Why we cannot forget Dreyfus. It was the end of the nineteenth century and his exoneration in 1906 coincided with the birth of modernism. The double agents, perfidious generals, conniving politicians and anti-Semites posing as patriots have remained on the political scene ever since…
…As yet unaware of Gen. Auguste Mercier’s dereliction in the trial, Lt. Col. Picquart, an honorable but disciplined officer, made no public protest. For his own protection, however, he left with his lawyer a confidential summary of his role in the Esterhazy investigation. When its substance accidentally leaked out, the Dreyfus case truly became The Affair. An equally accidental revelation of the scandalous trial procedure fueld the public controversy that now erupted.
Spearheaded by Bernard Lazare, a clear-minded, courageous Jewish man of letters, and Joseph Reinach, a noted historian-politician, Dreyfus’s champions organized the first mobilization of intellectuals in modern history. The present usage of the word, and the now classic rites of intellectual protest, stem from the affair. Peguy, the young Proust, and a whole cluster of noted scholars were prominent in the movement; Clemenceau, Jaures, and a respected Alsatian senator, Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, supplied the political-journalistic heavy artillery. Emile Zola in his J’Accuse, bitterly castigated the general staff, and became a symbol for the Dreyfusards when he was arrested for libel. French public opinion became increasingly polarized between Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards.
The army, backed by most of the rightist, clerical, or simply conservative forces in the nation, dug in its heels. Through a succession of arrogant war ministers, it cowed a succession of timid premiers. The general staff ed the anti-Dreyfusard press with a steady flow of leaks,lies, and forgeries. One criminally irresponsible rumor, probably planted by Mercier himself- and unquestionably given credence by his refusal to deny it- had Kaiser Wilhelm II personally instructing his ambassador to meet Dreyfus’s price. Mercier was said to possess a photographic copy of the Kaiser’s handwritten dispatch, but the htreat of a declaration of war had forced the French government to return the original at the beginning of the Affair.
Dreyfus’s guilt became an article of faith in what almost seemed a new state religion: more fantastically,so for a time did the real culprit, Esterhazy’s innocence. The impudent adventurer clearly terrified the French generals with his reckless interviews and unpredictable antics. At his own request, Esterhazy appeared before a court martial, which quickly exonerated him. A cheering nationalist mob carried him away in triumph. ( to be continued)…
(see link at end)…Above all, many Frenchmen thought that France had lost the war because it had turned away from the faith. For the Paris of Dreyfus’s time was really a city of two towers—across the city from the Eiffel Tower, the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, with its monumental bell tower, had been slowly rising since the eighteen-seventies, as a sort of counter-monument, done in a gargantuan Romanesque manner then seen as the true mystical style of Franco-Catholicism. It was dedicated explicitly to the expiation of the sins of 1870 and the redemption of France by a restored Catholic Church. Apollinaire used the two towers—one the shepherd of modern life, the other the fountain, the bleeding heart of the past—to structure his vision of the city in his great poem on Paris, “Zone.”
A saner response to the war had been to reform and democratize the French Army, by making its officer ranks meritocratic and national rather than aristocratic and narrow. Dreyfus, as a Jewish son of Alsace, took advantage of these reformist impulses, and came to Paris to become an artillery officer.* He did not fit the model of the traditional duelling and debauching officer, all scars and debts, but represented a new model, of the officer as bourgeois family man. He eventually settled with his wife and two children in a grand apartment on the Avenue du Trocadéro.
It was in that city of two towers, one finished and one rising, that, in the fall of 1894, Dreyfusame the accidental victim of a stupid plot, which was not, in its origins, anti-Semitic.
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