Why we cannot forget Dreyfus…
…By having Du Paty deliver his memorandum at the last minute in a semi-clendestine way, and by enjoining the court to keep its contents secret, Gen. Auguste Mercier deprived the defense of its legal right to know the prosecution’s full case. Almost certainly he was aware that he was committing a criminal act. Curiously, no one else at the time appears to have realized it. The judges who found Dreyfus guilty without giving him a proper chance to prove his innocence seem to have assumed that some overriding national interest had compelled the war minister to set himself above the law, above honor.
Several historians made the same assumptions. Paleologue’s gossipy, not always accurate memoirs, published in the mid 1950′s, revived old controversies with the “revelation” that Mercier had been trying to save the honor of the army by covering up the real traitor, General X, a member of his personal staff. The need to prevent any public airing of the sexual imbroglio, bedroom farce scandal of Gen. Saussier and Maurice Weil was likewise cited. Another anti-Drefusard apologist, in the standard line of defence, Maginot of course, is to resuscitate the legend of the army sacrificing Dreyfus to protect a French double-agent involved in some tortuous cloak-and-dagger scheme for deceiving the Germans.
Dreyfusard writers have sometimes depicted Mercier as a man swept away by anti-Semitic hysteria, as so stupid that he allowed Col. Jean Sandherr and Du Paty to convince him of the Jewish captain’s guilt, or as a mere accomplice in a monarchist-clerical plot against the Republic.
None of these versions, as Marcel Thomas demonstrated in his classic, L’Affaire sans Dreyfus, gibe completely with the evidence now available. Up until a late stage of the affair the only certain plotter was Mercier himself. He was neither a fool nor a fanatic. He knew that Du Paty was a psycho kook, and Sandherr a professional paranoiac on the cusp of becoming a clinical case study. Though Mercier was to end his career as an ultrareactionary member of the French senate, he was not as yet affiliated with any right-wing faction in the army; on the contrary, he had built himself up a reputation as a “republican” general.
Thalheimer offers a convincing, if somewhat polemic, analysis of Mercier’s character. He was an early example, the German historian believed, of a new human type: the depersonalized military technician, like the Nazi generals of Hitler’s Wehrmacht, who from Verdun to Vietnam to Iraq have left their ruthless mark on modern history. Such men lack the old-fashioned professional officer’s code of honor and chivalry; their only ideal is efficiency. Human values mean nothing to them. Their one goal is power- for themselves or for the organizational machine with which they identify. ( to be continued)…
(see link at end)…The Dreyfus Affair is worth a short detour, since it split French society for many years and it became a major topic in proust’s life–and in Remembrance of Things Past. Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was a Jew and a captain in the French army. In December 1894 he was condemned by a military court for having sold military secrets to the Germans and was sent for life to Devil’s Island. The accusation was based on the evidence of a memorandum stolen from the German embassy in Paris (despite the fact that the writing did not resemble Dreyfus’s) and of a dossier (which was kept classified and secret) handed over to the military court by the minister of war. In 1896 another French soldier, Major Georges Picquart, proved that the memorandum had been written not by Dreyfus but by a certain Major Marie Charles Esterhazy. Yet Esterhazy was acquitted and Picquart was imprisoned. Instantly a large part of the population called for a retrial of Dreyfus. On January 13, 1898, the writer Emile Zola published an open letter, “J’accuse,” directed against the army’s general staff; Zola was tried and found guilty of besmirching the reputation of the army. He was forced to flee to England. Then in September 1898 it was proved that the only piece of evidence against Dreyfus in the secret military dossier had been faked by Joseph Henry, who confessed his misdeed and committed suicide. At last the government ordered a retrial of Dreyfus. Public opinion was bitterly divided between the leftist Dreyfusards, who demanded “justice and truth,” and the anti-Dreyfusards, who led an anti-Semitic campaign, defended the honor of the army, and rejected the call for a retrial. The conflict led to a virtual civil war. In 1899 Dreyfus was found guilty again, although this time under extenuating circumstances–and the president pardoned him. Only in 1906 was Dreyfus fully rehabilitated, named an officer once again, and decorated with the Legion of Honor. Interestingly, Theodor Herzl, the Paris correspondent for a Viennese newspaper, was so overwhelmed by the virulent anti-Semitism of the Dreyfus Affair that he was inspired by the prophetic idea of a Jewish state.
In defending Dreyfus, Proust not only angered conservative, Catholic, pro-army ar
crats, but he also alienated his own father. In writing about the 1890s in Remembrance of Things Past, Proust remarks that “the Dreyfus case was shortly to relegate the Jews to the lowest rung of the social ladder.” Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/w/white-proust.html