dreyfus: national insecurity

Why we cannot forget Dreyfus. The time was “la belle epoque,” and the stage was France. But the chief actors in the drama- the double agents, perfidious generals, conniving politicians, and anti-Semites posing as patriots- have remained on the political scene ever since…

At this conjuncture, the discovery of Dreyfus’s “treason” promoted, as well as seriously threatened, Gen. Auguste Mercier’s political ambitions. That he had such ambitions is demonstrated by his emergence as a candidate, albeit an unofficial and unsuccessful one, in the presidential elections of 1895. Without renouncing his “republican” past, he could become the hero of the mob and of all the reactionary interests, whose prospects were once more looking bright in France. He had only to make sure that he was identified in the public and military mind as the vigilant, incorruptible war minister who had promptly unmasked the Jewish traitor on his staff and courageously defied the powers of darkness to demand his punishment.

—Starting with those closest to Dreyfus – his wife Lucie and brother Mathieu, whose previously un-deciphered letters play a crucial part in the story she tells – Harris traces the transformation of private emotion into public action. The crime against Dreyfus was like a stone kicked down an insecure cliff: the slippage became a landslide and afterwards an avalanche that permanently changed the landscape of French politics.
In a letter to Dreyfus, Lucie equated his sufferings with Christ’s: “You have been sublime, my poor martyr; continue on your Road to Golgotha; terrible days have yet to be lived through, but God will one day compensate and reward you generously for all your sufferings.”
Harris remarks on how Lucie’s use of the language of martyrdom became vital in shaping the campaign to free her husband.—Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/13/dreyfus-affair-devils-island-ruth-harris image:http://www.encore-editions.com/jules-cheret-pippermint-1899-canvas-poster-print-size-14-x-20

If such thoughts had not occurred to Mercier before, they can hardly have failed to enter his mind around the middle of November, after he had allowed his personal belief in Dreyfus’s guilt to reach the press, and when Drumont, who had earlier dubbed him a “cardboard general” and denounced him as the source of “the stink in the war ministry,” began extolling his “blunt patriotism.” From then on, Mercier was saddled with his new right-wing political personality, and with the administrative crime he had already decided to commit. Inevitably, the army was saddled with them, too.

Henry Lerolle. The Harvesters.—Connections between the intimate sufferings of the Dreyfus family and French society were first forged in the press. In their search for a polemicist who would help them, the Dreyfus family turned to Bernard Lazare, an anarchist of Jewish origin. He had already attacked the novelist Zola as a mere “grocer” and had published a controversial book on the history and causes of antisemitism in 1894. Mathieu asked Lazare to campaign for his brother in journalistic and literary circles, which he did, even seeking reconciliation with Zola. At first, Zola was unhelpful, but as the campaign gathered pace, he was drawn in deeply. His famous “J’accuse”, published in January 1898, addressed the president of the republic, Félix Faure, and accused officers, generals and the press of conspiring to conceal a miscarriage of justice. Zola was himself tried and found guilty of criminal libel. He fled into exile to Kent, the standard bearer then, and afterwards, of the pursuit of truth over reason of state.—Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/13/dreyfus-affair-devils-island-ruth-harris image:http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-harvesters-henri-lerolle.html

At first, Dreyfus’s conviction seemed to end the affair. Almost nobody outside his family questioned his guilt. Jaures, who was later to become a leading Dreyfusard, criticized the verdict only on the grounds that the traitor should have been shot. The Paris crowd shouting “death to the Jews” during the sadistic ritual of public degradation, when Dreyfus’s insignia as an officer were torn off his tunic and thrown into his face, was a cross section of the nation. Mercier’s selection of Devil’s Island, off the steaming coast of French Guiana, for Dreyfus’s confinement, and the barbarous regime to which he was subjected there, were applauded by the public as just punishment for his crime. ( to be continued)…


(see link at end) Kirby:Conviction and exile: In December 1894 Dreyfus was put on trial before a court martial. He had an excellent lawyer who was convinced of the innocence of his client and demanded an open trial. However, the military judges insisted on a trial held in closed court. They said that this was essential to preserve national security. Handwriting experts called by the army attested to the similarity of the writing in the bordereau and Dreyfus’s writing. However, two superior experts called for the defence pointed to many dissimilarities. Dreyfus’ lawyer was sure that his client would be free at the end of the trial.

As is now known, contrary to procedural fairness and the French law governing courts martial, an officer of the War Ministry provided a
secret dossier to the members of the court martial whilst it was deliberating. The dossier contained a letter from an Italian military attaché inculpating Dreyfus. Neither Dreyfus nor his lawyer were given access to this secret evidence. Nor did they know of its provision. The
course adopted was later justified in the name of national security.

Vehemently professing his innocence, Dreyfus was unanimously convicted of treason. He was condemned to military degradation and
perpetual deportation. In an electric scene in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in the centre of Paris, Dreyfus had his military insignia torn from his uniform and his sword broken in his presence. A famous cartoon of the time showed him bowed and humiliated. But photography had arrived by 1894. A photograph showed him unbowed and erect. He declared in a voice that those nearby could hear: “I forbid you to do this to me”. And because the square was so large, Dreyfus was led around its perimeter to be humiliated in front of the assembled army officers and antagonistic citizens. He was far from bowed. Repeatedly he declared “

cent! Innocent! Vive la France!”. It was an unsettling response that led many who witnessed it to quit the assembly in a state of disquiet. Read More:http://www.hcourt.gov.au/assets/publications/speeches/former-justices/kirbyj/kirbyj_26mar06.pdf


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