French Connection: What the Dreyfus Affair Does-And Doesn't-Tell Us about Guantanamo

By O'Donnell, Michael | The Washington Monthly, July-August 2010 | Go to article overview

French Connection: What the Dreyfus Affair Does-And Doesn't-Tell Us about Guantanamo


O'Donnell, Michael, The Washington Monthly


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The most remarkable moment of the Dreyfus affair, which noisily consumed France for over a decade at the turn of the twentieth century, occurred quietly in May 1895. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew and a captain in the French army, had been wrongly convicted by court-martial of treason, largely on the strength of secret and forged evidence. He was publicly humiliated in a ceremony of degradation before 20,000 people, his epaulets ripped from his shoulders and his sword broken in two as the crowd called for Judas's blood. Then he was shipped off without notice to his family to serve a life sentence of solitary confinement on Devil's Island, a craggy little slice of hell off the coast of French Guiana in South America. A month after he arrived, as he began to comprehend the isolation, heat, malnutrition, and disease, he received a letter from his brother, Mathieu Dreyfus. This is what the letter said:

   Banal consolations are not what I want to offer; there are none in
   your situation. But tell yourself that the contempt and shame that
   attach themselves to your name, to our name, for a crime that you
   have not committed, must not make you bow your head. You must be
   alive, amongst us, on the day of reparation. Light shall be shed
   and it will be blinding, I promise you. I have taken upon myself
   the task of solving the enigma of this frightful story, and I will
   never give up, no matter what happens. And I have the certainty,
   the most complete and absolute belief, that I will succeed.

One trembles to read words of such power a hundred years and many lattes removed from Devil's Island. Imagine how Dreyfus felt when they reached him. The photo of him immediately after the degradation ceremony is heartbreaking: it is the image of a man crushed beyond all hope of healing who yet tries to retain his dignity. No portrait exists of him during his lonely penal term, yet it would have been infinitely more horrible. His good name would not be restored for nearly eleven years, and then only because of the efforts of Mathieu Dreyfus.

If European fascism were a ladder, the Dreyfus affair would have its own rung. Situated between the Russian pogroms of the 1880s and the first echoes of the goose step, it ushered in the bloody new century with the cry of "Death to the Jews" and the smashing of store windows. Writing in 1951, Hannah Arendt marveled that "[n]either the first nor the second World War has been able to bury the [Dreyfus] affair in oblivion," and observed, "Down to our times, the term anti-Dreyfusard can still serve as a recognized name for all that is antirepublican, antidemocratic, and anti-Semitic." This point has reverberated for sixty years; the affair is still one of the most written-about subjects there is. It prompted the birth of the Zionist movement after Theodor Herzl left France in 1896 to write Der Judenstaat, in which he argued that Jews must relocate, not assimilate. It also startled republican France by revealing the depths to which even an enlightened and cultured nation could sink. The second-place finish for Jean-Marie Le Pen and his far-right National Front party in France's 2002 presidential election caused such alarm because it occurred in a country that had both locked up an innocent Jew and moved its government to Vichy.

Ferocious anti-Semitism accompanied Dreyfus's court-martials and the trials of his various allies and opponents. Catholic partisans revived the blood libel, claiming that Jews were kidnapping Christians to bleed them in order to make matzos, and editorialists drew cartoons of Jews roasting on spits. When one of the heroes of the ordeal, Georges Picquart-himself casually anti-Semitic--unearthed evidence that Dreyfus could not have been the one who passed French artillery specs to the Germans, he was famously told, "What do you care if that Jew rots on Devil's Island? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

French Connection: What the Dreyfus Affair Does-And Doesn't-Tell Us about Guantanamo
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.