While watching the news this afternoon I was struck by how relevant
Mark Twain's writings about the Congo Reform Association's use of
photographic evidence of atrocities is to the current crisis in Iraq.
To buttress their allegations of atrocities in the Congo, the Congo
Reform Association published many photographs of men, women and
children with hands or feet cut off as punishment for not collecting
enough rubber or for some other "offense" during King Leopold's rule.
"Thank God for the camera, for the testimony of the light itself, which
no mere man can contradict," Mark Twain said in a 1905 interview
while discussing the movement's use of photographs. In King
Leopold's Soliloquy, he highlighted the influence of the newly
introduced Kodak cameras:
"The kodak has been a sore calamity to us [Twain's Leopold says].
The most powerful enemy that has confronted us, indeed.... Every
Yankee missionary and every interrupted trader sent home and got
one; and now -- oh, well, the pictures get sneaked around
everywhere, in spite of all we can do to ferret them out and suppress
them. Ten thousand pulpits and ten thousand presses are saying the
good word for me all the time and placidly and convincingly denying
the mutilations. Then that trivial little kodak, that a child can carry in
its pocket, gets up, uttering never a word, and knocks them dumb!"
The photos from Iraq are certainly having a similarly profound