Not So Gallant Little Belgium

While looking for something else in the New Age for 1912, I came across this rather splendidly vituperative paragraph, about the death of King Leopold of the Belgians:

Leopold personified all the awfulness of Belgium’s colonial policy, but two years later, with the shock of the German invasion, the nation’s  sins would be forgotten,  Britain would go to war in defence of Leopold’s country, and Leopold’s  successor King Albert was frequently treated as a saint.

Does this turnaround show a cynical manipulation of public opinion by politicians, as some conspiracy theorists liked to believe? I think it is more likely an indication of how profoundly shocking the German actions were, and especially their deliberate policies  of shooting civilian hostages and deliberately destroying historic buildings. A relevant recent comparison might be the 9/11 attack on New York, whose dramatic horror transfixed the world, and elicited sympathy even from fervent  critics of American policies.

But if the Kaiser had got his act together two years earlier, and invaded Belgium before Albert the Good took over from Leopold the Horrible, might history have been significantly different?

One Comment

  1. Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t know. The crimes of the Congo were so intimately connected in the public mind with the person of Leopold that the Belgian state (which was far from innocent) was never heavily implicated.

    This was one of the downsides of the highly successful publicity campaign waged by Morel, Casement, et al: Leopold was such an irresistable bogeyman that once he died public attention drifted away, though the Congo continued to be run in much the same dreadful way as it always had.


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