Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Why not Congo?

John in The Corner:

While the horrors in the Congo were going on (i.e., from 1998 to the present) I was a busy worker bee, mixing with Americans of all classes, races, and stations in life, certainly including a good many Roman Catholics and, I am sure, at least a few evangelicals. Until 2004 I was also attending my own (Episcopal) church, though I’ll admit less and less often.

In all those years, with all those people, in all those venues, I don’t recall hearing anyone speak of the Congo massacres, not once. That seems to me like a pretty darn good empirical foundation for the remark you took objection to: “North of five million people have been slaughtered in the Congo this past twelve years, and nobody much (no, not me — how about you?) has lost a wink of sleep over it.”

The Congo Wars didn’t even rise to the level of occasional water-cooler chat that, as I remember, the ructions in ex-Yugoslavia did at the earlier part of that period. Interesting contrast.

Empirical-foundations-wise, I believe I’m in good shape.

New-clothes-wise, the Emperor of Universalist Humanitarianism hasn’t got any.

One can argue over the numbers here, but the reality is that the largest loss of life due to political and military conflict since Rwanda over the past generation has been in the Congo river basin (Zaire, which became the Democratic Republic of Congo). I do not begrudge the concern of pro-Israel and anti-Israel factions in their preoccupation with that particular conflict, but when the arguments shift toward abstract and universalizable principles then I think it is important to ask: why not Congo? There are many plausible reasons, but far too often the reasons are not aired for all to comprehend. Let’s make the implicit explicit.


  • John · June 24, 2010 at 3:02 am

    Good point. One reason, I think, is that nobody in the Congo (as far as I know) is fighting for or against universal principles that us Westerners care about. If one side was conspicuously pro-American, or Al Gore/environmentalists, or strongly supported Islamic terrorism, people would pay more attention. When a conflict has obvious good guys and bad guys, it is much more interesting. When it is one group of thugs fighting another group of thugs, it’s harder to maintain interest.

  • Author comment by David Hume · June 24, 2010 at 4:45 am

    john, good point. the only thing i might respond though is that we impose a moral dimension post hoc. after all, there were “good guys” (e.g., jonas savimbi) during the cold war.

  • Polichinello · June 24, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I noticed that the Atlantic’s Chief Obstetrician suffered a case of the vapors when he read this passage.

  • kurt9 · June 24, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    What’s the comment about distant lands we know little about, especially when we buy little from those lands?

  • SFG · June 27, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I had a Chinese-American friend who said the Holocaust was only felt to be important because, as he said, ‘WHITE people got killed!’

  • Mark · June 28, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I remember when the slaughter in Darfur was at its worst, there were some scattered protests over it. So, I wonder why Darfur and not the Congo?

    Steve Sailer noted that what we get upset over depends in part on what gets covered in the news, which in turn depends on where reporters are likely to travel to report. I think there was more coverage of the slaughter in Darfur than there was in the less accessible jungles of the Congo, even though the conflict in the Congo has been going on for longer and claimed many more lives.

    On the other hand, it was also easier to shoehorn the situation in Darfur into the prevailing narrative of bad Caucasians (the Arabs) killing innocent blacks, even though “Arab” in this context is a cultural category, and many of the Arabs don’t look very caucasian. I think Sailer has pointed this out as well.

  • Panglos · July 2, 2010 at 1:32 am

    I actually do lose sleep over the images of genocide not only in the Congo but of the whites in South Africa and the Chinese in the 60’s (about 60 million) and Ukraine in the 30’s.

    What’s more haunting is the cover up/lack of coverage.

    Thank goodness for youtube.

    Sleep tight.



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