Why did Belgium honour a genocidal mass murderer

If that is supposed to be a joke, it is not particularly funny. And if you seriously believe that some thirty people in Belgium really *deserved *to be murdered, because of the misdeeds of a19th century monarch, you have entirely veered into the realm of the absurd.

On a tangential note. You are British, aren’t you? Is your screen name ‘Longshanks’ by any chance a reference to Edward Longshanks - you know, the monarch who expelled all Jews from England in 1290 so that the crown could seize their property? Just curious.

But Jews are white people. So they probably don’t count.

Considering Britain’s colonial past, when do you think karma’s coming for us. Or how about France. Or America. Or Germany. Or China. Or Russia (etc. ad nauseum)

Seriously, that’s just a vile statement.

Leopold was a monster and shouldn’t be honored. The sentiment that the recent attacks have anything to do with Leopold’s crimes, or represent justice in any way, is repugnant.

Stay classy, bro.

Wait. What? I thought that every nation in the West showed great respect for *human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality…

Also military service.

It does seem bizarre that anyone would feel honored by getting an award named for someone responsible for torture and mass murder.*

Almost as bizarre as handwaving away the OP’s question by in effect saying “well, other people did bad things too”.

*one almost pities Allied leaders springing to the defense of “plucky little Belgium” in 1914 while having to, uh, overlook Belgium’s horrific record in Africa.

Nonsense. As I said to the OP (who seems to have disappeared without responding to any of the recent posts), nobody’s “handwaving away” any of the undeniably bad stuff Leopold II did.

The OP’s question was “Why did Belgium honour a genocidal mass murderer” (no question mark).

Various other posters attempted to explain that Belgium has that ethically incongruous order of merit for much the same reasons that many other countries retain similar commemorations of once-venerated leaders who are now seen as something of a moral embarrassment.
There’s a big difference between saying “the reason this particular thing exists is because that’s a typical pattern of behavior for countries with some ethically dubious history” and saying “it’s okay for this particular thing to exist, because that’s a typical pattern of behavior”, etc.

So far, neither you nor the OP nor anybody else seems to have come up with diddly-squat as far as a substantive debate topic goes. It’s not as though anybody’s defending Leopold II or his mass-murdering ilk, after all.

There are degrees of “moral embarrassment”. As well as a fallacy known as tu quoque.

Take the thread about statues honoring Civil War heroes. In response to a poster arguing that Robert E. Lee no longer deserves to have a public facility named after him, one could jump in and respond that “well, King Leopold II did things magnitudes of order worse and there’s still an important award named for him in Belgium, so get over it.”

Seems like an equally dumb argument to me.

I have no overwhelming interest in what the Belgians do with their awards, nor does it bother me personally if they keep handing out Rhodes scholarships in spite of Cecil’s less than glorious past. It does seem weird to honor good works with an award named for one of history’s worst killers.

(Emphasis added.) But you see, nobody here is in any way disagreeing with the position that Leopold II doesn’t deserve to have a medal named after him.

The OP didn’t come in here with the proposal “Let’s debate whether there ought to be a Belgian order of merit in the name of Leopold II”. Instead he threw out the question, why is there a Belgian order of merit in the name of Leopold II”.

So some posters tried to explain to him some of the historical and cultural reasons that that kind of thing happens.

Fortunately, neither that nor any analogous argument is actually being made by anybody in this thread. Nor did anybody advise that the OP or anybody else disgusted with the implied honor to the undeserving Leopold II should just “get over it”.

Nobody here AFAICT is disagreeing with that position, unless by “weird” you mean “unprecedented” or “unheard-of”.


And, to continue with the remainder of my remark that you happened to omit from your quote:

In other words, nowhere was I suggesting any kind of excuse for the undeserved honoring of Leopold II on the grounds that “other people do it too”, nor was I telling the OP to “get over it”. I was, as I noted, illustrating the reasons that that kind of undeserved honor often persists.

Honestly, Jackmannii, when you have to misrepresent my argument in order to refute it, that should be a clue that your position is not very strong.

Indeed Europe and USA have very dark history of colonialism and genocides against people in most parts of Earth.

Collective punishment is never acceptable. Unfortunately people in many parts of the World have an axe to grind against European nations and USA.

A truly horrible thing to say. I hope that people here are aware that the founding and exploitation of the Congo Free State was a private venture by Leopold, and not Belgian government policy.


It was the Belgian parliament that eventually forced him to stop it.

Not all Jews. And among many racists (Nazi, KKK, skinheads, etc.) even Jews described as “white” by phenotype are not considered “white”.

The Belgian government went along with it for plenty long enough.

It is only because other , much greater, world powers, investigated and found out about what was going on that unbearable pressure was brought to bear on the Belgian Government - so I really would not give even the very slightest credit to that lot.

The really sad thing is that despite making the world aware of these utter horrific abuses of humanity and so playing a major part in exposing Leopold, Roger Casements’ fate under the British was no better, and ultimately he could not protect his own people in their struggle against British rule.

My sarcasm obviously flew right over your head.

Eh, maybe it needs renamed. But I don’t think it’s actually the end of the world or anything. Something to remember is that while Leopold II ran the Congo as his personal fiefdom for a long time, during his reign as King of the Belgians he was essentially a constitutional monarch. Meaning he was just a ceremonial peacock, and a largely apolitical “representative of the state and its people”, in that context as the ceremonial Head of State there isn’t necessarily a direct link (theoretically) between Leopold II’s genocidal behavior in the Congo and the order of merit created in his name.

Leopold wasn’t doing those things as King of the Belgians, and in fact that title didn’t give him powers to do much of anything, he was acting as personal sovereign over his holdings in the Congo.

It’s not really much different from QEII right now in Britain. A lot of things ceremonial linked to the crown, and various societal respects given to those, are based not on innate respect for Elizabeth Windsor the person, but for Queen Elizabeth as the largely powerless ceremonial Head of State, representative of the United Kingdom itself.

Now, all that being said Leopold was a largely forgettable monarch other than the gravely negative stuff in the Congo, so there’s little real reason other than “inertia and ceremonial precedent” for keeping the order named after him. But at the same time the naming of the order isn’t doing all that much active harm, or probably all that notable. A lot of shit keeps rolling just based on that sort of mixture of tradition and inertia, in Belgium like anywhere else.

Andrew Jackson on the $20 is probably a more interesting topic, since it’s hard to deny he had a very long list of positive accomplishments in his 40 some years as a military leader and public figure, some important enough it’s possible we’d have a different map today if not for him. But it’s also impossible to deny the negatives associated with Jackson, either. But I think there’s a whole discussion to be had about the general topic of recognizing great men of the past–because the way morality has evolved most men born before 1900 or so will have a very hard time measuring up to moral codes and standards that didn’t exist until they had been long dead.

I believe though that even in his time, Leopold’s actions horrified many people. (And he wasn’t much better in person, either – he was abusive to his wife and children).