Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa

Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa

Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa

Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa

Synopsis

During the decades of empire (1870-1914), legendary heroes and their astonishing deeds of conquest gave imperialism a recognizable human face. Henry Morton Stanley, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, Charles Gordon, Jean-Baptiste Marchand, and Hubert Lyautey all braved almost unimaginable dangers among "savage" people for their nation's greater good. This vastly readable book, the first comparative history of colonial heroes in Britain and France, shows via unforgettable portraits the shift from public veneration of the peaceful conqueror to unbridled passion for the vanquishing hero. Edward Berenson argues that these five men transformed the imperial steeplechase of those years into a powerful "heroic moment." He breaks new ground by linking the era's "new imperialism" to its "new journalism"--the penny press--which furnished the public with larger-than-life figures who then embodied each nation's imperial hopes and anxieties.

Excerpt

In March 1896, while France and Britain dickered over who would control Western and Central Africa, the government in Paris took a bold, if reckless, step. It sent a young army captain, Jean-Baptiste Marchand, up the Congo River and across the forbidding, malarial landscape of Central Africa, tugging a dismantled steamboat all the way the goal was a tiny, abandoned Egyptian fort on the Upper Nile—a place called Fashoda that took him two years to reach. From there, Marchand and his band of 150 men were to claim a vast central African empire for France. They kept to this plan even when the British general Horatio Herbert Kitchener arrived on the scene with 25,000 soldiers, advanced weaponry, and an armada of gunships among the most destructive in the world. Marchand refused to back down, and his face-off with Kitchener in September 1898 brought their countries to the brink of war.

The two governments put their navies on alert, and influential British voices clamored for a fight. It mattered little that Lord Salisbury, Britain’s prime minister, had privately deemed the African territory in question worthless, “wretched stuff.” Had the French failed to withdraw, the nineteenth century could have ended with Europe’s leading democracies at war. Fortunately for both sides, the government in Paris found itself paralyzed over the fate of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer falsely accused of treason. France’s foreign minister ordered Marchand home.

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