When the French army convicted the sole Jewish officer on its General Staff of funneling military secrets to the Germans in the mid-1890s, then sent him to Devil’s Island for an extended, horrid sentence, the secrets kept passing. And the country became ever more split between a Left that mainly wanted revision, i.e., a new trial; and a Right that supported the army no matter what, along with the general principle of nationalism.
Split country, judicial shenanigans: do you see why this old issue resembles a new one here over a century later?
Getting back to Dreyfus, rotting across the Atlantic for some three years and unaware of the hub-hub back in France: we need to talk now of a famed intervention by one Emile Zola. A celebrated French novelist, Zola in early 1898 had had enough of all this, and as many know, impulsively penned a diatribe addressed to the President of the Republic, accusing top military brass of obliterating the truth. In heated fashion he was drawing attention to a cover-up, as we would now say.
Zola’s vitriolic “J’accuse…!” appeared in a Paris newspaper, and from the day it came out, made the Dreyfus Affair issue number one in the country, till that soldier was brought back from exile and finally exonerated (going on to fight for his country in WW I).
In many academic libraries, there must be 20-30 books on the Affair; but if you want a painless, enjoyable way of learning about it, get an old movie, “The Life of Emile Zola,” starring Paul Muni. It’s a good one.
Now then, what about a “J’accuse…” in 2018? Zola named names when he did so, so why can’t somebody of that stature do the same today? One reason: it was the Right that deserved the opprobrium it got in France of the late 1890s (and when I studied the Affair I was always on the “Dreyfusard” side, the side of the French Left).
But now? Whether one likes it or not, the page has turned. It would be wonderful to see someone like Sen. Schumer or talking heads at MSNBC break ranks and draw attention to the corruption now stemming from their side of the political spectrum. But so far nary a peep...
So: should someone – whether Left, Right or centrist – do a new “J’accuse…?” As in “J’accuse” James Comey – “I accuse James Comey.” J’accuse Rod Rosenstein.
And of what? Oh, of applying egregious double standards, particularly in how one Hillary Rodham Clinton was dealt with, versus people who knew Trump in varied capacities, and have gotten caught in a judicial vortex that’s gone far afield from its original “Russia collusion” mandate. These people include, most estimably, General Michael Flynn. But also in varied degrees, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and the list will potentially go on and on.
When, in fact, there should never have been a special prosecutor named Mueller in the first place. Particularly given that his old buddy and associate, Comey, promoted the deal, though clearly conflicted.
The whole thing reeks badly, and seems to beg for its “J’accuse…,” and again, by some lofty figure not fully associated with one side or the other in this new ideas war convulsing the nation. And who can publish not simply in one newspaper (as Zola did), but in all papers. This being the age of the internet, such a broadside would obviously go far more viral than Zola’s “cri de coeur” did.
But would it change minds? Probably not. Or inspire healthy change? Probably not that, either; there’s already been an inordinate amount of bleating on both sides, a cacophony of righteous wails whether pro or anti-Trump.
Again, I think it might only work – with “might” being the operative word – if penned by someone like a George Clooney? Beyonce? As I come to the end of this piece, I’m getting ever more pessimistic that such a “J’accuse” would work at all these days, no matter who wrote it. Right now, the media bile is everywhere, not a one-shot thing, like Zola put out Jan. 13, 1898. And no matter what new evidence arises, minds do seem mostly made up.
More’s perhaps the pity ...
B.B. Singer has taught at several area colleges including Niagara University.