Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bannerman on Thu Mar 10, 2011 11:21 am

Hello All,
My review of Gerard Murphy's book "The Year of Disappearances" is now available online at:

http://www.theirishstory.com/2011/03/09/book-review-the-year-of-disappearances-political-killings-in-cork-1921-1922/

In it I examined Murphy's use of documentry evidence and found inaccuracies in his transcription of documents which raise questions about the value of his book as a work of historical fact.

I have started a thread linked to my review on livinghistory.ie here:
http://www.livinghistory.ie/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=1716

I did this because I felt the questions I raised about Murphy's book merrited being dealt with specifically and not only as part of a more general topic about Revisionism in this thread.

Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:12 pm

Fadhb ar bith, Michael. For anyone else who might be interested, the full reference is: Robert A. Emery, The author of Tales of the R.I.C., Notes and Queries (2010) 57 (2): 226-228.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Fri Mar 18, 2011 6:29 pm

Thanks for the link, Premier, but I’m afraid I can’t quite agree with your evaluation of Angus Mitchell’s paper—though it’s true, as you say, that “claims about ‘facts’ and ‘incontrovertible proof’ in history can be part of a process of secrecy and the concealment of wider truths”, and it’s certainly fair to question the authenticity of the Black Diaries, and the possibility of a broader, long-term strategy behind them.

While I’m open to the possibility that they were clever forgeries, I incline to believe that the Diaries are genuine both because to date the best evidence suggests that they are and because Estherhazy’s and Piggott’s forgeries were exposed within a few years. It strikes me that, if forged, the Black Diaries would have been exposed as a fraud by now, especially if they had been hastily forged, as it would seem they would need to have been (within a couple of months of Casement’s capture).

Some of Mr Mitchell’s points puzzle me:
“Casement cuts against the grain of agreed versions of the past”—how? No one disagrees about the great work he did in the Congo and Amazonia; he was knighted for this. And who nowadays would argue that imperialism was a good thing?

That “governments [find] it ‘necessary to allow a passage of time before uncovering the whole truth about political events’” has always been true and remains true for the most excellent of reasons: the security of the state and the safety of its citizens. Mr Mitchell’s point eludes me: however long they were withheld, Casement’s diaries have been in the more-or-less-public domain for over 50 years now, and if “those who held views contrary to that of the British State had been excluded from seeing the documents as recently as 1990”, evidence would help make this claim seem plausible. Archivists and librarians certainly will refuse to hand irreplaceable documents over to anyone they suspect might damage them (by annotating commentary in the margins, notably), but they would be remiss in their duty if they acceded.

How is Erskine Childers “challenging imperial matrices” (in The Riddle of the Sands)? (Postmodernist jargon is another problem in this essay.) Rather, his novel surely confirms the contemporary British Imperial view that the Second Reich was bent on expansion and thereby presented a threat to Britain, who is clearly the good guy to Childers (from long before Riddle to, relatively speaking, 1918).

“[Casement’s] archive produces a counter-knowledge or counter-history which destabilises the architecture of imperial knowledge through challenging the racial, sexual and cultural norms underpinning the knowledge legitimising imperial control”. More pretentious jargon: what does “counter-knowledge” mean? Or “the architecture of imperial knowledge”? The atrocities in the Congo and Putamayo were secret, which is why they could be sustained for so long. What Casement did was expose them to the world, and though that contributed to the end of imperialism I can’t see how his revelations constitute “counter-history”, given that they never were seriously questioned. Even at the zenith of Empire, a robust “Little England” view of the world was sustained by many British; if anything, it is this that would seem to constitute “counter-knowledge” in an imperial age—but I doubt if the sympathy of Little Englanders for empires’ victims is what Mr Mitchell means by his woolly term.

Mr Mitchell seems to be driven by his implicit admission that he is one of those who “care passionately”—but of what value is that? George III and IV “cared passionately” about their coronation oath, enough to deny Catholic emancipation against the wishes of their prime ministers and parliaments, and today there’s a widespread notion, championed by Marxists and postmodernists, that “caring passionately” can validate any belief or course of action, whatever its objective value or moral worth (as long as it isn’t a king’s belief or course of action). I’m not sure there’s enough of substance, as opposed to passion, in Mr Mitchell’s argument. The “sanctity of the imperial image” has already been violated and if anything, in today’s PC climate, Casement’s case is more, rather than less, likely to debase it further in the popular mind.

However, we’re getting away from the main thread. Yet one other point: if Casement was such an ardent anti-imperialist, and champion of imperialism’s victims, why did he lionise Germany? (The only New Imperial power, as far as I’m aware, that explicitly endorsed genocide). He knew of the atrocities carried out, as a matter of Reich policy—rather than unofficially, by trading companies and individuals—against the Herero, the Namaqua and the Maji-Maji. Tens of thousands of each of these peoples were slaughtered directly, and perhaps a quarter of a million more by deliberately-induced famine and the poisoning of water holes.

Mr Mitchell concludes: “The question now hinges on textual authenticity which requires us to ask deeper and unsettling questions about the authority of the archive and the role of state secrecy in authorising knowledge”—which is fair enough, but interrogating texts and testing their authenticity is what historians always do.

Just as carefully managing and propagating texts and information is what governments do—which brings us back to Tales of the RIC, and your point about fact being used to conceal truth. Science can be deployed to improve the palatability of approved “facts”, as Mr Mitchell claims, as fiction can be deployed to propagate them further. Fact is not necessarily truth any more than fiction is—but that is not to deny that objective facts can be accessed.

And if facts can be accessed, any “meta-narrative” that is built around them can be challenged or defended. This is what so-called revisionists and those who hold the “traditional” view respectively are doing.

Onward both, toward the greater understanding of all!
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Sun Mar 20, 2011 9:54 pm

...
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Tue Mar 22, 2011 9:23 pm

Fair point, Premier,

about the need to question Castle accounts, and about the cultural assumptions that both lie behind propaganda and are reinforced by that propaganda. Keep the Irish impoverished and deprived of education, destroy their economy, then call them lazy stupid dirty “white chimpanzees”.

Dr Mitchell argues that it's not possible because they alter and rewrite the nature of Casement's work in the Congo and the Amazon
—your pronouns are a bit vague here. Do you mean he argues that it isn’t possible that the Black Diaries are genuine? Is he saying that if they are genuine this opens up “an appalling vista”?

I can’t see how this is so (unless Mr Mitchell is defending a political position rather than investigating an historical controversy). I don’t think the diaries “alter and rewrite the nature of Casement's work in the Congo and the Amazon”; they merely means that he was human, not superhuman. Casement was wrong to exploit young Africans and South Americans—if, of course, he did so—but that possible wrong does not negate the great good he did.

If we consider the incredible pressure Casement was under we might understand how he could develop something like a split personality. He was homosexual (I’m taking it that no one seriously denies this nowadays, only the Diaries?) at a time when active homosexuality was a serious crime, so he stood to lose freedom and reputation if his lifestyle came to light. And he also stood to lose his mind—he hints at this fear—to the family strain of madness. In some ways it’s amazing that such a tortured soul achieved so much good.

On your other point: I can see how people might look to
post-modernism/post-colonialism … to decipher and move beyond [imperial] cultural biases [and so prevent them] becoming part of today's cultural landscape and to avoid the enormous damage they did to the world in the past
The problem here is that postmodernism /post-colonialism introduces its own cultural biases and does huge damage too—or can do. It employs the same straitjacket imperialism did against its opponents, merely turned inside out and fitted with more finesse.

For instance, to point out that the nature of imperialism varied from one imperial power to another and from colony to colony, to point out that the phenomenon was something of a mixed curse, or at any rate more nuanced than the unmitigated horror it appears today (New Imperialism anyway), is to invite condemnation as a closet imperialist. To point out that the Zulu-Matabele Mfecane makes even the German atrocities in Südwestafrika seem almost like mild chastisement is to brave roars of “racist!” (For you can only have white imperialists in the brave new post-colonial world.) In recent years there is a concerted effort to deny that there ever was a Mfecane; as David Ahrens pretended some forty years ago about cannibalism, it was all a myth to justify white imperialism.

The dreadfully dangerous aspect of postmodernism is that it confers respectability on such politically motivated mischief. Mary Lefkowitz wrote Not Out Of Africa because she was so incensed by an afrocentrist lecture given at Wellesley College—no money-grubbing community college but one of America’s premier women’s universities—back in the early 1990s. The fool on the podium was unable to answer her questions on points of history, of course, so turned abusive, until she, who had questioned a racist agenda, was branded a racist!

Worse, when she complained to the college dean at such nonsense having been hosted by an institution of higher learning, she was told that “each of us had a different but equally valid view of history”.

You see the terrible danger? But it’s not just any ahistorical rubbish that can be fobbed off as serious history—it depends on the political slant of the rubbish. For had David Irving been allowed to peddle his brand of rubbish and a member of the history department complained to the college dean, you can be damn sure the dean would not have said that Irving’s view was “equally valid”.

As political correctness stifles intellectual enquiry (“You mustn’t say that!”), postmodernism can confer spurious legitimacy on equally politically motivated nonsense. However laudable our ideology, when we start thinking with it we cease thinking as historians.

Thanks for the link to Brian Murphy’s book. It sounds interesting though I doubt that I’d be surprised by anything in it. Trying to finish Coolacrease at present. So many books, so little time…
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Sun Mar 27, 2011 7:54 pm

...
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Mon Mar 28, 2011 5:21 am

Premier,

A good friend of mine is a post-colonial scholar of some repute. He and I agree on some things, disagree on others. We remain good friends.

There's nothing personal in any of this. This is a forum for the frank exchange of views on points of history. Personally I wish you, and all on the forum, well.


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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Mon Mar 28, 2011 9:40 pm

It doesn't make that much difference whether it's personal or not; the fact is that you are trying to disprove every element of every point of every post that I have made, regardless of the thread topic, purely to 'win' the argument. That, for me, is not a discussion, and while I remain willing to engage with the topic, I'm not going any further with this particular exchange.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bannerman on Wed Mar 30, 2011 1:02 pm

Prof. David Fitzpatrick's review of Murphy's book in The Dublin Review Of Books is absolutely devastating. Read it here:
http://www.drb.ie/more_details/11-03-17/History_In_A_Hurry.aspx

Gerard Murphy’s disorganised dossier on forty-odd killings attributed to Cork City’s IRA ... is the work of an amateur enthusiast who intended to write a novel but was advised by his publisher to refactualise the story. The vast, rambling outcome, with its miniature chapters, false trails, autobiographical asides, melodramatic scene-setting, strings of rhetorical questions and wild speculations, deploys many familiar devices associated with bad fiction. The prose is often histrionic and hackneyed ... We are bombarded with references to unexplained “silences”, supposedly disingenuous “denials”, “what if?” ruminations and rhetorical sighs such as “So what does it tell us?” At times the exposition resembles that of a mediocre essay by a bright but untrained undergraduate ...As history, the book is almost impenetrable. ... Since the relevant evidence about a particular case of “disappearance” or death is often scattered over several chapters, it is difficult to assess the credibility of many of his findings. ... Murphy proposes to offer “best-fit theories” for each killing, cheerily admitting that the available evidence is often inconclusive or ambiguous. Yet often, in his rush towards publication, he neglects better-fit theories. Though ignorant of “how many of them were actually killed”, Murphy is “of the view, however, that the majority of these men probably disappeared”. And so he goes on, building up a dossier of mysterious or unconfirmed killings without adequate confirmation, relying on his personal “belief” or “view”.


Fitzpatrick was I understand Peter Harts Ph D supervisor - and would be presumed to be very critical of early twentieth century republicans. Such a devastating review from such a senior historian of the revisionist school is essentially the final nail in the coffin for Murphy's book. Fitzpatrick seems very keen to distance himself and other historians close to him from Murphys wild speculations and unfounded claims.

Murphys book has now been slated by Ni Dabheid in the Irish Times, Niall Meehan at Spinwatch, John Borgonovo in History Ireland, myself on theirishstory.com, Biagini in Reviews in History http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1053 and Fitzpatrick in the Dublin Review of Books.

The only professional historian who has given Murphy's book a positive review to my knowledge is John Paul mc Carthy in the Sunday Independent.

Michael I think you were a bit harsh on Niall Meehan in your comments on his review given the exceptionally poor quality of Murphys research and the consensus reached by an overwhelming majority of his reviewers that the claims in his book cannot be taken seriously. I think Fitzpatricks review is far harsher and more damaging to Murphy that Meehans was and that Meehan's review of such an exceptionally poor book was fair.

It seems to me that the revisionist school of history cannot produce sound work based on 'cause and effect history' and accepted research methodology to prove their sectarian thesis.

Peter Hart contraversial claims about Kilmichael were based on interviews with anonymous sources who were supposedly veterans of that ambush. When he was challanged on this and it was pointed out that he supposedly interviewed veterans at a time when all known veterans of the ambush were dead he quickly shied away from his claims. Hart did not repeat his claims in his introduction to the reprint of "Rebel Corks Fighting Story" by Mercier Press. Nor did he repeat them in his biography of Michael Collins when mentioning Kilmichael. In his interview for the recent TG4 Tom Barry - 'Bothar na Saoirse' documentry he admitted to the possibility that some of those he supposedly interviewed may not have been IRA veterans at all.
Hart also deliberately made selective use of documentry sources leaving out extracts of passages which undermined his basic thesis.

Eoghan Harris (- though admittedly a media commentator not a historian) assumed the role of a historian for RTE's documentry on Coolacrease and was found to have completely invented "evidence" such as the claim that the Pearson Brothers had been shot in the genitals. The medical reports into their deaths show that this claim had no basis in fact.

Gerard Murphy has been found to be incapable of basic transcription of some of the historical documents he used as evidence. His work also relies on anonymous sources and many of his claims have been dismissed as unfounded speculation and wild conspiracy theories.

Its one thing for revisionists to start picking holes in the accepted historical narrative. Its quite another for them to start filling in those holes with dubious "evidence" and speculation.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Sat Apr 02, 2011 12:55 am

bannerman wrote:Prof. David Fitzpatrick's review of Murphy's book in The Dublin Review Of Books is absolutely devastating. Read it here:
http://www.drb.ie/more_details/11-03-17/History_In_A_Hurry.aspx

Gerard Murphy’s disorganised dossier on forty-odd killings attributed to Cork City’s IRA ... is the work of an amateur enthusiast who intended to write a novel but was advised by his publisher to refactualise the story. The vast, rambling outcome, with its miniature chapters, false trails, autobiographical asides, melodramatic scene-setting, strings of rhetorical questions and wild speculations, deploys many familiar devices associated with bad fiction. The prose is often histrionic and hackneyed ... We are bombarded with references to unexplained “silences”, supposedly disingenuous “denials”, “what if?” ruminations and rhetorical sighs such as “So what does it tell us?” At times the exposition resembles that of a mediocre essay by a bright but untrained undergraduate ...As history, the book is almost impenetrable. ... Since the relevant evidence about a particular case of “disappearance” or death is often scattered over several chapters, it is difficult to assess the credibility of many of his findings. ... Murphy proposes to offer “best-fit theories” for each killing, cheerily admitting that the available evidence is often inconclusive or ambiguous. Yet often, in his rush towards publication, he neglects better-fit theories. Though ignorant of “how many of them were actually killed”, Murphy is “of the view, however, that the majority of these men probably disappeared”. And so he goes on, building up a dossier of mysterious or unconfirmed killings without adequate confirmation, relying on his personal “belief” or “view”.


Fitzpatrick was I understand Peter Harts Ph D supervisor - and would be presumed to be very critical of early twentieth century republicans. Such a devastating review from such a senior historian of the revisionist school is essentially the final nail in the coffin for Murphy's book. Fitzpatrick seems very keen to distance himself and other historians close to him from Murphys wild speculations and unfounded claims.


I think, given the overwhelming negativity of the reviews, some of which pointed out that the flaws in Murphy's book were only magnification of the problems inherent in the revisionist project (I remember Niall Meehan citing David Fitzpatrick's allegation that the IRA undertook a vendetta against adulterers and homosexuals (!), something Fitzpatrick never attempted to substatiate), he's keen to distance Murphy from "respectable" revisionism. His intervention is particularly interesting because I don't recall him ever participating in the debate from the time concerns were first raised about Peter Hart's work.
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