Sunday, November 12, 2006


I stayed in last night and watched the 1937 multi award-winning The Life of Emile Zola. We briefly studied The Dreyfus Affair in college but none of it really stuck; French people, army politics, anti-Semitism, railroading, corruption, J'accuse...! -- why was Prof. Moodie so obsessed with this Franco-crap?

If he'd only shown us the film, instead of making us read some dry academic account of it.

It stars the brilliant Paul Muni as the muckraking French writer who'd written many bestsellers and become rich, corpulent and -- according to his friend Paul Cezanne, who subsequently ditched him -- complacent.... That is, until the wife of the wrongly convicted Jewish French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus convinced him to take up his case. Zola turned his back on his good name and fancy lifestyle and became a pariah for taking on the glorious French Army. In his dotage he realized he was more interested in satya, or truth, than consuming the most tender lobster.

Two things stand out.

-Before testifying in court, witnesses held up their right hand and were asked, "Do you swear to tell the truth without hatred or fear?" No mention of god.

-After acquittal, the government brought Capt. Dreyfus back from his South American prison and made him a knight of the Legion of Honor. At the ceremony, the general (?) pinned a medal on his chest........and then kissed him on each cheek.

We could learn from that, I think.

more details, from Wikipedia:

The Dreyfus Affair was one of the most important scandals of the French Third Republic, if not the most important.
The Affair deeply divided the country into Dreyfusards (those supporting Dreyfus) and anti-Dreyfusards (those against).
Generally speaking, royalists, conservatives and the Catholic Church (the "right wing") were antidreyfusards while socialists, republicans and anticlericalists (the "left wing") were dreyfusards, though there were exceptions.

The Dreyfus Affair could not have happened in a country wholly antisemitic, nor in a country devoid of antisemitism. Indeed, Alfred Dreyfus, openly Jewish, had been admitted to the most selective military schools in the country, and had been commissionned into a sensitive position; this was, at the time, unheard of in several other European countries, where policies of discrimination were often in place.

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