The history of the Belgian Congo is one of terrible sadness and seldom-noted human devastation. From 1885 to 1908 the Congo was ruled by one man as his sole, personal colony; a ruler ironically noted at the time for his philanthropy, King Leopold II of Belgium. Seeking his own colony, he founded the Congo Free State, a massive territory in the African interior that was larger than seventy-six times the size of his own country (Hochschild, 87). A “sober, respectable businessman” by the name of Edmund Dene Morel made a note of something about this colony that blew the cover of one of the largest collection of atrocities in human memory (Hochschild, 1). Working in Antwerp on business at the docks, he noticed that only soldiers were going towards the Congo while goods were being imported, a clear sign that no true legitimate trading was going on; he rightly deduced this to mean slavery (Hochschild, 2). This story is a culmination of unlikely heroes and villains from all walks of life, melding together in an unforeseen way that forever changed the world.
One such a person was an illegitimate Welsh-born poorhouse child named John Rowlins (Hochschild, 22). Once old enough, Rowlins moved to America and became Henry Morton Stanley, a soldier who managed to fight on both sides of the American Civil War and ultimately wound up as a journalist for the New York Herald (Hochschild, 23-26). It was at this time and place that Stanley first began to pick up on hints of European interest on the African continent that would later be identified as the Scramble for Africa (Hochschild, 26). The European interest in this land was various, from wanting to map out the as yet unknown interior of the continent, to the hopes of bring “civilization” (in the western perspective) to the native Africans, and wishing to combat slavery wherever found (Hochschild. 27). This antislavery fervor was mostly aimed at the Arab slavers who came from the east; the idea that the Arabs could raid Africa with impunity combined with the inherent implication that somebody other than themselves could potentially colonize the place made westerners indignant (Hochschild, 27-28).
The European explorers of Africa were essentially proto-rockstars; their achievements led to great celebrity that spanned across oceans and borders (Hochschild, 27). One such explorer was Dr. David Livingstone, a missionary, doctor and prospector who seemed to encapsulate all of Europe's desires and motivations regarding Africa; he famously (and relatively thoroughly) explored the African continent over a span of three decades (Hochschild, 28). Livingstone, on another general expedition in 1866 seeking evidence of Christians, slave-traders and so on, seemed to disappear into the wild and was not heard from for a few years (Hochschild, 28-29).
James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald saw this disappearance as an opportunity for a story, and so summoned Stanley to meet him in Paris, then dispatched...