The Third Crisis: Dreyfus
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR is one of the curiosities of modern history. In appearance it was trivial -- a miscarriage of justice in the case of an army captain, exposed after a lapse of years, mitigated by a new trial and ultimately set right by the pardon and reinstatement of the condemned officer. In reality it was a major moral crisis which anticipated many of the essential conflicts of the twentieth century -- a crise de conscience which convulsed France and forced her to face the implications of her Republican creed.
The story begins in 1894 when the Ministry of War became convinced that there was a leakage of military secrets from the General Staff. The Panama affair had shown that the French Parliament and judiciary were reluctant or impotent to investigate scandals; the Ministry of War was determined to prove that there was one institution in France that could deal effectively with corruption. At that time the Hertz-Reinach exposures were fresh in the public mind and anti-Semitism was an increasingly popular cause, thanks to the Press campaign led by Drumont in La Libre Parole. Nothing more natural, therefore, than that the War Ministry should pin the guilt for the leakages on Temporary Staff-Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the first and only Jew to hold a Staff appointment. Dreyfus was tried by court-martial on December 22nd, found guilty of treason and sentenced to deportation for life to Devil's Island.
Clemenceau took his guilt for granted and inveighed against the lightness of the sentence. "A man reared in the religion of the Flag, a soldier honoured with the care of secrets of national defence, has betrayed his trust!" he wrote in L'Aurore on the day after the courtmartial. "Certainly I want the death penalty to be erased