Posts Tagged ‘l’affaire Dreyfus’

In the previous post we discussed about no-man’s land where old rivalries and unfinished business of history are filed away. For anyone who studies history it shall become apparent no war has ever finished with a clean cut. A battle would require some ten thousand little skirmishes which may not catch the headlines. In the ignominious defeat of France in June.1940 lay the devil-seeds of the unsettled business of 1793-94 coming to fruition. The nation that set out to bury the Bourbon dynasty will grovel themselves before imperialist ambitions of Napoleons. Having lost the moral compass what do such genuflections mean? Some glory! some shameless antics!

Napoleon had lost the battle of Waterloo even before it was waged. Napoleon Bonaparte who assumed the title of the emperor of France showed by a series of victories he was worthy to be included among the immortals such as Alexander and Julius Caesar. His brilliant victories created such a condition he could not have sat idle with such a powerful army battle hardened and disciplined under his command. Thus he was caught in the crest of a wave that took him to his Russian campaign. Disaster was the result. What went wrong? Napoleon was weighed in the balance of humanity and was found wanting. Like the king in the book of Daniel.

Morality of man is not without reason compared to a compass. It covers the entire spectrum of man’s conduct through time and place. When Napoleon’s humanity,- and it can only be judged in his interaction with others, there was a serious problem. His ambition did not see people as people but as means to aggrandize himself. (Same mentality can be seen in the manner the French Army threw Captain Dreyfus to ignominy in order to protect its avaunted ‘gloire.’) This moral fault is worse than blindness. Your soul is affected. Physical blindness robs you of vision but leaves the harmony of celestial spheres in tact. It paints in fact colors that the world with its lurid colors can never match. Moral blindness is terrible. It makes you miss your place in the moral compass. You look at it and whatever you see there is anything other than your own humanity. It is almost a hell you have created even before you gave up your ghost, to use the expression in the Bible.

Each of us is like man with one foot in the sticky mess of morass of our own making. On a moral plane our culpability is that of being part of humanity. ‘No man is an island’ as Donne said it famously. This is collateral damages we need accept on a moral plane. In terms of Christian theology we need see it also refers to our fallen state.


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Jew-baiting in Europe was pervasive right from the time the powers- that- be found the Jews a convenient scapegoat. The rulers of principalities funded their wars with the money extorted from the Jews. Torquemada for example comes to mind. Jews were banished from the Catholic Spain. France was not free from this prejudice. That was then.
In the late 19th century France was rocked by a scandal. In its wake their deep seated fear of Jews came to the fore. I cite the collapse of the company that floated the Panama Canal project. In 1888 the company formed by Ferdinand de Lesseps went under with a loss to stockholders, most of them small bourgeois investors, of $300,000,000. From inquiries and trials that followed an endemic corruption in which several cabinet ministers, some 150 members of Parliament and nearly every important newspapers had been bribed off. The company wanted to avoid a crash and money spent at the right quarters allowed the company to stave off an immediate collapse. For the time being. Of these corrupt people only one was found guilty and prosecuted because his conscience prick made him confess! Now the question is how come anti-semitism suddenly became the news of the day? The politicians and corrupt law-givers wanted to save their hides,- and also face, one would think.
The Jews as a nation was a nation within the national life of Russia and as elsewhere, in France also.
There cannot be smoke without fire. In fact there were three Jews who on behalf of the company actually handled the bribing of influential people. In the mass hysteria surely l’affaire Dreyfus was waiting to happen. The man on the street as a result of corruption,divisions lost faith in the Third Republic and in those who ran the Republic. Of course politicians who used the Jews as smoke screen may have escaped immediate retribution but their actions would surely bring disaster. How else one can explain the utter fiasco under which France met the challenge of rising Nazism?
Within a span of six weeks during the balmy May-July days of 1940 the world’s second largest empire were utterly brought to their knees. France may have prided in her culture and civilized way of life but all these would give way to a Fascist dictatorship and an epitome of Totalitarian Political system. Who genuflected shamelessly before the Moloch but the father figure of the French Army, the one and only Philippe Petain?
It is poetic justice that Army caved in when the nation needed them most. The Army had long before their debacle lost their morale in the Dreyfus case.
In 1894 throwing Dreyfus to the wolves in order to protect the Army made the country split in the middle. The Left and Right veered to extreme positions. For the Army, the Catholic Church and the conservative majority it was not the question whether Dreyfus was guilty or not but that it were better that he suffered than sacrifice the prestige and honor of the French Army. With such persuasive argument France walked roughshod over the individual liberties of some individuals as though their lives didn’t count. On a flimsy charge that will never stand in a court of law Captain Dreyfus was publicly disgraced. La Libre Parole a paper noted for her anti-semitism commented next day: “It was not an individual who was degraded here for an individual crime. The shame of an entire race was bared in its nakedness.”
When a nation has sacrificed its moral force what morale can an army muster in case of emergency? When the House has developed a cleft down the middle what hope is left for the inmates? In the face of the national crisis the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris led the prayers and hoped as with the people for a miracle. It was of no use since the Army was sapped by dreams of glory and of the past than of the present.
Curtailing individual liberties of even one person do carry its measure of seeds of poison. If the nation could make short shrift of one it stands to reason there shall be many more cases similarly repeated elsewhere. The accumulated poison shall spread through wind, water, rivers and oceans that in the end will create catastrophe.

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