I am a high school student who loves to read and write. I tend to prefer fiction and fantasy, but I have a lot to say on almost every subject.
I have a tendency to go on tangents when I write, so please let me know if I stray too far away from the original question. I would also like help with syntax and sentence structure. Thank you!
Written By: Lauren Shamburger
May 6, 2014
Human nature, or rather how human nature is perceived, is often easily subject to change, especially in the light of scourges against fellow human beings. The events that transpired in the Congo during King Leopold II's rule is a clear example of this, both by the effects of the horrors seen there as well as the horrors themselves. For years, the Congo became an unfortunate example of how humans are all too susceptible to the corruption of power. Witnessing such atrocities happen is no less than life changing. Either you come away, shocked but enlightened to what humans are capable of, or numbed to the empathic emotions that would result from such a scene.
Joseph Conrad was one who was enlightened. In the book, Heart of Darkness, he describes the Congo in such detail with such horror that it becomes clear that what he saw forever changed him. His outlook on humanity darkened, taking on a pessimistic form. He saw men who had become evil. He saw monsters walk in the light, treating fellow humans like animals. He saw how power and greed had changed civilians into the savages they claimed to oppress. He saw what seemed to be the true form of human nature. Heart of Darkness was written to shed light on the true happenings in the Congo, in order to somehow try to bring justice to the people there. However, as much as Joseph Conrad helped the cause, he was forever altered by what he had seen. He had seen the truth of human nature, and the evil, the darkness, that seemed to lurk in the depths of every man's heart.
However accurate his perception may or may not have been, one thing is for certain. The men who worked in the Congo went through a wicked transformation. As described in King Leopold's Ghost, otherwise good and normal men changed to fearsome dictators, doing anything and everything they could to meet their quota, no matter how immoral or ruthless. While King Leopold II was the mastermind behind the events in Africa, sending out the orders and commanding the soldiers and overseers, he himself did not have a hand in the specific abominations that occurred. He never ordered for native's hands to be cut off, or for the native's wives to be captured and held hostage. He simply gave the orders to do whatever necessary, then sat back and watched it happen. Meanwhile, the men working for him, the generals and soldiers overseeing the work, took advantage of their power and free reign. They wanted to get the job done as efficiently as possible, and they wanted to be rewarded. Instead of doing the right thing, checking themselves, or making sure things didn't escalate, they succumbed to their greed and abused their power. They became savages in their own right, leaving behind any morals or sense of right and wrong in order to get what they wanted. The theme among the monsters of the Congo was "the end justifies the means", no matter how sadistic or cruel those "means" were.
Now, as a high school student just learning about the tragedy of the Congo, I find my own views of human nature altered. Before reading Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost, I had never heard of Kind Leopold, nor of the events in the Congo. I admit I tend to romanticize ideas like human nature, believing in the existence of good intentions in everyone's heart, no matter how deeply buried. I suppose this is a sort of personal defense against the world, opting for optimism over pessimism, in order to save my own sanity. However, I am not blind. I know the world is not sugarcoated and never will be. I know humans are capable of the worst, no matter who they are. What happened in the Congo only serve to strengthen this knowledge. And though I tend to prefer looking on the brighter side of things, this new knowledge intrigues me. If I had only just become cognizant to something I once described as "every horrible thing humans could possibly do to one another wrapped into one event", what other shadows of human history have I not yet explored? What other atrocities am I still blissfully ignorant to? Learning about the Congo and the terror it wrought for so long, I wonder if I should look into humanity's scourges. After all, those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.