“For, with me in their hands …the English government will try how [sic] most to humiliate and degrade me. …they will charge me with something else – something baser than ‘high treason’ – God knows what – & what chance of a trial will I have on any charge they chose to get up against me?”
The construction of the historical narrative about Casement is not yet complete 100 years after his execution. In his after-life he still provokes painful and profound questions about the nature of loyalty, integrity and the state, questions about authority, justice and power. Angus Mitchell in his Introduction to One Bold Deed of Open Treason, writes “Even if Ireland still finds it hard to accept Casement …” (p. 17) without indicating why Ireland finds it hard. But perhaps this is because there are so many Casements to choose from, because his historical identity is so fissured. Heroes, like martyrs, are usually of one piece. The multiple kaleidoscopic identities of Casement have still not coalesced into the coherent understandable unity required for closure. He was a man of terrifying integrity or of none, a megalomaniac or a man who “eliminated self”, a defiant enemy of imperial power or simply a traitor, emotionally unstable or rational & lucid, a homosexual or a man besmirched by his enemies. Today, most people have chosen their Casement but it is always unwise to choose without complete knowledge of the ‘product’.
The articles published here are the results of research carried out from 2014 to 2016 and the focus of the research has been to determine the authenticity or otherwise of the diaries attributed to Casement and which are held in the UK National Archives. This has necessitated an in-depth scrutiny of The Giles Report of 2002 because this is the only examination of the diaries which received widespread publicity and which furnished definitive conclusions of authenticity. The limitations of this report are the subject of Casement Tried & Tested published in the July edition of History Ireland.
The research has also necessitated a close scrutiny of the anomalies and contradictions in the two diaries for 1910 and this forms the core research in Decoding Casement. In light of the conflicting official and unofficial records, the question of the provenance of these diaries so conveniently discovered in 1916 is also examined at length in The Casement Secret.
In an ideal world the question of the authenticity of these controversial diaries would be settled with certainty by scientific tests such as those used in the 1983 case of the Hitler Diaries. However, the UK National Archives policy is that no such ‘hard science’ tests will be carried out on these diaries. This has left comparative handwriting analysis which is the weakest method for determining authenticity of documents since it cannot produce more than a subjective expert opinion. The Hitler diaries, although forged to order, managed to deceive no less than three handwriting experts. Handwriting analysis is not an exact science; indeed it is not a science at all.
Two rhetorical strategies have been used to impress readers that the diaries are authentic. These are the ‘wealth of detail’ and the scale of the alleged forgeries. Although neither of these are arguments they are nonetheless persuasive because they are calculated to inhibit a credible response. Where and how would a forger have found the vast quantity of mundane detail which the diaries contain? Why would a forger risk writing so many thousands of words when a few forged letters would have been equally effective? That these two points are expressed as interrogatives indicates that they have no probative aspect and that no response is anticipated. Tacitly they insinuate that the form and content of the diaries are de facto a sufficient proof of authenticity. However, these strategies find striking parallels in the case of the forgeries of the Hitler Diaries. It was precisely the vast number of Hitler diaries and the utterly banal content which convinced eminent historians to authenticate; they simply could not imagine that anyone could forge such a quantity of material. They also felt that the wealth of banal detail could not have been invented and indeed it was not; it was copied from another published source. The audacious scale of the operation had the psychological effect of excluding a priori the possibility of fraud. The form and content alone of the Hitler Diaries were taken to be a sufficient proof of authenticity. This conviction was then confirmed by three noted handwriting experts. Only ‘hard science’ testing established that the diaries had been forged in the previous two years with some of them taking no more than a few hours. On this basis in both cases, scale and detail are an integral part of the plan since they act as powerful incentives to convince. But they prove nothing about authenticity.
Whereas scientific testing was successful in the Hitler case, consultation with scientists in the UK, USA, Poland, Ireland and Australia has confirmed the limitations of ‘hard science’ testing in that conclusive results cannot in every case be obtained from spectroscopy, DNA, pollen, ink and paper analysis. There are many variables and no serious scientist will claim a decisive result from probabilities. In short, there is no guarantee that any data obtained from such testing will be sufficient to substantiate a definitive conclusion.
This leaves only one investigative approach to the authorship of the diaries attributed to Casement. That approach is logical analysis of the documents and of the circumstances in which they were and are known and an analysis of the reasons why they are widely held to be authentic. This approach, which essentially seeks to purify the basic sources of information, has never been attempted.
The principal weakness of the authenticity argument is the absence of anything that resembles an argument. There is simply no evidence that Casement was the author of the diaries. Handwriting resemblance is not an argument but it can successfully deceive when disguised as an argument. The principal weakness of the position against authenticity is that the arguments lack focus and therefore penetration. This is due to the secrecy in which the diaries were kept until 1959 and the subsequent refusal to allow them to be rigorously tested. In addition, many crucial documents are missing, believed destroyed by the British authorities.
Both positions for and against authenticity have failed to provide logical investigation in the sense of constant, skeptical and clinical scrutiny of sources. Both have been weakened by bias and by a reliance on non-probative circumstances and conjecture rather than verifiable facts. Neither position appears to have perceived that there is no verifiable record of the bound-volume diaries being shown to anyone in 1916. Absence of such record indicates that there is no proof that the diaries existed in 1916. In addition to this there is the unresolved question of the provenance of the diaries. These are the basic points of enquiry which form the subject of the essays presented in this website.
The Casement controversy is burdened with contradictions, anomalies, suspicions and confusions and by a lack of verifiable facts concerning the diaries. Responsibility for this situation lies with the British authorities who for many decades behaved in a manner as if calculated to produce suspicion. As recently as the early 90s applications to view the diaries were still being refused. Today the diaries are kept in a safe-room at Kew as if they were state treasures or state secrets. But no-one ever claimed they were state treasures.
The controversy is also burdened with an extraordinary quantity of innuendo and misinformation which has its origin in an evident predisposition to defend the British authorities at all costs by upholding authenticity in the absence of testable evidence. The principal authors are Inglis, Sawyer, Reid and Ó Síocháin whose deployment of rhetorical strategies and selective framing enables them to distract the reader from ever arriving at the central questions. Some examples of this innuendo and misinformation are examined briefly in The Casement Secret. An impartial reader would ask why these authors felt it necessary to mix facts with innuendo but would pose that question only if able to make the distinction between fact and innuendo. The answer can be found by noting what the innuendo and misinformation relates to and what its effect is. In all cases, the innuendo and misinformation relates to the diaries and to the behavior described therein and in all cases its effect is to persuade the unwary reader of their authenticity.
That successive Irish governments since 1921 declined to raise the question with the British authorities has also nourished suspicions of collusion between Dublin and London. Although these suspicions were strongly denied in 1956, no explanation for official Irish disinterest was offered. Absence of a reasonable explanation for that disinterest weakens the official denial and increases the suspicion. The Ahern initiative in 1999 was quickly undermined and became a private initiative which produced the privately funded Giles Report.
A history which is composed of facts mixed with falsehood has no more value than pulp fiction. That the widely accepted Casement ‘history’ is a pulp fiction finds an indirect confirmation in the film screenplay written by noted author John Banville. In this very modern endeavour, Casement is portrayed as homosexual but his diaries fail to convince so that they require to be forged. This formula seeks to satisfy all those who know little or nothing about Casement which is a vast number of people. That the film was never made is a considerable contribution to impartial study of the controversy. Another noted novelist who fails to render the complex dynamics of the Casement story into fictional form is Mario Vargas Llosa whose novel The Dream of the Celt hovers uncertainly between historical biography and imaginative fiction offering a portrait of a tragic fanatic thus avoiding the very issues which have generated the century-long controversy. In a generous act of confused sophistry he asserts that fiction can reveal truths which cannot be revealed by verifiable facts and with this Vargas Llosa reveals how he has been unable to defend himself from the propaganda which has nourished his novel. Everyone chooses their own pulp fictional Casement.
The essays here reach the conclusion that Casement was not the author of the diaries. It is for the impartial reader to judge if the arguments support that conclusion. If they do so convincingly, then a number of long-standing questions will have been answered. But one question remains unanswered: since the British authorities have provided no proof whatsoever of the authenticity of the diaries, why do those authorities today still maintain they are authentic?
Paul R. Hyde. 3 August 2016.
The author wishes to thank Dr. Angus Mitchell for valuable encouragement, criticism and advice. Gratitude is also due to Dr. Martin Mansergh and to Brian Leahy.
The Black Diaries are kept in a safe-room in the UK National Archives. Access is by application and security is strict.
Did You Know?
It is today widely believed that between Casement’s arrest and execution in 1916 the Black Diaries now held in the UK National Archives were clandestinely shown to influential persons with a view to disarming appeals for his reprieve. The sources of this belief are the books written by Rene MacColl, B.L. Reid, Roger Sawyer, Brian Inglis and Séamus Ó Síocháin. These five volumes comprise almost 2,000 pages and if we allow an average of two years research for each study, we have circa ten years research. Strangely, in these 2,000 pages there is not a single verifiable instance recorded of the diaries in the National Archives being shown to anyone in that period. How can this be?
It is not credible that these five authors overlooked this crucial aspect. If they found instances of the diaries being shown in that period, they must have withheld that vital information from their readers. Since this is not credible, we must assume that none of them found any instance of the diaries being shown in that period. It is well attested that typescript pages were circulated in that period and that a large quantity of these eventually found their way to Singleton-Gates who published them in Paris in 1959. But Casement did not type those pages.
The logical conclusion of the above facts is that there is no verifiable independent evidence which attests to the physical existence in that period of the three bound-volume diaries now in The National Archives. Yet today the diaries certainly exist.
Did You Know?
On June 2, 2016 a Casement event was held in the Irish Embassy in London. Law professor Sean McConville and noted human rights lawyer Shami Chakrabarti were the guest speakers. The event, entitled The Life and Humanitarian Legacy of Roger Casement, was recorded for BBC TV and broadcast to many millions in the UK. Both speakers, and the Irish Ambassador who hosted the event, are believers in the authenticity of the Black Diaries and therefore this topic, although mentioned, was taken for granted. However, after some 39 minutes Professor McConville, who believes the diaries are genuine, made the following statement:
“I think they [the diaries] were in British possession for quite a long while … they had these trunks from the moment that Casement started issuing pro-German pamphlets …”
That moment was therefore in late 1914, some eighteen months before Casement’s arrest. However, two state documents from Scotland Yard give possession of the trunks on 25th April, 1916, the third day of Casement’s interrogation. Therefore, Professor McConville believes that the interrogation transcript and the police list of effects found in the trunks are false. It also means that he believes that two of CID Head Basil Thomson’s published accounts of discovery are false. It follows that McConville admits that his primary sources of information concerning provenance are contaminated with falsehood. Despite conceding this falsehood concerning provenance, he believes that the diaries are authentic. During the event he offered no explanation for not believing his sources and seemed oblivious of the contradiction which amounts to saying “I know the man is a liar and so I believe him.” McConville is a professor of law but it is evident that his belief in authenticity is not based on logical reasoning, on facts or on common sense.
Repeat: Professor McConville concedes that his sources are contaminated but this admission does not allow him to doubt the integrity of those dishonest sources when they inform him that the diaries are authentic.
On this website it is argued that the authenticity edifice rests upon unstable foundations. Those foundations are unstable because they require the illogical reasoning behind McConville’s belief in authenticity. Something other than logic and common sense has induced McConville’s belief, perhaps something emerging from the grey zone of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps it is this unhappy condition which also induced him to mislead the audience of millions by stating “…the diaries were circulated in London … Blackwell … was circulating these diaries at a time when Casement’s fate had not finally been decided …” This is manifestly false. Only typescript pages were shown. But this was a vitally necessary deception.
Given that the event was held in the Irish Embassy in the presence of the Ambassador to St. James, one assumes that the Irish State accepts unproven authenticity of the Black Diaries simply because it has now become politically correct and therefore necessary in Ireland to do so. The television transmission reached millions who passed from being uninformed people to being misinformed people who believe they are informed. It might be poliically incorrect to describe this as propaganda but, once again, it is difficult to distinguish it from propaganda. Thus, as Orwell warned, lies pass into history.