dreyfus: the great e-scape-goat

The hiding of evidence on the basis of the interests of national security has been with us ever since.The Dreyfus Affair never goes away…

…It was the classic interactionof chance and necessity that set the wheels of truth in motion. In the spring of 1896, another disconcerting find from Schwartzkoppen’s wastebasket was laid before the new head of the Statistical Section, Lt. Col. Marie Georges Picquart. It was the reconstructed fragments of the subsequently famous “petit bleu” : a note written by the German attache, though never mailed, to a French officer, Maj. Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy, and definitely suspect in tone. Esterhazy, Picquart learned, was a dissolute, chronically impecunious aristocrat, with a good military record and a shady private life.

—Yet it took place in the immediate shadow of the monument of modernity, the Eiffel Tower, then six years old, which loomed at the north end of the Champ-de-Mars. The very improbability of such an act’s happening at such a time—to an assimilated Jew who had mastered a meritocratic system and a city that was the pride and pilothouse of civic rationalism—made it a portent, the moment where Maupassant’s world of ambition and pleasure met Kafka’s world of inexplicable bureaucratic suffering. The Dreyfus affair was the first indication that a new epoch of progress and cosmopolitan optimism would be met by a countervailing wave of hatred that deformed the next half century of European history.
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/09/28/090928crbo_books_gopnik#ixzz2AybRFzsQ

Esterhazy, currently assigned as a battalion commander in a provincial garrison, he had once served in the Statistical Section himself and was intimate with the unsavory Maurice Weil of bedroom escapade and wife loaning expertise. Picquart, who up to then had taken Dreyfus’s guilt for granted, compared a sample of Esterhazy’s writing with the bordereau Dreyfus was alleged to have written. The hand seemed to be the same. Thus, the spy who had been selling France’s military secrets to the Germans was apparently Esterhazy, not Dreyfus. And Schwartzkoppen later confirmed this.

Picquart shared the prevailing French military prejudice against Jews, and had disliked Dreyfus personally,but his mind was open to the truth and he had an uncompromising Christian conscience. He promptly reported his discovery and conclusions to the new war minister, Gen. Jean Baptiste Billot, to the chief of staff, Gen. Raoul Le Mouton de Boisdeffre- an accomplice in Gen. Auguste Mercier’s abuse of office- and to the latter’s deputy, Gen. Charles Albert Gonse, a cynical old windbag.

—The Dreyfus affair matters not because of the parallel with our time but because it was one of the first tests of modern pluralist liberalism and its institutions—a test that those institutions somehow managed to pass and fail at the same time. In France a century ago, the system finally worked, as they used to say after Watergate. The good guys rallied around, the courts did their job, Dreyfus was vindicated and came home to his family. Yet what the system exposed as it worked was, in a way, worse than the injustice it remedied. It showed that a huge number of Europeans, in a time largely smiling and prosperous, liked engaging in raw, animal religious hatred, and only felt fully alive when they did. Hatred and bigotry were not a vestige of the superstitious past but a living fire—just what comes, and burns, naturally.
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/09/28/090928crbo_books_gopnik#ixzz2Aycx7BcV

The first two were evasive, and refused to let him call in a handwriting expert or to question Esterhazy. Gonse said that Dreyfus’s innocence was unimportant and flatly declared, “the case can’t be reopened.” When Picquart expressed his indignation, he was removed from the Statistical Section and reassigned to the dangerous Tunisian frontier. ( to be continued)…


(see link at end)…The anti-Dreyfusards typically viewed the military as the nation’s greatest institution. Ferdinand Brunetière, for example, editor of the Revue des Deux Mondes, became an anti-Dreyfusard not because he was passionately antisemitic, but because he feared the intellectuals would destabilise France through their attacks on the army. In his tract, After the Trial, Brunetière queried the link between scientific or technical expertise and moral authority. He insisted that science only ever produced evidence that was precarious and contingent, and so could not be of use in deciding the verdict of a court martial. In his view, antisemitism was “but a name to disguise the strong desire to dispossess” the arrivistes (freemasons, Protestants and Jews) who dominated the republic through their high-ranking positions in the nation’s universities. An anti-elitist democrat, Brunetière criticised Zola for ignoring ordinary people in his fiction, and concentrating on the violent and pathological extremes of human nature. Zola’s intervention in the Dreyfus Affair was seen by Brunetière as a similar feat of exhibitionism, aimed at debasing the nation and the army it relied on. Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/13/dreyfus-affair-devils-island-ruth-harris

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