by Tim O'Sullivan
Tim O'Sullivan is Secretary of the Roger Casement Foundation
Traitor Patriots and the Great War: Casement and Masaryk
This pamphlet or rather brochure of pieces contrasts the fates of two noted traitor-patriots of World War One; Casement and Masaryk, at the hands of the British state, while it was still in its imperial phase. The greater part is taken up with a very interesting and original monograph by Brendan Clifford entitled The Rise And Fall Of Czechoslovakia.
For his betrayal of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for the sake of a new state to be called Czechoslovakia, for which the backing of no significant national movement existed, Masaryk was to be honoured as its first President. For his betrayal of the British Empire for the sake of an Irish autonomy backed by a well developed and supported political movement, Casement was dispatched through the hangman's trapdoor into artfully crafted ignominy.
The Rise And Fall Of Czechoslovakia follows the machinations of great power politics, particularly British, from the Versailles Treaty till the aftermath of WWII. Parallels and contrasts with the Irish experience are kept in the picture. Most interestingly it is a study of the lead up to World War Two and Britain's part in provoking that conflict. It covers ground tread by, and comes to similar conclusions as, the renowned Oxford Historian A.J.P. Taylor in his 1961 book, The Origins Of The Second World War. Taylor's work is not mentioned by Clifford. Taylor was politically left wing and was one of the original founder members of CND (The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). He did not see Hitler as mainly or solely responsible for the outbreak of the conflict—which is something for which Taylor was not thanked by the academic mainstream. His view has never achieved full respectability.
Clifford provides a wealth of extracts from books and articles from the period. They are allowed speak for themselves without great elaboration. There are also striking titbits of information strewn through the text. For instance, did you realise that Churchill's great radio speeches rousing the spirit of defiance were spoken by an actor who would go on to play a character in a radio soap opera? The great value of this work is that it offers an antidote to the standard received Hollywood version of European history spewed out ad nauseum by academia and the media.
Czechoslovakia was the product of great power policy subsequent to the Great War rather than the efforts of a well developed indigenous political movement. A number of ethnic groups were uncomfortably bundled into the state so cobbled together. The state began to break up when the Austro-Germans in Bohemia, also known as the Sudeten Germans, demanded self-determination by means of inclusion in the Greater Germany of the Third Reich. By a mixture of military bluff and astute diplomacy Hitler brought this about. The Munich Agreement of 1938 where British Prime Minister Chamberlain held up a scrap of paper before the cameras and proclaimed "peace in our time" spelt the end of the then Czechoslovakia.
Once the German minority had left, it was the turn of the Hungarians, Poles and Slovaks to agitate for separation. Hungary took over the part where Hungarians were in a majority. Then the Poles followed suit and claimed their slice of territory. The Slovaks demanded greater autonomy which produced a momentum which eventually resulted in an independent Slovak state. In March the rump Czech state, surrounded on three sides by Germany became a protectorate of the Reich.
After the war a new Czechoslovak state was constituted under Soviet tutelage. 3 million Sudeten Germans were brutally expelled with much loss of life, and their former territory was settled with Czechs. What was the closest thing to a genuine Communist revolution, for the Eastern Europe of that time, occurred in 1948. With the collapse of the USSR there was a revolution which led after a few years to yet another break-up of Czechoslovakia, this time into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
It is illuminating to follow the twists and turns of British policy in relation to this artificial east European state outlined here. The crisis over Danzig which led to the outbreak of WWII is also referred to. Hitler demanded its return to Germany as part of the dismantling of the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Danzig was a German port city on the Baltic which along with its hinterland had been allotted to Poland after the Great War. As a result Germany was divided in two and lost a major port city. It is today's Polish city Gdansk. Why Britain was conciliatory in relation to the Sudetenland in 1938 yet dug its heel in regarding Danzig where Germany had a better case is described on page 41 as a "bizarre and incomprehensible reversal of strategy". Clifford is honest enough to admit he has no final definitive answer to this question.
If one must quibble then it is with the way the writer does not look beyond Britain as a means of explaining British policy, especially on the Danzig question. By the 1930s the British Empire had been in slow decline for a half century. The United States was the up and coming world power. The special relationship between Britain and the US was in the process of taking form.
One may also quibble with the attitude towards the British state. "But no other state is as morally pretentious as the British. No other state works so hard at garbling its interests and expectations into moral principles." As the major world power in the early 20th century, of course Britain took a ruthlessly pragmatic stance. It possessed a Machiavellian outlook clothed in the garb of morality and principal. But is this all so unique? Can we not see this same brazen moral pretentiousness exhibited today by other globally powerful states? Not enough information is provided to prove Britain as historically exceptional in this regard.
This is one of those rare published works on 20th century European history, where a picture is assembled from the facts and realities of the times in question as opposed to the usual outworking of well worn suppositions and ideological assumptions.
Dogmatists with an Unruly Bark: The Casement Diary Dogmatists
This collection serves as a fine introduction to the Casement Diary controversy as it exists at present as well as explaining Casement's significance as a writer on international politics, something which has been generally overlooked. The articles come mostly from Brendan Clifford. There is an intriguing essay, by John Martin, on the contrasting attitudes of Conor Cruise O'Brien and John Bowman regarding authenticity. O'Brien (this was the early 1970s) thought that, if the British really believed the Diaries were genuine, they would commission a comprehensive professional forensic examination so that they might in time brandish the resultant authentication about triumphantly. Bowman, writing in 2003, took it as read the Diaries are not forged. At the end is a letter to the Irish Times by yours truly in answer to two articles by Vincent Browne which, taking the Diaries to be genuine, described Casement as a paedophile, and in answer to letters to the paper by the two Diary Dogmatists here in question. These two are Dr W.J. McCormack author of Roger Casement In Death (2002) and Jeffrey Dudgeon author of Roger Casement: The Black Diaries (2003). (The Black Diaries, among other things, portray Casement as a paedophile.)
These two authors are described as dogmatists by Brendan Clifford because they assert the diaries to be genuine solely on the basis of a handwriting comparison done by an expert which all relevant authorities agree was carried out to an insufficient standard of exactitude and comprehensiveness to be presentable before a court of law. They argue from insufficient evidence. One can only agree. This examination was carried out by Dr Audrey Giles in 2002 under the auspices of Dr. W.J. McCormack. McCormack is a literary historian and sometime poet. He has no qualifications as a scientist or expert on forensic matters. Readers with internet access might like to look up the analysis by Mannerings and Matley which puts the value of the report into perspective. Marcel Matley is an American forensic document examiner. (The Internet reference is: http://www.wmin.ac.uk/marketingresearch/2179casement.htm )
The longest piece was written by Brendan Clifford in 2002 on Casement As Traitor-Patriot. He writes: "The use made of the Casement diaries was dishonourable. The forging of them would have been no more dishonourable" (page 6). When one considers that at that time most people considered homosexuality a profound moral failing and that Casement was a famous individual with an influence on public perceptions then the Diaries had a general significance which they could not have today. They were a crucial pointer to his credibility in terms of how people then understood the world. So to forge such diaries was to crucially distort perceptions of the man and what he stood for. It was a classic case of concocted disinformation. Were the Diaries genuine, then it could be argued that the right to privacy was over-ruled by the public's right not to be misled by a profoundly morally depraved individual. Such was the position in terms of the mentality of the times, however odd we may consider that mentality today. If we do not judge the actions of the British authorities in terms of the mentality of the times how can we judge them?
A theme running through the collection is the idea Nationalist Ireland has since Casement's execution been 'in denial' about the Diaries. This idea has been put forward by McCormack, Dudgeon and others. As Clifford points out it is difficult to be 'in denial' about something for which there is no evidence. The Home Office denied the very existence of the Diaries from the 1920s to the 1950s. They were not made open to the public without restriction until 1994. How should one believe in the authenticity of something when those most in a position to know about it are reluctant to confirm its very existence? The idea is absurd.
Clifford broaches the question of whether the undermining of Casement's reputation played a part in bringing the United States into World War One. Without the participation of the US there would have been no allied victory. The war would, in all likelihood have ended in 1917 in a stalemate. There would have been no Bolshevik revolution; no Third Reich and world history would have been radically different. He believes the US entered the war as it was in its interests to do so and whatever Casement's fate was, it would not have affected the final outcome. Casement was very passionately in favour of US neutrality. He was an icon of the movement which wanted that neutrality maintained. His disgrace cost that movement credibility and helped undermine it. A number of resolutions were passed by the US Senate seeking clemency for Irish political prisoners and for the commutation of his death sentence just before the execution. Before his fall from grace his name carried real weight. Yet, I am inclined to agree with Clifford. But, still a doubt remains. I am not aware that a full investigation of the effect of the Casement case on US public attitudes to neutrality in the Great War has been undertaken. Perhaps there is an opening here for some enterprising and intrepid researcher.
Something which biographers and others have disgracefully ignored is the matter of Casement's only published book, the series of articles entitled The Crime Against Europe, which pinned the responsibility for the outbreak of the Great War on Britain. As Clifford writes:—
"I have never seen an attempt to disprove the argument of his book on its own ground. I presume that anybody who read his book, and knew what the British government had been up to since about 1905, saw that challenging his book on its own ground would be a hopeless task because the argument was proved by events as well as documents revealed to later generations" (page 50).
In later pages he takes issue with the so called "forensic test" of 2002 which our Diary Dogmatists set so much store by. As he states a forensic test is a test which is capable of being presented at a court of law. "In this instance, all that happened is that a handwriting expert gave an opinion, for which she was privately paid" (page 64).
The term "forensic" has been recklessly bandied about. The reality is that no real forensic tests have ever been carried out on the physical documents known as the Black Diaries. Certainly, they have been examined. However, they have not been examined and reported upon to the level of the requirements of a court of law, such as to deem that examination forensic.
What I believe is required to put an end to the controversy is a fully comprehensive inter-disciplinary examination carried out by a panel of experts who have been given the time and resources to carry out their task to the highest standards.
Clifford does not share the optimism about whether the question of forgery can be ever resolved that I entertain. He admits he has not read closely The Forged Casement Diaries (1936) by W.J. Maloney. He does not appear fully informed about contradictions between Black Diary entries and attested Casement material.
I believe, the decidedly odd history of the Diaries, particularly in the early years, anomalies and absurdities in the text, the laboured appearance of some of the handwriting, the lack of Casement's linguistic mannerism in the wording, evidence of erasure, and bizarre "restoration" work done on some pages all point in only one direction. The notion the Diaries are a hoax neatly explains all circumstances surrounding the case. Why then tie oneself up in knots trying to explain them as genuine when this requires a colossal juxtaposition of unlikely circumstances? The statistical chances of such a juxtaposition occurring in reality is comfortably within the order of millions to one.
I have been asked, being one of those convinced the Diaries are bogus, why should I propose such an elaborate investigative procedure be undertaken. Why would one demand a matter to be investigated if one already knows the answer?
It should be stated that a lot of information on the matter is contained in books that are out of print or exists as part of the personal knowledge of various researchers scattered around the world. Were all this information to be placed in the public domain, one has the possibility of getting a handle on the subject. However, even then it would require close perseverant study to acquire an appreciation that the Diaries have been forged. There are too many powerful elements in the interlocked worlds of academia, media and intelligence with a prejudice against accepting the forgery thesis for such a presentation of the data to get a fair hearing, let alone be widely understood. A comprehensive forensic examination can provide answers which can not be blandly dismissed and which can be understood by the man in the street without recourse to intensive reading.
New technologies give the possibility of examining aspects of the Diaries in a non-invasive way which before was not before possible. I understand this may very likely open up exciting possibilities.
One recalls the case of Piltdown man where a skull purporting to be the 'missing link' between apes and humans was exposed as a hoax in 1953 using what were then new chemical techniques.
Of the two Diary Dogmatists, Dr W.J. McCormack steals the show in this collection. He is the subject of one article and crops up in four others. He has come to publicly represent the contention that the Diaries have been definitively certified as genuine. Indeed, if you take a look at his personal website www.billmccormack.ie you find a picture of him inspecting what is represented as "the Casement files". With this there is a picture of his recent book Roger Casement In Death.
Clifford describes it:—
"I have looked through Professor McCormack's book and found it profoundly incoherent and ill-informed in the parts that I could judge".
"His book is a tirade against Maloney in which facts are scattered about lavishly without regard to whether they are grain or chaff" (page 31).
One can only agree.
If the appearance of the website is a guide McCormack wishes to be uniquely identified with the so called "forensic test" and his subsequent related book.
I recall his performance at the Casement Foundation symposium of 2002 in Buswell's Hotel, Dublin. He read a paper based on Maloney's The Forged Casement Diaries published in 1936. It consisted of attacks on the personalities of the research team which assembled the data for the book. It did not deal with its substance and methodology in a meaningful way. Much heated reaction was provoked. He left suddenly, in a hurry, before the event was over.
He took part in an exchange of letters in the Irish Times in August and September last in which he again asserted his "forensic test" was definitive. Yet no letter appeared from him challenging the substance of my letter Technical Examination Of The Casement "Black Diaries" (reproduced at the end of the pamphlet) in which I took him to task. Nor did he challenge its substance in the pages of Books Ireland (December 2004), where he wrote a review of the two pamphlets here in view.
The Books Ireland review was a revelation. Brendan Clifford is described as propounding a Marxism based on the approach of Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, a man famed for making imaginative sketches of physically impossible structures. This Escher metaphor is then used to characterise Clifford's views on British 1930s policy on Czechoslovakia and Poland. The idea appears to be that as the analysis lies outside the conventional then it must, by definition, recall Escher's impossible structures. He trumps this brilliant observation by calling to his side "the bleeding obvious". So, game set and match!
Yet, Dr McCormack, in dealing with the controversy he has stirred up, has a "Marxist" approach of his own well in hand. There is the wise-cracking bluff of Groucho Marx, the tough talking bluster of Chico, and, when called for, there is the discreet silence of the mute Harpo.
If you wish to subscribe to the Irish Political Review, Labour & Trade Union Review, Church & State or Problems Of Capitalism & Socialism please go to our secure sales area.