The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal, which polarized French society on a number of levels. The conviction of Jewish Artillery officer, Alfred Dreyfus raised many questions regarding the power of the French War Office, and called to attention the corruption within the French legal system. The Affair divided France on several levels, demonstrating the differing political methods of rural and urban France, as well as inspiring debate between Secularists and the Church, as well as the Left and Right wings. The Affair spurred an “emergence of anti-Semitic nationalist politics” (Fitch 57) and drove the formulation of a French Radical Right. This new divided and factional France, the disassociation between urban and rural society demonstrated by the Affair, as well the rampant anti-Semitism ignited by the trial established that the French were all too willing to turn on one another, and demonstrated that there was no real French unity, no real “French Nationalism.”
Alfred Dreyfus was born October 9th in Mulhouse, France. He later moved to Alsace Lorrain, where he spent most of his childhood under the inattentive watch of his wealthy father. His family was forced to move to Paris when Germany Annexed the Alsace Lorrain Province in 1871. In 1877 Dreyfus entered the Ecole Polytechnique Military Academy at the age of eighteen; graduating three years later in 1880, he immediately joined the military, ultimately achieving the rank of captain in 1889, and was made assistant director to the polytechnical school. He was eventually admitted to the superior war college, where he graduated 9th in his class, eventually becoming a trainee at the army headquarters (Sinclair).
A short while after his admittance to the army headquarters, Alfred Dreyfus was arrested on a claim of treachery drawn from his alleged writing of Bordereau: a document found in a wastebasket within the Statistical Section of the German embassy; the section concerned with counterintelligence. The document outlined the intentions of an army officer, believed to be Alfred Dreyfus, but later proved to be major the Count Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy, to sell military secrets to the Germans. It was around this time that Lieutenant Colonel du Paty de Clam, who was sure of Dreyfus’ guilt, even after being told otherwise by handwriting experts, was assigned chief investigator of the case. De Clam was ordered by his superiors to quickly conclude the matter, resulting in military pressure on the handwriting experts to produce results favorable to the Minister of War: the prosecuting side. De Clam’s conquest was joined by a number other generals due to religious affiliation, and their subsequent anti-Semitic sentiments, or their paranoia of national security. On October 15th, de Clam had Dreyfus write a dictation, which, unbeknownst to Dreyfus, was to be used as evidence against him. Satisfied with what he believed to be incriminating evidence, de Clam arrested Dreyfus on the spot, subtly offering him the alternative of suicide (Alfred Dreyfus Biography). Dreyfus was handed a guilty verdict after a corrupt trial of unreliable witnesses on the side of the prosecution. The defense was offered no testimony, no cross-examination, and faced a jury of minor officers trained to believe that the word of the Minister of War was absolute. The trial primarily consisted of slandering Dreyfus, painting him as the “dirty Jew” stereotype of the time (Mattar 144).
The “Dirty Jew” stereotype evolved from anti-Semitic sentiments developed during the Middle Ages, where the newfound power of Christianity forced Jews to decide between conversion or death. The stereotype reached a high-point during the crusades, where the Jews were attacked, their synagogues burned, and the general populace was forced to flee. From their immigration into other nations developed the idea that they were scavengers, migrants, similar to rats. The Jews were looked down upon as unclean, as they were not Christian,...
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