The Dreyfus affair.
September 23, 2009 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Trial of the Century. Revisiting the Dreyfus affair, by Adam Gopnik
posted by semmi (9 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by OmieWise at 1:41 PM on September 23, 2009

Do read Begley's book, folks, if you're at all interested in the topic. It's really smart.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:58 PM on September 23, 2009

Pyrot was tried secretly and condemned.

General Panther immediately went to the Minister of War to tell him the result.

"Luckily," said he, "the judges were certain, for they had no proof."

"Proof," muttered Greatauk, "Proof, what does that prove? There is only one certain, irrefragable proof—the confession of the guilty person. Has Pyrot confessed?"

"No, General."

"He will confess, he ought to. Panther, we must induce him; tell him it is to his interest. Promise him that, if he confesses, he will obtain favours, a reduction of his sentence, full pardon; promise him that if he confesses his innocence will be admitted, that he will be decorated. Appeal to his good feelings. Let him confess from patriotism, for the flag, for the sake of order, from respect for the hierarchy, at the special command of the Minister of War militarily. . . . But tell me, Panther, has he not confessed already? There are tacit confessions; silence is a confession."

"But, General, he is not silent; he keeps on squealing like a pig that he is innocent."

"Panther, the confessions of a guilty man sometimes result from the vehemence of his denials. To deny desperately is to confess. Pyrot has confessed; we must have witnesses of his confessions, justice requires them."
-Anatole France, Penguin Island
posted by Iridic at 2:23 PM on September 23, 2009

Fun fact: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a distant relative of wrongly-j'accused Alfred Dreyfus.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:36 PM on September 23, 2009

Thanks for that, Iridic.

Funny how a trial over one man's reputation from the 19th century continues to blacken France and loom large in imagination. If only the more egregious scandals and cover ups in the modern world would continue to live on, we might not keep repeating them.
posted by stbalbach at 5:52 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

From J'accuse:

What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people's cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext!

Indeed, it is a crime to have relied on the most squalid elements of the press, and to have entrusted Esterhazy's defence to the vermin of Paris, who are now gloating over the defeat of justice and plain truth. It is a crime that those people who wish to see a generous France take her place as leader of all the free and just nations are being accused of bringing turmoil to the country, denounced by the very plotters who are conniving so shamelessly to foist this miscarriage of justice on the entire world. It is a crime to lie to the public, to twist public opinion to insane lengths in the service of the vilest death-dealing machinations. It is a crime to poison the minds of the meek and the humble, to stoke the passions of reactionism and intolerance, by appealing to that odious anti-Semitism that, unchecked, will destroy the freedom-loving France of Human Rights. It is a crime to exploit patriotism in the service of hatred, and it is, finally, a crime to ensconce the sword as the modern god, whereas all science is toiling to achieve the coming era of truth and justice.

Plus ça change...
posted by Jakey at 3:03 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this article link. I just finished reading Proust, In Search of Lost Time which has lots of references to the ways the Dreyfus case split French society. (There's a whole to-do about how various dukes, duchesses, princes and princesses flip-flop on which side they're on, and how they all began associating with people they never would have before simply because of it...)
posted by dnash at 12:22 PM on September 24, 2009

Funny how a trial over one man's reputation from the 19th century continues to blacken France and loom large in imagination.

Well, bear in mind the anti-Dreyfuss faction was a rallying point for all sorts of right-wing, anti-Republic groups; technocrats, Catholics, monarchists, and so on. Some of those factions attempted coups in the 30s, and they were the core of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime. It was a fight that echoed long after the turn of the century.

Collarboration with the Nazis so blackened the reputation of the French right that it wasn't until the last decade or so that any mainstream right-wing candidate ran for president without having a laundry list of claims to be connected to the Restistance; on the other hand the French far-right of Le Pen traces its roots back to the Algerian Settlers and Vichy itself. So it's definitely relevant.

Talking up Dreyfuss and Nazi Germany is also a convenient way of externalising questions about the treatment of Jews in Europe in a broader sense. That way there are no awkward questions about why, for example, Britain and the United States were so hostile to refugees (pre-Vichy France was actually very open to them), or the enthusiastic support for Hitler and/or facism amongst leading business and political figures on the right in those nations.
posted by rodgerd at 2:47 PM on September 24, 2009

Also, and alternative view on what the Dreyfus affair said about French society is summed up with :
Others, including Mr. Arfi, said France is and will remain home. He recalled the now-famous words of the father of a Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Lévinas: "A country that tears itself apart to defend the honor of a small Jewish captain is somewhere worth going."
posted by rodgerd at 2:54 PM on September 24, 2009

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