France and the Dreyfus Affair
To a generation which has experienced the bitter debates about Hiss and Chambers and which is in the midst of searching for inconsistencies, evasions, and lost threads in the Warren Report, the Dreyfus case presents much that is familiar. On the one hand, it was an issue which forced people to decide where their basic political loyalties lay, a moral crusade in which, for both sides, the end sometimes seemed to justify exceedingly shady means. On the other hand, the intricate puzzles of the events themselves, the unanswered questions that have continued to give rise to the wildest theories, provide a challenge to the historian, the lawyer, and, indeed, to anyone who likes a mystery story. It is a story full of scandal for the sensation hunter, and of lessons for the student of political behavior.
Yet, even allowing for the intrinsic interest of the Dreyfus story and the similarity of parts of it to events in our own experience, do we really need yet another book about it? It is only a few years since Professor Guy Chapman1 gave us an excellent account of the intricacies of the actual Dreyfus case, while more recently Roderick Kedward2 has produced a useful source book for the study of the divisions of opinion produced by the Affair. True, the publication of Maurice Paléologue’s diary has started some fresh false trails, while Professor Baumont’s examination of the German archives has shown that the legend of the report from Dreyfus annotated by the Kaiser himself is as false as the Dreyfusards have always believed it to be. But these books have not substantially altered our view of the Affair. In these circumstances, Professor Douglas Johnson may well have felt some misgivings in attempting a new study of the Dreyfus case. However, he has been fully justified by the result. He has been to the French national archives and discovered some new documents, particularly the notes of two of the officers most deeply concerned in the investigation, Gonse and Picquart; he has used the unpublished memoirs of Scheurer-Kestner, the President of the Senate and the first prominent figure to take up Dreyfus’s cause: he has demonstrated from the British Foreign Office archives that Sir Edmund Monson, the British Ambassador in Paris, was somewhat foolish and illinformed (as he was in many other matters). This short book sums up the issues with great clarity and provides a well-written and absorbing narrative. It is welcome for giving to English-speaking readers an up-to-date account of the present state of the continuous controversy and for renewing discussion of the seemingly endless Affair.
IT IS SURPRISING that, after all these years and all those pages of print, there are still unanswered questions, still a shadow of doubt in the minds of some people about Dreyfus’s innocence, largely because if there really was a spy working for the Germans in the French General Staff, he has never been found. The obvious candidate was Esterhazy—the worldly, somewhat disreputable aristocratic…
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