humanitarian spin on his conquest and colonization of the Congo and very few people seemed to question his real motives. After Leopold’s death, his real motives were revealed through his convoluted accounting system which took years to uncover (276). Most Europeans didn’t think anything was wrong with their treatment of the Africans; Europeans believed themselves to be a superior race and civilization. When Leopold did set up investigative committees, these committees were mostly a PR move to maintain his humanitarian image. Committee members were usually appointed by the king and they had personal and financial interests in the activities and future of the Congo. When investigative committees did release reports criticizing the king, the reports were never released to the public or they were rewritten in a more favorable light.
Hochschild also points out that the humanitarians that were outraged at the atrocities found in the Congo often turned a blind eye to atrocities committed by their own countries or political allies, “…it was a safe target. Outrage over the Congo did not involve British or American misdeeds, nor did it entail the diplomatic, trade, or military consequences of taking on a major power” (282).  “The Dark Continent” as Africa was called, was not only an allusion to African skin color but was also a euphemism in the eighteenth century about the unexplored portions of the continent. The Dark Continent is also a metaphor for the dark deeds perpetrated by various European regimes over the past four centuries- deeds based on greed and the thirst for land, resources, and power.

During our class discussion of this book, the professor asked us, “How would you describe this book in one sentence?” As you can see from my above review it would be very difficult to describe the events recounted in King Leopold’s Ghost in once sentence. Well, one of my classmates responded with this succinct statement: “King Leopold was a douchebag!” In all seriousness though, the class was shocked that the world (outside of the Congo) knows little to nothing about this “forgotten holocaust.”