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Monday, January 17, 2005

Willfully Unaware

Here is a good quote – “The world we live in – its divisions and conflicts, its widening gap between rich and poor, its seemingly inexplicable outbursts of violence – is shaped far less by what we celebrate and mythologize that by the painful events we try to forget.” (Adam Hoschild, “King Leopold’s Ghost.”) Yes, we willfully choose to be unaware and to forget the painful past – I know I do. It is important to remember the colonial era, what it was at its worst (the Belgian Congo) what it was at its best (British Malaya). King Leopold II ruled over mass murder in the Congo - a calamity of Holocaust proportions. The Brits exploited Malaya, but also invested. When the Union Jack was finally lowered in 1957, the people of Malaysia and Singapore had infrastructure and a system to build upon. The legacy of King Leopold II was also followed carefully when the nation gained independence in 1960. Joseph Desire Mobutu took over after Patrice Lumumba was brutally tortured, then murdered. Mobutu followed the Leopold II blueprint of exploitation and brutality (although he didn't murder anywhere near as many people).

Most Americans know nothing about the Congo. Perhaps they have a slight memory of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" that they were forced to read in their high school literature class. If you want to find out about those "painful events we try to forget," you are basically on your own - especially when those painful events occurred in Africa.

So, what kind of colonists will we Americans be in Iraq? The answer to this won't be known for many years. The best we can hope for is the British Malaya outcome. George Bush isn't King Leopold II, but the pile of Iraqi bodies is growing every day.

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