Why we cannot forget Dreyfus. It was a long time ago and the stage was France, but the chief actors in the drama, as part of an ushering in of the age of modernism, have remained on the political scene ever since…
Fortunately for justice, the country now had a president of the Republic who believed in the republic, and a premier, Pierre Marie Waldeck-Rousseau, with some backbone. Moreover, the French workers had begun to realize that the injustice done a wealthy Jewish captain by the generals was not an affair concerning the bourgeoisie alone.
Since there was no way short of civil war of forcing the army to reverse itself, the politically reinvigorated and morally chastened republican establishment in France did what it could. Dreyfus was offered a pardon and accepted it, to the dismay of his partisans. “I was never a Drefusard,” he is said to have told some friends. A few years later the court of appeals, perhaps a bit irregularly, formally acquitted him. He was restored to his normal rank in the army reserve and given the Legion of Honor. Later during World War I, he served as a colonel. Picquart became a war minister in Clemenceau’s cabinet of 1906.
The anticlerical reaction generated by the affair had already caused a number of military heads to roll in the administrative dust. But not Gen. Auguste Mercier’s- he was a senator then- and not Esterhazy the genuine article of slimebag culprit. Esterhazy was living abroad in modest but secure returement, and for years some mysterious benefactor continued to pay a regular monthly sum into his bank account.
Upon his death, Esterhazy bequeathed his papers to a French writer hoping to convince history that he had been a patriotic double agent, working with Joseph Henry and Gen. Jean Sandherr to deceive the Germans. It was an exercise in weaving self-delusion and believing his own lie. And, unfortunately, the key documents proved to be missing. No surprise there. Gen. Saussier, who made perjury into an art form, retired with honor, and the master of the bedroom imbroglio, Maurice Weil and his lovely Austrian, loan for service wife, were left undisturbed.
(see link at end)…It was then, too, around 1898, that the affair became the Affaire, the preoccupation of all educated France. It suddenly took in not just the Army and the Jews but the central question of modern French history: nation or republic? Was one’s loyalty to be given to the nation as a repository of a heritage, mystical and ethnic in nature, or to a set of abstract ideals achieved by reason and available to all? These arguments split the upper and the educated classes—dividing even the Impressionists, the anti-Dreyfusards Degas and Renoir drawing daggers with Pissarro and Monet.
Stirred into movement by Mathieu, the entire liberal establishment, frightened and feeble at first, began to enlist in the cause; the great left-wing politician Jean Jaurès joined, then the publisher and future Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, then the novelist Émile Zola—none of them Jewish, but with a certain self-interest in seeing the right done down, and, above all, with a passion for republicanism and a sense that it could not survive this parody of justice. They insisted that they were asking France to be faithful to its own declared rules. Esterhazy, in a typically reckless though well-calculated move, demanded a court-martial, which, held in secret, ended, predictably, with his acquittal.
It was this trial, not Dreyfus’s, that caused Zola, the morning after, to publish “J’Accuse,” in a daily newspaper that Clemenceau ran—detailing all the evidence of Dreyfus’s innocence and (breaking, at last, with the playbook) arraigning the Army for deliberately covering it up. Zola was tried for criminal libel, and at his trial Clemenceau eloquently addressed what Mathieu had always seen was the problem: “Above all beware of this line of the reasoning . . . : ‘It is possible tha
eyfus was convicted illegally, but it was justly done; that is enough.’ . . . It is a serious error. . . . See to it that the supremacy of the law is undisputed, and through the law rid our hearts of this respect for reasons of state that is absurd in a democracy.” (Zola was convicted, and fled the country, until the government fell and a pardon arrived.)