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Home Uncategorized Against the Demon

Against the Demon

Angus Mitchell
The Devil and Mr Casement: One Man’s Struggle for Human Rights in South America’s Heart of Darkness, Jordan Goodman, Verso, 288pp, £17.99,ISBN: 978-1844673346 Jordan Goodman, the eminent historian, was born on a refugee ship en route from Cyprus to the new state of Israel in 1948. His parents were holocaust survivors. A few months after his birth, the Jewish exile and staunch pacifist, Balder Olden committed suicide in Montevideo, Uruguay.[1] Sixteen years earlier, before fleeing in fear for his life from the Nazi regime, Olden had published one of the earliest biographies of Roger Casement Paradiese de Teufels (A Paradise of the Devil), a work printed twice in German but never translated, and rarely referenced in Casement bibliographies.[2] Olden’s interest in Casement hints at the remarkable international resonance of the man and the fact that his life and legacy belong more to the fight for universal humanity than to the troubled closet of Irish historiography. The devil in the title of Goodman’s history is the same devil which resided in Olden’s paradise. The single quotation on the dust jacket of this book is provided by the American author Adam Hochschild. A decade ago, Hochschild reawakened popular interest in the historical plight of the Congo with his shocking book King Leopold’s Ghost.[3] In several ways, The Devil and Mr Casement is a deliberate and worthy sequel to Hochschild’s bestseller. Both are Manichaean tales relating the struggle between evil (materialism) and good (spirituality). The prose reads with the pace of a novel, but this does not compromise its value as a work of historical exactitude. The writing is clear, the research is scrupulous and the story retrieves an important human rights campaign of the early twentieth century. With the detachment required of his discipline, Goodman pieces together the facts, silences and fictions associated with the atrocities committed along the Putumayo river of the Upper Amazon, an extensive region of rainforest bordering Colombia, Brazil and Peru, which was turned into a killing field when western markets went mad for rubber. Goodman gives a chilling account of an appalling crime against humanity. The moral of the tale has clear resonances in our own time when the destruction of ancient cultures continues unchecked and where the rapid degradation of the planetary environment propels us towards an increasingly unstable world. The story broke across British newspapers in 1909 and remained alive for the next five years until it was closed down and largely forgotten on…

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