BOTH IN Africa and Europe, Leopold's death had promised to mark the end of an era. Many Belgians felt relieved; at last they would be rid of the multiple embarrassments of his youthful mistress, his unseemly quarrels with his daughters, and the sheer nakedness of his greed. But it was soon clear that Leopold's ghost would not vanish so easily. The king who had died while in possession of one of Europe's largest fortunes had tried to take it with him. After a fashion, he had succeeded.
Not long before his death, it turned out, Leopold had surreptitiously ordered the establishment of a foundation, based in Germany, to which he transferred some twenty-five million francs' worth of paintings, silverware, crystal, jewelry, furniture and the like, plus another twenty million francs in securities. Some of the foundation's income was to be reinvested, its charter said, and the remainder was to be spent—"according to the directions left by the Founder"—on the grand, showy projects he loved: palaces, monuments, and public buildings. He was afraid that future small-minded Belgian governments would not spend money in such ways, and he was also trying, as always, to keep his wealth from going to Louise, Stephanie, and Clementine. "The king has but two dreams," a former Cabinet minister reportedly said during Leopold's last years; "to die a billionaire, and to disinherit his daughters."
The German foundation was not the only place Leopold had tried to hide his fortune. Fifty-eight pieces of real estate in Brussels, purchased for the king by his faithful aide Baron Auguste Goffinet, turned out to belong to another secret company. A third shadowy entity, the Residential and Garden Real Estate Corporation of the Côte d'Azur, held possession of Leopold's panoply of Riviera properties. Some of these villas were earmarked as permanent vacation homes for future Belgian kings; others were to be part of a huge health resort, with parks, gardens, sports facilities, and cottages, providing free holidays for white officials returning from their labors in the Congo. Furthermore, these several corporate hiding places held more than twenty-five million francs' worth of Leopold's Congo bonds.
The Belgian government's effort to clear up the dead king's financial morass dragged on for years. Since the entities involved had been variously incorporated in Belgium, France, and Germany, the process of straightening everything out was wholly disrupted by World War I. The health resort was never built. The grand World School of Colonialism, which Leopold had enthusiastically planned, was left unfinished, its lavish foundations already laid outside Brussels. Somerset Maugham eventually bought one of the king's many Riviera villas. The grounds of another were turned into a zoo, known today for its troupe of performing chimpanzees.
Only in 1923, fourteen years after his death, was the last of Leopold's financial thicket untangled. Investigators trying to figure out his finances discovered, among other things, that some of the riches he had disposed of had in fact belonged to his crazed sister Carlota, still very much alive. Leopold, her legal guardian, had helped himself to certain properties of hers that he wanted, illegally substituting for them some of his Congo state bonds.
The one-time Empress of Mexico long outlived her brother. When she received a visitor, it was in a room with twenty or more chairs lined up. Carlota would enter the room and solemnly greet an imaginary guest in each chair before talking with her caller. As the years passed, she spent endless hours changing her clothes and doing her hair. Then one day she reportedly caught sight of herself in a mirror, realized that she was no longer a youthful beauty, and ordered all the mirrors in her château smashed. At a party forty-five years after her husband's execution, she exclaimed, puzzled, "And Maximilian isn't here!" She was probably one of the few people in Belgium who barely noticed the four-year German occupation during World War I. She died in 1927, at the age of eighty-six, muttering madly about imaginary kingdoms and dynasties to the very end.
Even today, researchers are not completely sure which of Leopold's baubles were paid for out of which hidden pockets. Nor is it possible to answer fully a larger question: how much profit altogether did the king draw from the Congo in his lifetime? In answer to this question, the Belgian scholar Jules Marchal, the leading historian of this period, makes a "conservative" estimate, not including some smaller or hard-to-trace sources of money, of 220 million francs of the time, or $1.1 billion in today's dollars.
One of the lawsuits provoked by Leopold's financial tangles was filed by Princesses Stephanie and Louise. They claimed that since the wealth in the secret foundation and companies had been their father's, it was now in part theirs. The Belgian government, however, eventually got most of the funds.
There was no lawyer to argue that the money should have been returned to the Congolese.
The final meeting of the Congo Reform Association, in 1913, marked the end of the most important and sustained crusade of its sort between the Abolitionism of the early and middle nineteenth century and the worldwide boycott and embargo against apartheid-era South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. But the Congo reform movement, heroic though it was, leaves some troubling questions in its wake. The most important is, did it do any lasting good?
For many years, the conventional answer was yes. The glare of publicity surrounding the Casement and Commission of Inquiry investigations had sparked a new outbreak of rebellions in some areas that caused a noticeable, although temporary, reduction of rubber gathering. Later, E. D. Morel and his allies could point to the marked drop-off in reports of atrocities after the transfer to Belgium. Oblique testimony to the importance of wresting the Congo away from Leopold came even from Alexandre Delcommune, a long-time Congo businessman and administrator, a ruthless robber baron. (It was a steamboat from Delcommune's company that Joseph Conrad was hired to command.) Delcommune once wrote that if Leopold's rule had lasted another ten years, "one would no longer have found a single rubber vine, or perhaps a single native." Did the Congo reformers, then, save millions of lives?
It would be a fitting climax to our story if this were so, for a splendid movement deserves splendid results. The organizing by E. D. Morel, the acts of witness of George Washington Williams, William Sheppard, and Roger Casement, and the deaths of Andrew Shanu and of rebel leaders like Nzansu, Mulume Niama, and Kandolo should not have been in vain. But the truth is more somber.
Reports of abuses against gatherers of wild rubber in the Congo did drop off markedly after the Belgian takeover of 1908. In the following years there was far less news of villages burned or of women and children held hostage. There was no more officially sanctioned severing of hands. What lay behind the change, however, was not a kinder and gentler regime brought about by the reformers, but several other developments. One was the gradual shift from wild rubber to cultivated rubber. Another was the introduction of a new method of forcing people to work that drew much less protest from missionaries and humanitarians: taxes.
The Belgian administrators who took over from Leopold saw that they needed plantations of cultivated rubber, because if all the rubber harvested came from wild vines, Africans desperate to meet their quotas would cut them all down; vines were already becoming scarce in parts of the country. Look again at the statement from Alexandre Delcommune on the previous page. He sounds just as concerned about the possible disappearance of wild rubber as of Congolese.
The imposition of a heavy head tax forced people to go to work on the plantations or in harvesting cotton, palm oil, and other products—and proved an effective means of continuing to collect some wild rubber as well. Until the 1920s white traders bought wild rubber from villagers pressed to pay their taxes.
The central part of what Morel had called the "System," forced labor, remained in place, applied to all kinds of work. Forced labor became particularly brutal during the First World War. In 1916, an expanded Force Publique invaded German East Africa, today's Tanzania. Like the other Allied powers, Belgium had its eye on getting part of Germany's slice of the African cake in the postwar division of the spoils. Enormous numbers of Congolese were conscripted as soldiers or porters. In 1916, by colonial officials' count, one area in the eastern Congo, with a population of 83,518 adult men, supplied more than three million man-days of porterage during the year; 1359 of these porters were worked to death or died of disease. Famines raged. A Catholic missionary reported, "The father of the family is at the front, the mother is grinding flour for the soldiers, and the children are carrying the foodstuffs!"
The years after the war saw the growth of copper, gold, and tin mining. As always, the profits flowed out of the territory. It was legal for mine management to use the chicotte, and at the gold mines of Moto, on the upper Uele River, records show that 26,579 lashes were administered in the first half of 1920 alone. This figure was equal to eight lashes per full-time African worker. Techniques for gathering forced labor for the mines were little different from those employed in Leopold's time. According to the historian David Northrup, "a recruiter from the mines went around to each village chief accompanied by soldiers or the mines' own policemen, presented him with presents, and assigned him a quota of men (usually double the number needed, since half normally deserted as soon as they could). The chief then rounded up those he liked the least or feared or who were least able to resist and sent them to the administrative post tied together by the neck. From there they were sent on to the district headquarters in chains.... Chiefs were paid ten francs for each recruit." If a worker fled, a member of his family could be imprisoned—not so different from the old hostage system.
As elsewhere in Africa, safety conditions in the mines were abysmal: in the copper mines and smelters of Katanga, five thousand workers died between 1911 and 1918. When the vaunted Matadi-Leopoldville railroad was rebuilt with a wider gauge and partly new route by forced labor between 1921 and 1931, more workmen on the project perished than had died when the line was laid in the 1890s. To the Africans throughout the Congo conscripted to work on these and other new enterprises, the Great Depression, paradoxically, brought lifesaving relief.
With the start of the Second World War, the legal maximum for forced labor in the Congo was increased to 120 days per man per year. More than 80 percent of the uranium in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs came from the heavily guarded Congo mine of Shinkolobwe. The Allies also wanted ever more rubber for the tires of hundreds of thousands of military trucks, Jeeps, and warplanes. Some of the rubber came from the Congo's new plantations of cultivated rubber trees. But in the villages Africans were forced to go into the rain forest, sometimes for weeks at a time, to search for wild vines once again.
Although they failed to end forced labor, the Congo reformers for roughly a decade were spectacularly successful in keeping the territory in the spotlight. Seldom has so much outrage poured down for so long upon such a distant target. This raises another major question about the movement: Why the Congo?
An ancient English law made it a crime to witness a murder or discover a corpse and not raise a "hue and cry." But we live in a world of corpses, and only about some of them is there a hue and cry. True, with a population loss estimated at ten million people, what happened in the Congo could reasonably be called the most murderous part of the European Scramble for Africa. But that is so only if you look at sub-Saharan Africa as the arbitrary checkerboard formed by colonial boundaries. If you draw boundaries differently—to surround, say, all African equatorial rain forest land rich in wild rubber—then what happened in the Congo is, unfortunately, no worse than what happened in neighboring colonies: Leopold simply had far more of the rubber territory than anyone else. Within a decade of his head start, similar forced labor systems for extracting rubber were in place in the French territories west and north of the Congo River, in Portuguese-ruled Angola, and in the nearby Cameroons under the Germans. For the concession companies in the Cameroons, "the 'model' from which they professed to derive their inspiration," writes one historian, "was ... that of King Leopold II's ventures in the Congo Free State, the dividends of which evoked admiration in stockbroking circles."
In France's equatorial African territories, where the region's history is best documented, the amount of rubber-bearing land was far less than what Leopold controlled, but the rape was just as brutal. Almost all exploitable land was divided among concession companies. Forced labor, hostages, slave chains, starving porters, burned villages, paramilitary company "sentries," and the chicotte were the order of the day. Thousands of refugees who had fled across the Congo River to escape Leopold's regime eventually fled back to escape the French. The population loss in the rubber-rich equatorial rain forest owned by France is estimated, just as in Leopold's Congo, at roughly 50 percent. And, as in Leopold's colony, both the French territories and the German Cameroons were wracked by long, fierce rebellions against the rubber regime. The French scholar Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch has published a chilling graph showing how, at one French Congo post, Salanga, between 1904 and 1907, the month-by-month rise and fall in rubber production correlated almost exactly to the rise and fall in the number of bullets used up by company "sentries"—nearly four hundred in a busy month.
During this period a scandal erupted in France when two white men were put on trial for a particularly gruesome set of murders in the French Congo; to celebrate Bastille Day, one had exploded a stick of dynamite in a black prisoner's rectum. Copying Leopold, the government tried to calm things down in 1905 by sending to Africa a commission of inquiry. To lead it, the famous explorer de Brazza was brought out of retirement. It was hoped that he would not say anything embarrassing about the territory he himself had won for France, whose capital city was named Brazzaville.
Plans, however, went awry. Orders for cosmetic changes to be made during de Brazza's visit, such as unchaining the forced laborers, did not reach all the way into the interior before de Brazza got there. Horrified by what he saw, he began compiling a report that promised to be searingly critical, but, to the government's relief, he died on the way home. He was given an impressive state funeral, and the minister of colonies himself pronounced a flowery eulogy over his grave in Paris's Père Lachaise cemetery: "Brazza is not dead ... his passion lives.... He is the example ... of the eternal traditions of justice and humanity which are the glory of France." The eternal traditions of justice and humanity did not allow for the release of de Brazza's draft report. It was promptly suppressed by the same minister, with the endorsement of Parliament, and was never published. The lucrative concession-company system continued, with few changes. In the 1920s, construction of a new railway through French territory bypassing the big Congo River rapids cost the lives of an estimated twenty thousand forced laborers, far more than had died building, and later rebuilding, Leopold's railway nearby.
(There is a curious footnote to the story of the French Congo. Who, by way of strawmen and dummy corporations, was discovered to be a major shareholder in five of the concession companies there, and the majority shareholder in three of these? King Leopold II. Belgian government investigators discovered this in the course of trying to untangle Leopold's finances after his death. Fearing that the French would be upset to find their Congo partly owned by the king next door, they successfully kept the news quiet for some years, and did not sell the shares until the 1920s. Leopold also held big blocks of shares in several concession companies in Germany's Cameroons.)
The exclusive focus of the reform movement on Leopold's Congo seems even more illogical if you reckon mass murder by the percentage of the population killed. By these standards, the toll was even worse among the Hereros in German South West Africa, today's Namibia. The killing there was masked by no smokescreen of talk about philanthropy. It was genocide, pure and simple, starkly announced in advance.
After losing much of their land to the Germans, the Hereros rebelled in 1904. In response, Germany sent in a heavily armed force under Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, who issued an extermination order (Vernichtungsbefehl):
"Within the German boundaries every Herero, whether found with or without a rifle, with or without cattle, shall be shot....
"Signed: The Great General of the Mighty Kaiser, von Trotha."
In case everything was not clear, an addendum specified: "No male prisoners will be taken."
Of an estimated eighty thousand Hereros who lived in the territory in 1903, fewer than twenty thousand landless refugees remained in 1906. The others had been driven into the desert to die of thirst (the Germans poisoned the waterholes), were shot, or—to economize on bullets—bayoneted or clubbed to death with rifle stocks.
Von Trotha's extermination order stirred some protests in Germany itself, but internationally it was greeted with silence, even though the Congo reform campaign was then flying high. Morel and other Congo reformers paid so little attention that five years later John Holt, the businessman who was one of Morel's two main financial backers, could ask him, "Is it true that the Germans butchered the Hereros—men, women, and children?...I have never heard of this before."
Around the time the Germans were slaughtering Hereros, the world also was largely ignoring America's brutal counterguerrilla war in the Philippines, in which U.S. troops tortured prisoners, burned villages, killed some 20,000 rebels, and saw an estimated 200,000 more Filipinos die of war-related hunger or disease. Britain came in for no international criticism for its killings of aborigines in Australia, in accordance with extermination orders as ruthless as von Trotha's. And, of course, in neither Europe nor the United States was there major protest against the decimation of the American Indians.
When these other mass murders went largely unnoticed except by their victims, why, in England and the United States, was there such a storm of righteous protest about the Congo? The politics of empathy are fickle. Certainly one reason Britons and Americans focused on the Congo was that it was a safe target. Outrage over the Congo did not involve British or American misdeeds, nor did it entail the diplomatic, trade, or military consequences of taking on a major power like France or Germany. Morel had something of a blind spot about Germany, but, although he had his hands more than full with Leopold, to his great credit he repeatedly and forcefully attacked France for adopting the Leopoldian system wholesale in its equatorial African colonies and reaping a lethal rubber harvest second only to the king's. His words drew little response among his fellow Britons, who saw World War I on the horizon and knew that France would be their chief ally.
What happened in the Congo was indeed mass murder on a vast scale, but the sad truth is that the men who carried it out for Leopold were no more murderous than many Europeans then at work or at war elsewhere in Africa. Conrad said it best: "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz."
In the years following Leopold's death, the other actors in the Congo drama passed from the scene. In 1910, William Sheppard returned to the United States for good. Just after being vindicated in the Compagnie du Kasai libel trial, he was forced to resign his post as a missionary because he had been caught having extramarital affairs with African women. He was briefly placed on probation by the church and then allowed to resume work as a minister in the United States, where word of the scandal was never made public. His health was weakened after dozens of bouts of fever during his twenty years in Africa, and he lived out most of his remaining years as pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where his wife, Lucy, taught Sunday school and led the choir.
Sheppard continued to write and speak widely about Africa, even though, in his Southern Presbyterian church, this meant having to talk before segregated congregations. At different times, each of the two great archrivals, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, invited Sheppard to join him on the speaker's platform, and Sheppard obliged. But this man, who was so honored in the black community, who had been the first foreign visitor to meet the Kuba king, who had been received in the White House, had returned to an American South where he was still a second-class citizen. Years later, a white woman in Sheppard's home town of Waynesboro, Virginia, said of him: "He was such a good darky. When he returned from Africa he remembered his place and always came to the back door." When Sheppard died in Louisville at the age of sixty-two, in 1927, more than a thousand people came to his funeral.
On the other side of the country, the lawyer Henry Kowalsky's great bulk hastened his end. He was found dead at the age of fifty-six, in 1914, on the floor of his apartment in San Francisco's Palace Hotel. In Belgium, Léon Rom, his head-collecting days long past, collapsed in his office at the Compagnie du Kasai in 1924. Joseph Conrad, who had so acutely captured the essence of Rom and of fortune-hunters like him in Heart of Darkness, died in England the same year. The only public figure from the Congo controversy to survive into our time was the missionary, reformer, and photographer Alice Harris, who died in 1970 at the age of one hundred.
Another major figure in the Congo story did not meet his end so peacefully.
In 1913, Sir Roger Casement retired from the British consular service and was free at last to throw himself into the cause that now consumed him: freedom for his homeland. Returning to Ireland, he helped to found the Irish Volunteers, an armed militia, and traveled the country to speak at mass meetings. A comrade left this description of him in Dublin in 1914: "Looking outward before the window curtains, stood Roger Casement...[with] the apparent dejection which he always wore so proudly, as though he had assumed the sorrows of the world. His face was in profile to me, his handsome head and noble outline cut out against the latticework of the curtain and the grey sky. His height seemed more than usually commanding, his black hair and beard longer than usual. His left leg was thrown forward and the boot was torn in a great hole—for he gave his substance away always, and left himself thus in need."
"It is quite clear to every Irishman," Casement wrote, "that the only rule John Bull respects is that of the rifle." He set off across the Atlantic to raise funds from Irish-Americans for buying black-market guns, but shortly after he arrived in the United States, World War I began. Any talk of Home Rule for Ireland, the British said, would have to wait. Casement responded with an open letter declaring that the Irish people should never "contribute their blood, their honour and their manhood in a war that in no wise concerns them.... Ireland has no blood to give to any land, to any cause but that of Ireland.... Let our graves be in that patriot grass whence alone the corpse of Irish nationality can spring to life."
He shaved off his beard and, using a false passport, headed from New York to Germany. The militant Irish nationalists wanted the Germans to declare that if they won the war, Ireland would receive independence. In return, they hoped to arm and train an Irish Brigade of freedom fighters from among Irish prisoners of war now held in Germany. And if the Irish Brigade could not fight in Ireland itself, Casement thought, it would fight beside the Egyptians, another colonial people yearning for freedom from Britain. His plan, he wrote in his diary, was to "link the green flag of Ireland with the green flag of the Prophet &...drive the allies into the sea."
Casement's dreams won little sympathy from the Irish prisoners of war. They were professional soldiers, many with ancestors who had served in the same British regiment. Of some 2200 Irish Catholic POW's, fewer than sixty joined the Irish Brigade, where they were given German uniforms with a harp and shamrock on the collar. Casement occasionally marched with the brigade in training, but, scarcely larger than an Irish platoon, it never went to war.
The Germans were highly uneasy with Casement's anticolonialism and wanted to get this restless romantic off their hands; he was eager to return to Ireland to join his comrades underground. On April 21, 1916, off the west coast of Ireland, a German submarine captain released Casement, two companions, and their supplies in a small boat. When he asked Casement whether there was any more clothing he needed, Casement replied, "Only my shroud."
In a way, Casement had been waiting for this moment of homecoming and martyrdom all his life. "When I landed in Ireland that morning (about 3 A.M.), swamped and swimming ashore on an unknown strand.... I was for one brief spell happy and smiling once more ... and all around were primroses and wild violets and the singing of the skylarks in the air, and I was back in Ireland again."
He was captured a few hours later. His mind was filled with thoughts of primroses and skylarks, but his pockets held a railway ticket stub for the trip from Berlin to Wilhelmshaven, a German submarine port, and a diary with the entry, supposedly in code, "April 12: left Wicklow in Willie's yacht." Among the items police found buried on the beach where he had landed were three Mauser pistols, ammunition, binoculars, maps, and a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Two days later, Casement was charged with high treason, the first knight of the realm to be so accused in several hundred years. He was held incommunicado in the Tower of London, and the British wasted little time in putting him on trial. Guards led him to and from court in handcuffs. Like almost all of his Congo reform movement friends, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle strongly disapproved of his action, but he contributed £700 toward Casement's defense. He and many other famous writers signed petitions asking that Casement's life be spared. However, Joseph Conrad, Casement's 1890 roommate from Matadi, refused to sign; he was as staunch a patriot of his adopted country, England, as Casement was an opponent.
Money and messages of support arrived from around the world. From the United States, the Negro Fellowship League sent King George V an appeal for clemency: "We feel so deeply grateful to this man for the revelations he made while British Consul in Africa, touching the treatment of the natives of the Congo. But for him, the world might not know of the barbarous cruelties." George Bernard Shaw drafted a speech for Casement to give at his trial, but Casement rejected it and gave his own.
"Self-government is our right," he declared. "A thing born in us at birth; a thing no more to be doled out to us or withheld from us by another people than the right to life itself—than the right to feel the sun or smell the flowers, or to love our kind.... Where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labours ... then surely it is braver, a saner and a truer thing, to be a rebel ... than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men." Like far too few nationalists, Casement's passion for freedom applied to all peoples, not just his own. For his time he was rare, perhaps unique, in proclaiming something in common between the struggle for freedom of Europeans like the Irish and of Africans like the Egyptians and the Congolese. His speech quickly entered the annals of anticolonialism, where it made a deep impression on a young man who would later help lead his own country to independence, Jawaharlal Nehru. "It seemed to point out," he said, "exactly how a subject nation should feel."
Found guilty, Casement was moved to London's Pentonville Prison, a massive, forbidding structure built in 1842 to hold convicts in solitary confinement under a strict rule of silence. At his former lodgings in London, Scotland Yard had already found some of his diaries. The authorities immediately made photographic copies of the entries about his homosexual experiences and showed them around widely: to the king, to influential citizens in their London clubs, to members of Parliament. Journalists were invited in for a look, and one set of copies went to Washington. The government wanted to discredit Casement and to discourage any more notables from speaking up for clemency. The diaries helped to seal his doom.
An imprisoned pacifist caught a glimpse of Casement watching the sunset sky through his Pentonville cell window. He looked "wonderfully calm ... he seemed already to be living in another world; there was not a trace of anxiety or fear in his features." On the morning of August 3, 1916, guards tied his hands behind his back. "He marched to the scaffold," said a priest who accompanied him, "with the dignity of a prince and towered straight over all of us." The hangman called him "the bravest man it fell to my unhappy lot to execute." In one of the last letters he wrote from his cell, less than a week before he was hanged, Casement looked back over his life: "I made awful mistakes, and did heaps of things wrong and failed at much—but ... the best thing was the Congo."
Like his friend Casement, E. D. Morel had also been transformed by the long struggle over the Congo. In the final decade of his life he fought his bravest, loneliest battle of all. And this time there were no lords and bishops cheering him on.
In the closing years of the Congo reform movement, Morel saw how much his cause was being hindered by the Entente Cordiale between Paris and London, studded with secret clauses, in which the two countries subordinated everything to preparations for a coming European war. At the beginning of August 1914, he was on a rare seaside vacation with his daughter in Dieppe, France. Newly mobilized reservists filled the streets as the two caught a packed boat across the Channel to England, their holiday cut short by the looming conflict. In London, Morel and his friend Charles Trevelyan, M.P., filled with foreboding, walked through an empty House of Commons as crowds in the street outside roared their support for war.
Morel was among the handful of people on either side in Europe who said openly that the war was madness. Through a series of treaties kept secret from the public and Parliament, he argued, England had become caught up in a needless cataclysm. He was not a pacifist; he said he would fight if England were attacked, but it had not been. He was asked to resign his position as a Parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Party. With a small, beleaguered group of like-minded men and women, Morel formed the Union of Democratic Control, which quickly became the main voice of antiwar dissent in England. UDC activists found that their mail was being opened by Scotland Yard and their telephone calls tapped. Mobs broke up their meetings, tearing down banners, throwing stink bombs, and beating up speakers and members of the audience. Before long, no one in London would rent the UDC a meeting hall. On all sides, former admirers deserted Morel. When one old journalist friend, now in uniform, deigned to greet him in the street, Morel was so moved that he wept, saying, "I did not think anyone would speak to me now."
In the UDC, as in the Congo reform movement, Morel became the dominant figure. "I felt something volcanic in the man," wrote a colleague. There were "fires smouldering always at his heart." As before, his wife, Mary, supported him wholeheartedly, joining the organization's council. He set up branches of the UDC all over England, edited the group's monthly newspaper, and wrote his usual stream of articles and pamphlets, plus two books. But the work was far harder now, for England was in the grip of war fever, the wartime censor banned some of his writing, and his mailbox was filled with hate mail. Police raided both the UDC office and the Morel family's home, where they took papers and correspondence from his study. Of one of the works Morel managed to get published while enduring all this, Ten Years of Secret Diplomacy, the historian A.J.P. Taylor writes, "All the later studies of 'war-origins' stem from [it]...the interwar historians were ... cut from his cloak.... Morel caused more than a change of method; he caused a change of outlook."
Today we see so clearly that the 8.5 million dead and 21 million wounded of World War I were a needless, avoidable tragedy that we forget how few people had the courage to call it that at the time. As the war went on, Morel came under heightened attack. A fierce blast against the British antiwar movement in the Daily Sketch noted, "If you meet pacifists in debate and question their facts you always find yourself referred to one authority—Morel.... To kill this conspiracy we must get hold of the arch-conspirator." His office was under constant police surveillance. WHO IS MR. E. D. MOREL? read a headline in the Daily Express,AND WHO PAYS FOR HIS PRO-GERMAN UNION? The Evening Standard called him "Germany's agent in this country."
It was while undergoing attacks like these that Morel got the news of Casement's arrest. Morel's fellow UDC members warned him that they were in enough trouble as it was and urged him not to support his friend who, unlike them, actually had been collaborating with the Germans. So Morel, although he must have agonized about it, did not visit Casement in prison during the few months he had left to live. Casement, generousspirited as ever, sent word that he fully understood. A friend who had seen him wrote to Morel: "He told me that he thought you were quite right to have accepted the decision of your colleagues, that there was no question about it."
Throughout the war, Morel stuck to his beliefs, as passionate and unyielding now, when all were against him, as he had been in the days of Congo reform, when much of the British establishment had been on his side. He called for a negotiated peace and an end to secret treaties. And he argued, with great prescience, against the harsh peace terms he was certain would be imposed on Germany. With tsarist Russia on the Allied side, he wrote, it was ridiculous to claim that the war was one between democracy and autocracy. He demanded disarmament, an agreement that no land would be transferred without a plebiscite of its inhabitants, and an International Council of all nations.
"The War of 1914–1918 changed everything for me...." writes Bertrand Russell, another man who boldly challenged the chauvinist fever. "I lost old friends and made new ones. I came to know some few people whom I could deeply admire, first among whom I should place E. D. Morel.... With untiring energy and immense ability in the face of all the obstacles of propaganda and censorship, he did what he could to enlighten the British nation as to the true purposes for which the Government was driving the young men to the shambles. More than any other opponent of the War he was attacked by politicians and the press.... In spite of all this his courage never failed." Russell declared of Morel, "No other man known to me has had the same heroic simplicity in pursuing and proclaiming political truth."
British government records show that high officials in many departments long conferred about how best to get Morel "safely lodged in gaol," as one man in the Foreign Office put it, without giving him the public forum of a trial, at which he could deploy his persuasiveness as a speaker and his awesome command of information. In 1917, they found an appropriate technicality, and arrested him for violating an obscure law against sending antiwar literature to neutral countries. He was denied bail and promptly sentenced to six months at hard labor.
Morel describes a curious event at his sentencing in 1917: "A picturesque feature in this otherwise squalid legal landscape was provided by an individual crossing the body of the Court from somewhere behind me while my counsel was pleading, and handing up a note to the prosecuting counsel, who opened it, read it, and nodded, whereupon the individual regained his seat, but not before I had recognised in him the same individual who ... acting as an accredited representative of King Leopold II, had publicly opposed me in America in the course of my mission to the United States." Leopold had died eight years earlier, and Morel's trip to the United States had been five years before that. Some half-dozen of the king's paid lobbyists had taken to the field against him then; he does not tell us which of them made this mysterious appearance in the courtroom, as if Leopold were still sending orders from the grave.
Guards took Morel through the gates of Pentonville Prison a year after Roger Casement had been executed there. The man in the cell on one side of Morel had stolen three bottles of whiskey; on the other side was someone who had raped a child. In one of the monthly letters, which were all he was permitted to write to his wife, he referred to "this, the 1st time in the last twenty years we have not written to each other daily when absent."
He spent his prison days in a dust-filled room sewing canvas mailbags and weaving rope into hammocks and mats for the navy, all in silence: no conversation between prisoners was allowed at work. He was locked in his cell each night from four P.M.until eight the next morning. Supper, eaten alone in the cell, was "a piece of bread, half-a-pint of coldish porridge at the bottom of a tin which earlier in the day may have contained red-herrings and still bears traces of them, and a pint of hot, greasy cocoa which one learns to regard as a veritable nectar of the gods, especially in cold weather." Once or twice during the night there would be clicking sounds as a warder opened the peephole in each cell door to check on the prisoners. At night there was "the cold of a cold cell—like nothing on earth. Nothing seems proof against it."
In the prison chapel prisoners sat, again in silence, watched by warders on raised platforms while officials made announcements of battlefield victories in the war Morel opposed. Sometimes at work he was made to carry big slabs of jute, whose weight he estimated at close to a hundred pounds each, to the prison workshop. This made him think wryly of the African porters who had carried his baggage through the Nigerian countryside half a dozen years before. "But memory remains, experience is a great teacher, there is much to be learned here too, and, after all, one has lived to play both parts." A man imprisoned for burglary, sensing that Morel was someone important, called him "sir."
Two months after his release, in early 1918, Bertrand Russell, soon to go to jail himself, wrote worriedly to Gilbert Murray: "I saw E. D. Morel yesterday for the first time since he came out, & was impressed by the seriousness of a six months' sentence. His hair was completely white (there was hardly a tinge of white before)—when he first came out, he collapsed completely, physically & mentally, largely as the result of insufficient food."
Morel resumed his speaking and writing, but his once sturdy figure was now painfully thin. Not long after his release, he had the first of several heart attacks. But in the next few years he also had the satisfaction of being publicly vindicated. There weresecret treaties among the Allied powers, it turned out. And many of the Fourteen Points President Woodrow Wilson proposed for the peace settlement sounded as if they had been copied from one of Morel's pamphlets. The UDC's wartime support had come partly from trade unionists and—to Morel's surprise, for this former shipping company official had never previously thought himself a socialist—he found himself treated as a hero by the Labour Party. In 1922, standing for a House of Commons seat on the Labour ticket, he had the great pleasure of defeating a former minister of the Cabinet that had sent him to jail during the war—a member of Parliament named Winston Churchill.
Morel proved enormously popular with his constituents in Dundee, Scotland. They reelected him in 1923 and again the following year, when twenty thousand saw him off at the railway station as he left for London. In Parliament, he rapidly became Labour's most prominent and respected voice on foreign policy. When, in early 1924, the party leader Ramsay MacDonald became Britain's first Labour prime minister, many expected him to name Morel foreign secretary. But this was not to be. For the leader of a shaky coalition government, Morel was too fiercely independent a moralist and a crusader—and perhaps a potential rival for the leadership. MacDonald kept the foreign secretary's position for himself. As a consolation, he nominated Morel as Britain's candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Although Morel was only fifty-one years old, prison, wartime persecution, his disappointment at not receiving a Cabinet post, and the grueling pace of his work over several decades all began to take their toll. He had to lie down periodically, stretched out on the terrace of the House of Commons, and he and his wife often drove for rests to her family's home in Devonshire. On November 12, 1924, out for a walk in the woods with his sister-in-law, Morel said he felt tired, sat down, and leaned against a tree to rest. He never got up.
He was remembered at large memorial services in Dundee, in London, and in New York. "Morel," said the French writer Romain Rolland, "will tower above the age as the years pass."