Hero and Traitor
By Jesse Monteagudo
Sir Roger Casement (1864-1916) is one of the most doubly intriguing characters in history: A patriot to the Irish, a traitor to the English, and a footnote in the history of homosexuality and of "the war to end all wars".
Born near Dublin to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, Casement was raised as a Protestant. He joined the British Consular Service in 1892 and served in various posts in Africa and South America for the next two decades.
In 1903, Casement exposed King Leopold II of the Belgians' cruel exploitation of the natives in his "Congo Free State". Casement repeated this feat in 1912 when he exposed the harsh working conditions of the Indians in the Putumayo region in Peru. For his services to King and Country, Casement was knighted in 1911.
"After dinner to Malecon and met Caja Marco for one ... and then a lovely boy on seat ... Then in Square and beautiful Peruvian of Chota. Splendid type and big one too..." "Saw the young Peruvian negro soldier leaving barracks with erection under white knickers -- it was half way to knees! fully 1 foot long ..." "Jose came 3 and stayed till near 5. Got stiff and fingered it. I [illegible] often and tried to get it mine up and pulled it and he got redder and his very big." "...One of the carriers, a big Inca (white) peon with blue shirt and pants and a perfect monster. It swings and shows a head about 3" in diameter!"
And so on. Written in Africa and South America, away from the restrictions of British society, Sir Roger could freely indulge his attractions for young men of color, who he usually paid for sex. In a separate cash ledger, the thrifty Casement noted how much money he spent for each youth's services.
A size queen, Sir Roger was also a bottom, which gave a new meaning to the term White Man's Burden. Like other civil servants before and since, Casement kept his sexual proclivities to himself. According to Dr. H.S. Dickey, who Casement met while in the Amazon, Casement claimed that he was only doing "research" on homosexual practices among the Indians of the Putumayo. His only confidants were his diaries.
Casement's own views on homosexuality were contradictory. When he heard that the general Sir Hector MacDonald had killed himself over his sexual orientation, Casement hoped that this "most distressing case" would "awaken the national mind to saner methods of curing a terrible disease than criminal legislation."
On the other hand, Casement's counselor Alexander M. Sullivan was shocked to learn that Casement "glorified" in his sexuality: "He instructed me to explain to the jury that the filthy and disreputable practices and the rhapsodical glorification of them were inseparable from true genius; moreover, I was to cite a list of all truly great men to prove it. He was not a bit ashamed."
Casement's experiences with colonialism -- and, perhaps, his own experiences as a gay man -- awakened him to the conditions of his own country, then under British domination. He resigned from the Service in 1913 to devote himself to the cause of Irish nationalism. To this end Casement visited New York, then as now a source of funds and guns for Irish nationalists.
Britain's declaration of war against Germany in August of 1914 inspired Casement to seek German help for his cause. Historians attribute Casement's treason against Britain to his Irish nationalism. However, it could be argued that Casement's status as a sexual outlaw also contributed to his decision to betray a society that would condemn him and his.
Assisted by a new lover, the young Norwegian sailor Adler Christensen (who, it turned out, was secretly working for the English Foreign Service), Sir Roger went to Germany to recruit Irish prisoners of war for an Irish Brigade that would wage war against Britain. However, the Irish POWs, loyal to the Empire, would not cooperate.
Disillusioned, Casement returned to Ireland in 1916 to take part in the unsuccessful Easter Uprising. Captured by the British, Casement was sent to the Tower of London where he was to await trial for high treason. Unfortunately for Casement, his Black Diaries were seized by the British, who used them as evidence of their prisoner's depravity and to quash any sympathy for his cause.
As expected, Casement's diaries shocked all who read them. As if Casement's homosexuality was not enough, his sexual interest in men of color and his willingness to take the "less manly" role in anal sex convinced many that he was beyond redemption.
Sir Enley Blackwell, counsel for the Home Office, spoke for many when he commented that Casement:
"Seems to have completed the full cycle of sexual degeneracy and from a pervert has become an invert -- a woman, or pathic, who derives his satisfaction from attracting men and inducing them to use him."
On the other hand, Casement's Irish followers insisted that the diaries were "fakes". They could not admit that their hero and martyr was a homosexual.
Casement was hanged on August 3, 1916. For decades after his death, scholars on both sides of the Irish Sea argued over his life and his diaries until their publication put to rest any doubts about their authenticity.
Once famous, Sir Roger Casement is hardly remembered today, save by the Irish nation he tried to serve and by gay men who recognize his as a kindred spirit who, like Oscar Wilde, suffered for "the love that dared not speak its name".
The Black Diaries of Roger Casement by Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias; Roger Casement by Brian Inglis; Famous Trials: Roger Casement by H. Montgomery Hyde.