Not all holocausts are created equal. I learned this in the course of writing my adaptation of "Tarzan of the Apes" for Dynamite Comics. The first issue of Lord of the Jungle is coming out in December – more on that another time.
The original novel is a wonderful adventure story, exactly what you'd expect of Edgar Rice Burroughs. And, as you'd expect, it's also virulently racist, to the point of hilarity. Throughout the novel, Tarzan preys on a tribe of Congolese cannibals. I, for one, can't find any references online to Bantu tribes who actually practice cannibalism. Maybe the inaccuracy is "creative license", but I don't think so. Reserve your own judgement, Dear Reader, until you've read the original.
For all of this, there are fleeting moments of compassion for the tribe. One passage describes how they are on the run from "...that arch hypocrite, Leopold II of Belgium, because of whose atrocities they had fled the Congo Free State."
I had no idea who "the arch hypocrite Leopold II of Belgium" might be, and the "Congo Free State" rang exactly zero bells. Ever the diligent researcher, I decided to look the two up on Wikipedia. Was I ever in for a treat.
It turns out Leopold II presided over one of the first genocides in modern history. The term "Congo Free State" could not be more Orwellian. Leopold ran a country larger than Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway combined as his personal rubber plantation for twelve years. There's no way to know how many people died. It was probably somewhere between five and ten million people, out of a total population of 30 million. So a pretty Biblical.
Leo's thugs, the "Force Publique", collected the right hands of the people they killed – to prove they weren't wasting ammo, that they were punishing slaves who didn't meet production quotas. Harvesting human hands became an end in itself; hands became a kind of derivative commodity of the rubber trade. Mass rape was a recreational pastime for the Force Publique. In fact, the Congo Free State was the inspiration for the novel Heart of Darkness. In some ways, Heart of Darkness is actually a sanitized version of what really happened.
For whatever reason, some holocausts go not just underreported but unreported. It was one of the things that made me want to write Zero Killer. I mean, I didn't learn about the Congo Free State in school. I didn't learn about the Armenian genocide, either. We brushed over the genocide of the American Indians very lightly in my "Advanced Placement" United States History class.
And what about today? What about Sudan, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, the current name of Leo's killing fields? The truth is, the slaughter never stopped. The DRC is the most brutalized, war-torn and miserable place on the face of the Earth, and has been for the entirety of its existence, all thanks to the horrors of Leo II. The current round of fighting, which began in 1998, is officially the world's deadliest conflict since World War II.