Exterminate All the Brutes (excerpt)

… In 1887, the Scottish surgeon J.B. Dunlop hit upon the idea of equipping his small son’s bicycle with an inflatable rubber tube. The bicycle tire was patented in 1888. During the years to follow, the demand for rubber multiplied. That was the explanation for the increasing brutilization of the regime in the Congo which is reflected in the diaries of Sjoeblom and Glave.
Belgium’s king, Leopold II, issued a decree on September 29, 1891, which gave his representatives in the Congo a monopoly on “trade” in rubber and ivory. By the same decree, natives were obliged to supply both rubber and labor, which in practice meant no trading was necessary.
Leopold’s representatives simply requisitioned labor, rubber, and ivory from natives, without payment. Those who refused had their villages burned down, their children murdered, and their hands cut off.
These methods at first led to a dramatic increase in profitability. Profits were used, among other things, to build some of the hideous monuments still disfiguring Brussels: the Arcades du Cinquantenaire, The palais de Laeken, the Chateau d’Ardennes. Few people today remember how many amputated hands these monuments cost. …

…The forest was cleared, the flora and fauna Europeanized, the Guanches lost their land and thus their living. The modorra returned several times, and dysentery, pneumonia, and veneral disease ravaged.
Those who survived the diseases instead died of actual subjugation – loss of relatives, friends, language and lifestyle. When Girolamo Benzoni visited Las Palmas (Canary Islands) in 1541, there was one single Guanche left, eighty-one years old and permanently drunk. The Guanches had gone under. ….
This group of islands in the eastern Atlantic was the kindergarten for European imperialism. Beginners learned there that European people, plants, and animals manage very well even in areas where they did not exist by nature. They also learned that although the indigenous inhabitants are superior in numbers and put up bitter resistance, they are conquered, yes, exterminated – without anyone really knowing how it happened. …

…About five million of the indigenous American population lived in what is now the United States. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, half a million still remained. In 1892, at the time of Wounded Knee – the last great massacre of Indians in the United States – the native population reached rock bottom: a quarter of a million, or 5 percent of the original number of Indians.

…In the medieval hierarchy, the human being had been one and indivisible, created by God in His image and by Him placed on the top rung of the ladder of Creation.
The first person to divide the abstract human being of medieval theology into several species, of which some were considered closer to animals, was William Petty. “There seem to be several species, even of human beings”, he wrote in The Scale of Creation (1676). “I say that the Europeans do not only differ from the aforementioned Africans in color…but also…in natural manners and in the internal qualities of their minds.” Here human beings are divided up not only into nations and people, but also biologically separate species. This occurred in passing and aroused no particular attention.

…It is not knowledge that is lacking. The educated general public has always largely known what outrages have been committed and are being committed in the name of Progress, Civilization, Socialism, Democracy, and the Market….

…You already know that. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and draw conclusions.

Excerpts of ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’ by Sven Lindqvist, Granta Books, London, 1997, translated from Swedish