Why we cannot and should not forget Dreyfus. It was the late nineteenth-century, la belle epoque in France. It seems so long ago, 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…
…Emile Zola’s trial for libel goaded the generals into using both the Big Lie and the Big Stick. Gen. Auguste Mercier denied under oath that he had interfered in the Dreyfus trial. Col. Henry, now head of the Statistical Section, swore no less falsely that Picquart, called as a defense witness, had shown the secret file on Dreyfus to his lawyer, a criminal breach of security. Picquart had already been discharged from the army and would soon be sentenced to prison on this charge.
Henry likewise threw the Quai d’Orsay into a panic by alluding in open court to the Kaiser’s mythical correspondence concerning Dreyfus. An officer who had been the army investigator in the Esterhazy case, Brig. Gen. Gabriel de Pellieux, upset nearly everybody by citing a document that in his opinion proved Esterhazy’s innocence and Dreyfus’s guilt: a hitherto unmentioned note from the German “Alexandrine” to his Italian sister ( or brother) soul. The trouble was, as the Quai d”Orsay knew and the upper echelons of the general staff at least suspected, the note had been faked for Henry by one of the professional forgers used in his section and would not stand up under close scrutiny.
Boisdeffre, called as a witness to confirm the testimony of Pellieux and Henry, decided that things had gone far enough. Like other generals involved in the affair, he was no putschist, but now he delivered a thinly veiled ultimatum to the civilian judges and jurors who had to decide whether Zola was guilty. “I confirm Gen. Pellieux’s testimony,” he solemnly affirmed( another perjury hardly mattered at that point). “I have nothing more to say…If the nation has no confidence in the army’s leaders, they are ready to leave the heavy task to others.”
The roar of the huge nationalist mob encircling the court building, waiting to lynch Zola if he should be acquitted, added point to Boisdeffre’s warning. The jurors, though civilians, were patriots, and they knew where their duty, as well as their safety, lay. The novelist, sentenced to twelve months in jail, managed to get out of the courtroom alive and flee to England.
(see link at end)…If anti-Semitism didn’t start the Dreyfus affair, it fuelled it. The accusation was first kept secret, but as soon as it was made public the secrecy itself became an occasion for assault: the Army was protecting a traitor Jew. First, loudest, and nastiest among the explicitly anti-Semitic enemies of Dreyfus was Édouard Drumont, whose book “Jewish France” had already, in the eighteen-eighties, been a huge success. Drumont’s book was above all an anti-immigrant manifesto. He was responding to the waves of Jewish immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe who had arrived in France during the previous twenty or so years, bringing with them, he argued, values and a faith alien to Christian France. In a tone familiar from today’s anti-Muslim polemics, and using the usual toxic cocktail of absurdly inflated numbers, hysterical overstatement, and guilt by association (many anarchists were Jews), Drumont managed to convince readers that France’s real crisis was the decline of Christianity. This had happened under the demoralizing pressure of modern art and culture, which was, of course, Jewish culture: the culture of bankers and speculators and atheists and decadent artists. It seemed perfectly natural—a heartbreaking irony, in retrospect—to suspect that Jews would sell out France to their spiritual home in Germany.
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/09/28/090928crbo_books_gopnik#ixzz2B1VhtR8X