29 December 2016
On this day in 1898, French writer Emile Zola’s inflammatory newspaper editorial, entitled “J’accuse,” is printed, exposing a military cover-up regarding Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French Jewish army captain, had been accused of espionage in 1894 and sentenced in a secret military court-martial to imprisonment in a South American penal colony. The Dreyfus Affair deeply divided France, not just over the fate of the man at its center but also over a range of issues, including politics, religion and national identity. In 1899, Dreyfus was court-martialed for a second time and found guilty. Although he was pardoned days later by the French president, it wasn’t until 1906 that Dreyfus was officially exonerated and reinstated in the army.
In a time of resurgent anti-Semitism and racism, the Dreyfus trial and scapegoating on one side, and the power of journalism and advocacy on the other, need to be remembered. See this documentary for the rest of the story.