LEST WE FORGET – “a slice of this magnificent African cake” – Leopold II of Belgium

“Since I believe that there is in every man the spirit of God, I cannot destroy; and feel it my duty to avoid helping to destroy human life. The whole of my life has been devoted to acts of creation, being a professional composer,
and I cannot take part in acts of destruction.”

– British composer, Benjamin Britten, composer of WAR REQUIEM

 

To commemorate the centenary of Armistice Day, the National Concert Hall is hosting Benjamin Britten’s ‘War Requiem’, presented by the RTE Symphony Orchestra (Friday, 9 November 2018). The promotional blurb states:

“… On the centenary anniversary of the war that was supposed to end all wars, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem serves as a moving reminder of the terrible cost of conflict and a tribute to those who sacrificed themselves to save others from tyranny.”

Historians still argue over the cause of WWI – why it happened and should it have happened at all. In many respects it was nothing more than the clash of Imperial egos, determined to assert their dominance and spread their influence upon and beyond the political boundaries of the earth. It was a war predicated on many lies. 

Young Irishmen from a Catholic background were sold the ruse that they were called upon to join the British Army to defend the rights of the small Catholic nation of Belgium. What they were not told was the tyranny the small Catholic nation of Belgium had already, and continued to inflict, upon the African people of the Congo. Initiated under the royal sanction of King Leopold II, a holocaust ensued in the interests of greed and domination that claimed the lives of some 10 million Congolese men, women and children. 

As punishment for not gathering their daily quota of rubber, Congolese men, women and children had their hands severed as punishment and as an example to others…

King Leopold II boasted: 

“I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake.”

On Armistice Day, LEST WE FORGET, let us remember the murdered and mutilated of the so-called Belgian Congo. According to historian, Adam Hochschild, author of ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’, in 1880 the population of the Congo was 20 million people. Forty years later, in 1920, just two years after the ending of WWI, the population was 10 million. To view a short but tragic documentary by BBC Four on Leopold II and the Congolese genocide, click here. 

Benjamin Britten was a conscientious objector who appeared during WWII before a tribunal to explain his reasons for not going to war. He stated:

“Since I believe that there is in every man the spirit of God, I cannot destroy; and feel it my duty to avoid helping to destroy human life. The whole of my life has been devoted to acts of creation, being a professional composer, and I cannot take part in acts of destruction. I believe sincerely that I can help my fellow human beings best by continuing the work I was qualified to do by the nature of my gifts and training.”

Let us listen with deep respect to Britten’s War Requiem that can be accessed by clicking here. Let us remember all the fallen of WWI and all conflicts throughout human history. But let us especially remember the fallen and forgotten of the Congo and all whose lives were destroyed by the Imperial scramble for a piece of the “magnificent African cake!”

LEST WE FORGET!