Exterminate All the Brutes

by Sven Lindqvist

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According to Lindqvist in Exterminate All the Brutes, who else besides Conrad challenged colonialism's brutality?

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The European acceptance of colonialism was widespread, but Lindqvist does find some Europeans, including Joseph Conrad, who challenged its brutal character. Among its other challengers were missionaries and writers who objected to the dehumanizing and cruel treatment of the native population.

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"One can roughly divide the nations of the world into the living and the dying."

-Lord Salisbury, 1898

Clearly, European colonialism was widely accepted, as it spread to nearly the entire continent of Africa and took decades, if not centuries, for the colonizing powers to leave their exploited stomping grounds. Conrad wrote possibly the most famous account of colonialism describing what he saw in the Belgian Congo. Although Heart of Darkness is often read on a symbolic level, Lindqvist points out that Conrad was drawing from his own experiences. Conrad's account stood in contrast to Kipling's views, since Kipling was encouraging white imperialism in his writing.

While missionaries have a decidedly mixed and controversial legacy in Africa, there were a few brave souls who were horrified by what they saw and spoke out. Lindqvist recalls that as a child he read a book by Edward Sjoblom, who spent time in the Congo and wrote about the brutal beatings he witnessed. E.J. Glave also describes the punishments inflicted on the natives, even if his conclusion is that Europeans are doing the right thing. However, it should be noted that even those who reported the conditions in the colonies were often reluctant to be critical of those who employed them. Reporting is not the same as challenging.

There were other anti-imperialist writers, however. In the States, Twain is a key figure, although Lindqvist is focused on Europeans. Lindqvist reads some anti-imperialist messages in the work of Conrad's contemporary H.G. Wells, though this may be somewhat of a stretch. R.B. Cunningham Graham, who called Europeans "a curse throughout the East," is another important anti-imperialist writer.

King Leopold's Ghost gives a fuller account of both the pro- and anti-colonialism voices.

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