Q) If so little had been written about the congo, how were you able to reconstruct what happened there?A) Scholars have, in fact, published quite a lot on this period, but usually in obscure places. More important, visitors and officials in the Congo seem to have spent every evening writing letters home. King Leopold himself wrote thousands of letters and memoranda that reveal his lust for colonies and profits. Missionaries and other eyewitnesses kept diaries. A few brave whistle blowers in the Congo administration smuggled key documents to Europe. Conrad kept a journal. Several officers of Leopold’s private army bragged in their notebooks about how many Africans their men killed each day. Old newspapers were also very revealing. Sadly, there are virtually no documents from this period left in the Congo itself.Q) What links do you see between the Congo’s history and the troubles there today?A) Even before the Europeans arrived, central Africa’s indigenous societies were not democratic. And then the experience of several hundred years of little but plunder — first by slavers, then by King Leopold’s murderous forced-labor system, then by the more orderly Belgian administration—was a terrible foundation for democracy. On top of all that, since 1965 the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who took power with strong U.S. support, robbed his own country even more thoroughly than Leopold had.Q) How do you decide what subjects to write about?A) What most of my works, long and short, have in common is an enduring fascination with good and evil, and with the vagaries of fate, social pressure and political systems, and with the mysteries of character that make a person behave one way or the other. Why did a provincial Belgian book-keeper become a marauder in the Congo? How did an idealistic young Hungarian doctor become a feared secret police chieftain in Siberia? Why, on the other hand, did the son of a former governor general of South Africa turn anti-apartheid crusader? What made a neo-Nazi activist in America become a human rights crusader? And why did a rising young British shipping executive leave his job to become the greatest muckraker of his day? Every time I find such people, I’m drawn to them
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