Thursday, 5 May 2011

J'Accuse - The Dreyfus Affair

Alfred Dreyfus was a man who became a scapegoat for the French Army in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice ever to be seen. At the time just before Dreyfus fell victim, he was in the French Army and was quickly moving his way up the ladder and becoming a more and more important figure. France had just lost the German/Franco war, although at the time there was no Germany, it was known as Prussia, made up of German states. This was a huge embarrassment for the French in that along with the loss they had to give up Alsace and Lorraine, two states, as well as part with a huge sum of money for the Prussians war efforts, and to rub salt into the wound, they had to sit back and allow the Prussians to hold a celebration parade throughout Paris. Consequently, France were out to get revenge, and began creating empires in Asia and Africa, to rebuild their respect and pride.

The Panama Canal Scandal - This is often pointed at as the reason for such anti-semiticsm in France. This was the event that saw up to a billion francs lost after the French government took bribes, supposedly from Jewish men, to keep quiet about The Panama Canal Companies financial trouble. Dreyfus was a Jewish man who came from Alsace, one of the states that were taken over by the Prussians, both of which led to him becoming this scapegoat.

The Scandal:

The scandal it self was that at the time of the French trying to mount this comeback, and to try and get their revenge there was somebody who was giving the Germans details of future plans. Secret documents were found in a waste paper bin detailing these future plans about the French Army. Somebody was getting paid to be a traitor. Straight away the French looked for someone to frame, and of course with all the anti-semitism, it was a Jew that would fall foul, Alfred Dreyfus. He was found guilty and sent to 'Devil's Island', in which they built him a cell, where all he could see was the sky, he was shackled whilst he slept, given poor food, and had no form of exercise. He was furthermore humiliated as he was stripped of all his medals and his sword was snapped. When it is looked at logically, it can be clearly seen that Dreyfus had no reason to be a traitor:

1) He came from Alsace, which meant he was even more obsessed with recapturing the place where he came from back off the Germans.
2) He was extremely wealthy, so he did not need the money.
3) He was a very smart and intellectual person, so he would have known that being a traitor would have got him killed. (Although in the court case he was criticised for being so smart anyway)

In France at this time there was a strong divide between Rich and Poor, and the left/right political divide were extremely separated over the Dreyfus affair; the left being socialists and intellectuals who did not agree with the decisions, and the right bring the Army, Church and monarchists who believed that Dreyfus was the guilty party.


Emile Zola is said to be one of the best journalists that ever lived, and it was he who wrote J'Accuse or I Accuse, which accused all of the guilty parties in the Dreyfus affair and pretty much told it as it really was. He accused many army officers, and government officials of covering up the truth that it was in fact a man named Esterhazy who was the culprit. He was a well known traitor/spy, and when it was brought up, the Army officer's dismissed it and wanted it kept quiet, with Dreyfus left to rot on Devils Island.

In J'Accuse, Zola begins by addressing the President as a great man, he is full of praise for him ('you have conquered hearts'), aside from this one event or 'blemish' as he calls it. He even believes that the President could not have even known about this travesty, as it has been hidden from him. He speaks s strongly about Esterhazy's guilt 'a council of war, under order, has dared to acquit Esterhazy'.

He accuses firstly the man who was put in charge of the investigation, Lieutenant Colonel Du Paty de Clam. 'Forzinetti describes to us as armed with a dark lantern, wanting to approach the sleeping defendant, to flood his face abruptly with light and to thus surprise his crime'. The way in which he has described the blaming of Dreyfus by Du Paty de Clam, can be seen as to be mysterious or like he creeped up on him to plant this crime on him. Zola describes de Clam as 'inventing' Dreyfus for the crime, and he is extremely incensed with the way in which he has pinned the blame on the innocent. He publishes that Dreyfus was arrested in secret by Du Paty and that he forces Dreyfus' wife to keep quiet otherwise he would kill Dreyfus himself.

'Terrible denial of justice from which France is sick.' This is another strong quote as to how Zola feels about this miscarriage of justice. He may blame Du Paty for the birth of the affair but he also blames General Mercier, General De Boisdeffre and General Gonse for letting it happen.

Zola then questions why the case was behind closed doors, and how Du Paty had him found guilty, causing the public to whisper and talk of treason, causing them to be behind the public degradation of Dreyfus. Zola describes Du Paty's accusations as 'lunatic imaginations'. 'Hunting for the '"dirty Jews", which dishonours our time', here we can see that Zola disagrees with the anti-semitic views of the French Army and the right.

Zola often refers to the ones he accuses of having disturbed consciences, and that he knows that they know what they are hiding is wrong. He then begins to talk of the document that was found that pretty much guaranteed Esterhazy's role as the spy, and begins explaining how it was covered up and by whom: General Gonse, then General De Boisdeffre, then General Billot, were all there and did not want the truth getting out as Zola believed that 'the condemnation of Esterhazy inevitably involved the revision of Dreyfus's trial; and this, the High Command did not want at any cost.' So the Army and Du Paty would do just about anything to stop Esterhazy becoming known as the real traitor as it would inevitably prove Dreyfus' innocence. Major Picquart was the name of the person that stumbled across the truth and Zola praises him for doing all he can to convince his superiors to tell the truth about what really happened. To stop Picquart from revealing the truth Zola explains how he was sent on a mission that led him as far away as Tunisia. It is further explained how Esterhazy managed to escape the trial without being found guilty; and once again Zola feels it to be the work of Du Paty. He says that evidence that was held against Esterhazy was stolen and returned to the High Command.

Zola finishes with a final list of people that he accuses for what he describes as an abomination:
. Major Du Paty de Clam
. General Mercier
. General Billot
. General De Boisdeffre
. General De Pellieux
. 3 Handwriting experts: irs Belhomme, Varinard and Couard
. Offices of the war
. First council of war - J'Accuse

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