Necessity now took over entirely. New military blunders and new leaks had to occur. Six months later, just as a new war minister was preparing to have the Dreyfusard leadership put on trial for conspiracy against the security of the state, an overzealous subordinate in the general staff, plowing through the Dreyfus file, uncovered Henry’s forgery that would not stand up under close scrutiny. There was no hope of secrecy.
Col. Henry duly “confessed” his crime to Boisdeffre and was put under arrest. The next morning he was found in his cell with his throat cut, apparently a suicide, an accomplice who was beyond embarrasing his principals. Boisdeffre resigned. So did his minister, Godefroy Cavaignac. Picquart was released. Esterhazy decamped.
The Drefusard campaign for a new trial was now irresistible. Charles Maurras, at the time a relatively obscure young Provencal poet and right-wing intellectual, helped to save the anti-Dreyfusards from a total rout. Henry, he wrote in the Royalist Gazette de France, was not a criminal but a martyr. What he had committed was a “patriotic forgery.” His innocent blood was on the hands of the infamous “Jewish Syndicate.”
The doctrine of Henry’s martyrdom and of the patriotic forgery, as the German historian Ernst Nolte has written, into the “vital lie” of Maurras’s whole existence- and of many other French existences. It was one of the mythological wellsprings of French proto- or crypto-fascism, whose chief theoretician he became. Eventually, nearly fifty years later, it gained the French superpatriot a life sentence for wartime collaboration with his country’s enemies. Immediately, however, it catapulted him to fame and put new heart into the demoralized anti-Dreyfusards.
Drumont launched a public subscription on behalf of Henry’s widow. Even such respectable nationalist intellectuals as Maurice Barres and the young Paul Valery contributed. Its the dynamic of inversion of values under the impact of mob emotion. This occurred during the McCarthy craze in the United States when the general of the army George C. Marshall, the embodiment of military honor and disinterested patriotism in his generation, appeared a suspect figure to a great number of deluded American superpatriots. ( to be continued)…
(see link at end)…Because of his always cold and correct demeanor, and in part because the regime of silence that was imposed on him at Devil’s Island left him for the rest of his life with a rasping voice, the idea has been spread that Dreyfus was an essentially mediocre, if gallant, man. The image is far from the truth; awkward and uncharismatic he may have been, but Dreyfus was what we now call deep, a serious and cultivated soul. In captivity, shackled to his bed at night, he saved his sanity by reading: he read Tolstoy, Nietzsche, the French classics, and made intelligent notes on them. More than anything, he read Shakespeare. He worked his way through all the great tragedies—eventually and laboriously teaching himself to read them in the original—and found in those stories a sense of life and a language adequate to his own condition. He copied out Othello’s lines on honor, and sent them to his wife, Lucie.
He was, as far as he knew, utterly alone and friendless. In truth, he had one supreme ally at home—his brother Mathieu, who had stayed in the family textile business, and was Alfred’s main support. Mathieu worked brilliantly and tirelessly for his martyred brother. Pretty much everyone in authority had an uneasy sense that Dreyfus had been railroaded, and many who had no particular liking for Jews still felt that anti-Semitism was something worse than false; they thought it was vulgar. Early on, Mathieu made a key ally of Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, the vice-president of the French Senate, who
ngly intimated that he knew that Mathieu’s brother was innocent but could not say why. (The reason for his confidence came out later: in an incident that one would think possible only in the Internet age, one of Esterhazy’s stockbrokers had seen the bordereau reproduced in a newspaper, and at once recognized the handwriting of his ne’er-do-well client.)
Mathieu displayed a kind of genius in seeing that the case for justice was more persuasive than the case for vengeance—that it was necessary to take the position that an injustice had been done by error, rather than that an evil had been done on purpose. The barrier to his brother’s vindication, he grasped, was less anti-Semitism than the perceived assault on the honor of the Army.