Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Life of Emile Zola

In 1894, the French Army's counter-intelligence section, led by Lt. Col. Sandherr, became aware that new artillery information was being passed to the Germans by a highly placed spy most likely to be in the General Staff. Suspicion quickly fell upon Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer, who was arrested for treason on October 15, 1894. On January 5, 1895, Dreyfus was summarily convicted in a secret court martial, publicly stripped of his army rank, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island in French Guiana.

In August 1896, the new chief of French military intelligence, Lt Colonel Picquart, reported to his superiors that he had found evidence to the effect that the real traitor was a Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Picquart was silenced by being transferred to the southern desert of Tunisia in November 1896. When reports of an army cover-up and Dreyfus's possible innocence were leaked to the press, a heated debate ensued about anti-Semitism, France's identity as a Catholic nation and a republic founded on equal rights for all citizens. On September 19, 1899, following a passionate campaign by his supporters, including leading artists and intellectuals like Emile Zola, Dreyfus was pardoned by President Émile Loubet in 1899 and released from prison. He had been subjected to a second trial in that year and again declared guilty of treason despite the evidence in favor of his innocence. Dreyfus, however, officially remained a traitor in a French court of law and pointedly remarked upon his release:

"The government of the Republic has given me back my freedom. It is nothing for me without my honor."

During that time, he lived with one of his sisters at Carpentras, and later at Cologny.

On July 12, 1906, Dreyfus was officially exonerated by a military commission. The day after his exoneration, he was readmitted into the army with a promotion to the rank of Major ("Chef d'Escadron"). A week later, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour, and subsequently assigned to command an artillery unit at Vincennes. On October 15, 1906, he was placed in command of another artillery unit at Saint-Denis.

Dreyfus was present at the ceremony removing Zola's ashes to the Panthéon in 1908, when he was wounded in the arm by a gunshot from Louis Gregori, a disgruntled journalist, in an assassination attempt.


Gary Freedman said...

Judicial Error and Collateral Attack

The French novelist Émile Zola risked his career and even his life on 13 January 1898, when his "J'accuse", was published on the front page of the Paris daily, L'Aurore. The newspaper was run by Ernest Vaughan and Georges Clemenceau, who decided that the controversial story would be in the form of an open letter to the President of France, Félix Faure. Émile Zola's "J'accuse" accused the highest levels of the French Army of obstruction of justice and antisemitism by having wrongfully convicted a Jewish artillery captain, Alfred Dreyfus, to life imprisonment on Devil's Island in French Guiana.

Zola declared that Dreyfus' conviction and removal to an island prison came after a false accusation of espionage and was a miscarriage of justice. The case, known as the Dreyfus affair, divided France deeply between the reactionary army and church, and the more liberal commercial society. The ramifications continued for many years; on the 100th anniversary of Zola's article, France's Roman Catholic daily paper, La Croix, apologized for its antisemitic editorials during the Dreyfus Affair. As Zola was a leading French thinker, his letter formed a major turning-point in the affair.

Zola was brought to trial for criminal libel on 7 February 1898, and was convicted on 23 February, sentenced, and removed from the Legion of Honor.

In committing the offense of criminal libel Zola had one goal: he hoped that his accusations against the French government would trigger his prosecution. Zola hoped that a criminal libel trial would provide him a forum to present evidence of Dreyfus' innocence and the malfeasance of the French General Staff. Zola sought to use a libel trial as a collateral attack on the earlier Dreyfus conviction. But under French law the truth of the statements of a defendant on trial for criminal libel are not a defense. In Zola's trial on the charge of criminal libel, the judge ruled that evidence of Dreyfus' innocence -- and hence the truth of Zola's statements -- was immaterial and therefore inadmissible.

Rather than go to jail, Zola fled to England. Without even having had the time to pack a few clothes, he arrived at Victoria Station on 19 July. After his brief and unhappy residence in London, from October 1898 to June 1899, he was allowed to return in time to see the government fall.

The government offered Dreyfus a pardon (rather than exoneration), which he could accept and go free and so effectively admit that he was guilty, or face a re-trial in which he was sure to be convicted again. Although he was clearly not guilty, he chose to accept the pardon. Zola said, "The truth is on the march, and nothing shall stop it." In 1906, Dreyfus was completely exonerated by the Supreme Court.

The 1898 article by Émile Zola is widely marked in France as the most prominent manifestation of the new power of the intellectuals (writers, artists, academicians) in shaping public opinion, the media and the State.

Gary Freedman said...

My long-term strategy: letter to treating psychologist Lisa Osborn dated September 23, 1998: