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Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters (Why X Matters Series) [Format Kindle]

Mr. Louis Begley

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Présentation de l'éditeur

In December 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a brilliant French artillery officer and a Jew of Alsatian descent, was court-martialed for selling secrets to the German military attaché in Paris based on perjured testimony and trumped-up evidence. The sentence was military degradation and life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, a hellhole off the coast of French Guiana. Five years later, the case was overturned, and eventually Dreyfus was completely exonerated. Meanwhile, the Dreyfus Affair tore France apart, pitting Dreyfusards—committed to restoring freedom and honor to an innocent man convicted of a crime committed by another—against nationalists, anti-Semites, and militarists who preferred having an innocent man rot to exposing the crimes committed by ministers of war and the army’s top brass in order to secure Dreyfus’s conviction.

Was the Dreyfus Affair merely another instance of the rise in France of a virulent form of anti-Semitism? In Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, the acclaimed novelist draws upon his legal expertise to create a riveting account of the famously complex case, and to remind us of the interest each one of us has in the faithful execution of laws as the safeguard of our liberties and honor.


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  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1848 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 272 pages
  • Editeur : Yale University Press (22 septembre 2009)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B002RDDZGY
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Amazon.com: 3.8 étoiles sur 5  10 commentaires
33 internautes sur 34 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 The Past is Never Dead 15 octobre 2009
Par Keith A. Comess - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
The Dreyfus Affair, a sordid series of events that ripped the fabric of 19th/early 20th Century France, has ramifications for present-day society, or such at least is the premise of this book, one of a series "Why X Matters" from Yale University Press. The author, Louis Begley, is a renowned novelist and retired lawyer. Since the Dreyfus Affair was fundamentally a legal one (and a complex one, at that), a lawyer with a novelist's skills should be ideally suited to analyzing the aracana of this remote past occurrence and portraying it in an appealing fashion. Based on the premise of the series and these qualifications, Begley should convincingly demonstrate the relevance of Dreyfus's travails. While he succeeds admirably in the first task, he falls a bit short of his goal in the second.

Prior to the publication of this book, the standard historical accounting of this Byzantinely-complex event was given by Michael Burns in his 1991 book, "Dreyfus: A Family Affair". Compared to that work, Begley's story is much more focused, more succinct, more detailed and has a somewhat different emphasis. Rather than elaborating on the entire genealogy of the Dreyfus clan and delivering a panorama of contemporary French society, Begley concentrates on the salient event: the false accusation of traitorous dealings between the French military officer, Dreyfus and the hated German adversary. Burns portrays the protagonists differently from Begley. In the former case, one of the antagonistic General Staff officers, Armand Mercier du Paty de Clam, is portrayed as an hysterical, malevolent principal. Whilst Begley portrays him similarly, he is primarily seen as a dupe of General Charles-Arthur Gonse and yet another Staff officer, Joseph Henry. Generals Gonse, Boisdeffre and Auguste Mercier (evidently the major motive force behind the court martial conviction of Dreyfus) assume a much more seminal position in Begley's recounting of events compared to Burns'. Dreyfus's brother, Mathieu, is given prime credit for Dreyfus' eventual release from the inaptly-named "Salvation Islands" and final exoneration, though credit is justly assigned to the coterie of Dreyfus supporters known as "Dreyfusards" in the Burns book. In Begley's version, Georges Picquart, yet another officer, though this time one of high principal and honor, receives prime credit. Both books emphasize the seismic impact of the Affair on French society (primarily) and world opinion (secondarily) and both portray the character of Alfred Dreyfus similarly. Finally, Begley's book has a "Cast of Characters" appendix which is most helpful in keeping the reader from numerous consultations with the index.

So, how exactly does the Dreyfus Affair "matter" outside its historical and symbolic context? Aside from the conspiratorial aspect (this time, an actual event instead of a paranoid fantasy), the gross anti-Semitism (a perpetual issue to a greater or lesser extent), the natural divisions between conservative (maybe reactionary) and liberal (sometimes revolutionary) perspectives and the roiled historical setting in which this event transpired (following, as it did, the defeat of French forces at Sedan by the German/Prussian armies; the collapse of the Second Republic in 1852; the Paris Commune; Napoleon III's fall; loss of Alsace-Lorraine, etc, etc.) there are More Important Lessons to be Learned. These include extending undue faith to governmental officials, placing too much trust in honored and established institutions, the need for maintaining a system of "checks and balances" and being alert to the pernicious influence of prejudice. All these are glaringly obvious and hardly need further illustration. Yet, Begley makes a tenuous (and sometimes tendentious) connection between the Affair and the policies of the George W. Bush Administration and its so-called, "War on Terror". Yes, parallels exist but only in the broadest sense which need not be detailed here (see Jane Mayer's, "The Dark Side" for a catalogue of stupid decisions and muddled thinking by Administration officials). Begley simply plops some of the more egregious examples into the middle-section of the book citing treatment of Guantanamo prisoners (bad) with Dreyfus's treatment on Devil's Island (bad). This, when further larded with several other maladroit, stupid, myopic, self-defeating and possibly illegal examples of Bush Administration actions, seemingly demonstrates "why the Dreyfus Affair matters" to the contemporary reader. The congruence of the Administration's policies with the frame-up of Dreyfus and its resultant fallout is grossly overdrawn. Abuse of power in both cases? Obviously. Implications for present-day America? Patently true. Clearly correspondent? Decidedly not. The Bush policies are Begley's primary parallel, contemporary manifestations of French anti-Semitism constitute the secondary and perhaps more important "lesson".

One other (albeit minor) criticism: Begley veers off on an unnecessarily detailed tangent on Marcel Proust, this based on the appearance of the Affair in Proust's major book. The social and intellectual ramifications of the Affair were dealt with in adequate detail elsewhere in this study and the Proust dalliance is a distractor.

So, in conclusion, the history of the Dreyfus Affair in the Begley book is (as Professor Robert Paxton notes in the liner blurb) unmatched in "...clarity...concision and passion...". Despite the limitations outlined above, this book should be the standard short history of the Affair. As to demonstrating its direct implications, the parallels are evident but the arguments are a bit weak.
14 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Don't judge a book by its...title? 23 janvier 2010
Par D. G. Burkhart - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
2 1/2 stars. The book is not at all what it purports to be. On one hand, Begley does an excellent job presenting the Dreyfus Affair, in illuminating and interesting detail. On the other, the effort to draw parallels between the Dreyfus Affair and the Bush administration's was on terror is non-existent. Begley devotes less than 5% of the book to discussing the war on terror, and even when he does discuss it the analysis is thin, simplistic and often more accusatory than factual. Begley is far more interested in condemning anti-semitism, and finding it everywhere, than he is in making any effort to elucidate real similarities between the Dreyfus Affair and Bush's war on terror. Begley himself seems to sense this shortcoming and tries to excuse it at the end of the book by pointing out that not enough time has passed to allow the truth behind the war on terror to be fully understood (and dramatized by novelists - a perlexing and dull focus of the last chapter of the book), but it only reinforces my opnion that Begley has written half a book. Read it for a fascinating account of the Dreyfus affair, but little else.
14 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CLASSIC 15 février 2010
Par HAROLD J. REYNOLDS - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Louis Begley, internationally acclaimed novelist and former senior partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, has written Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, a literary and historical classic.
In a European society professing the liberalism of the nineteenth century, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew and loyal French army officer, was kept horrifically imprisoned on Devil's Island for treason, though the army and judiciary knew him to be innocent. He was a Jew turned by government into a thing, a thing to be broken and shackled. In his years at Devil's Island, he became a burnt out case, a fore-shadow of the Holocaust for which Europe was making itself ready, and even today he is relevant to the anti-Semitism that is gearing up in Europe and this country. His grave stone's first entry after his death in 1935 is that of his twenty-five year old grand daughter, Madeleine Levy. Holding a mirror to history, the stone reads, "deportation by the Germans ...to Auschwitz." In 1950, France awarded her the Military Medal, the Croix de Guerre with palm, and the Medal of the Resistance.
Here is a culling of the complex facts of Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters:
In 1893, thirty-three year old Dreyfus was a captain on the anti-Semitic General Staff of the French army. He was rich and intellectually bright. In 1894, a military memorandum, a "bordereau", containing French military secrets, was found in the waste basket of Maximillien von Schwartzkoppen, military attache at the German embassy. Dreyfus's handwriting was in the cursive style taught to French school children, a style similar to the one in the bordereau. Handwriting comparisons by experts produced conflicting opinions. No motive for treason could be attributed to Dreyfus. No fact connected him to the bordereau. Nevertheless, he was arrested, as in a nightmare, for high treason. In order to gin up his prosecution, French military intelligence leaked information to the anti-Semitic press. No one yet knew that a French officer, the perfectly amoral, non-Jew, Major Esterhazay, was the traitor. The bordereau was written by him.
At Dreyfus's court-martial trial, the case began to falter. General Mercier, the minister of war, believer in the rule that the best evidence is the evidence one creates, secretly and criminally delivered to the tribunal a dossier secret in which a letter to Schwartzkoppen from the Italian military attache referred to "that swine D." In December, 1894, Dreyfus was found guilty, sentenced to life, and suffered an infamous public degradation ceremony during which an enraged mob screamed "Dirty Jew", "Judas", and "traitor". General Mercier, having implicated the tribunal, destroyed parts of the dossier secret and bound his French officer accomplices to secrecy. In February, a prison ship took Dreyfus to Devil's Island, 34.6 acres six miles off the coast of French Guiana. There in brutal, solitary confinement, and an obligatory silence, he was kept, ignorant of the outer world and so abused that in 1899 one government physician declared him unable to articulate and form sentences and another described him as a finished man. His sentence was all but capital. Rare is the reader who does not cringe at Begley's description of Dreyfus's suffering.
In 1895, Lieutenant Colonel Georges Picquart became chief of the army's intelligence bureau. Conventionally anti-Semitic, he nevertheless would become Dreyfus's savior.
In 1896, Esterhazy visited Schwartzkoppen at the German embassy where Schwartzkoppen expressed dissatisfaction with Esterhazy's supply of information and threatened to end their relationship. After French army intelligence obtained Schwartzkoppen's subsequent letter to Esterhazy, Picquart compared Esterhazy's handwriting with that in the bordereau. They were identical. He informed the General Staff that Esterhazy was the traitor and urged them to correct the injustice done to Dreyfus. A general, pre-figuring the Holocaust, asked him, "Why do you care if that Jew rots on Devil's Island?" He suggested that the matter be kept secret. Picquart answered that that is "abominable" and "I will not in any event take this secret with me to the grave". Instead of following their probable impulse to bury him, the General Staff transferred Picquart to eastern France and then to Northern Africa. Unknown to Picquart, Major Henry, Picquart's deputy, forged a letter from the Italian military attache to Schwartzkoppen in order to incriminate Dreyfus, and forged other letters to incriminate Picquart for leaking secret information.
In a nation ripped apart by the Dreyfus matter, Emile Zola, convinced of Dreyfus's innocence, entered the acrimonious struggle between right and left social forces. With the cunning encouragement of the General Staff , Esterhazy requested a court martial and was acquitted. After Zola's withering "J'accuse!" was published, he was tried for libel against the court martial officers, and was sentenced to one year. Picquart was cashiered from the army. Zola's conviction was reversed, he was retried, sentenced to one year, and fled to London. Major Henry's forgeries were discovered, he was sentenced to one year but served only one day during which he slit his throat. The news of his suicide caused the fleet footed Esterhazy, now cashiered from the army, to flee to England.
In 1899, the 1894 court martial judgment was reversed and Dreyfus, retried, was found guilty "with extenuating circumstances", left undescribed by the tribunal. He was sentenced to a reduced term of 10 years. Nine days later, he was pardoned. In 1904, the Court of Cassation reversed his conviction . He was reintegrated into the army as a major by legislative act, Picquart was returned as a Brigadier General, and Dreyfus was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. In 1907, now forty-seven, he retired in disgust from the army as a captain, the rank he had held when arrested. The army had decided that his rank could not be increased because he had not been, as required, a major for two years, he had been pardoned but not acquitted, the five years he spent on Devil's Island were not creditable to him for the purpose of raising his rank , nor for that purpose were the more than six years thereafter spent by him to clear his name, a condition caused by the corrupt army.
In 1998, President Jacques Chirac publicly stated that Dreyfus's trials "were only pitiful mascarades" and that Dreyfus's "only crime was to be Jewish". Chirac would have been more eloquent had he spoke in memory of the 75,000 French Jews sent to their deaths by France's viciously anti-Semitic government in World War II. Accordingly, I memorialize, at random, Convoy 19 that left the Drancy transport in France for Auschwitz on August 14, 1942. Of the at least 1,015 deportees transported, 115 men were put to work and all the others, including women and little children, were gassed. I give their deaths in answer to the influence on France of the Dreyfus Affair.
Sitting alone for years on Devil's Island, Dreyfus had not known that he was at the furious center of the West's attention. Unwittingly, he became symbolic proof that modern pluralist liberalism might crack when those who govern saw their powers imperilled, as did the General Staff and France's right wing institutions. So viewed, Begley points to the hell created by the combined stupidity and cunning of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld who created a parallel, hidden, unconstitutional world at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraid, and Bagram Air Base, a world of murder, torture, beatings, sexual assaults, electric shocks, water boarding, sleep deprivation, bright light bombardments, solitary confinement, CIA secret "black sites" in foreign countries, a world in which men were caged in dog crates, or were hung, their arms behind them, like crucified carcasses, or were sent for torture in Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan.
The Dreyfus Affair does matter, notwithstanding that Dreyfus was only one and not one of thousands. Our souls are diminished when we are indifferent to the whipped Arab hanging from beams athwart his cell in Abu Ghraib or the young Jew taken from the street and murdered recently in France by anti-Semites. To Louis Begley who survived the Holocaust as a Polish boy living and moving about Poland for several years with his mother in that Nazi-occupied country, false identification papers in their pockets, indifference to injustice mattered much. He is silent about that history in his great book, but it must have infused the writing of it.
7 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Perfect...except for the contemporary tie-in! 8 juin 2010
Par margot - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Probably the clearest and most complete short narrative of the Dreyfus Affair ever written. Begley's writing is rather dry but well-organized and very readable. The lawyerly dryness is really a virtue, as most popular treatments of the case have tended to sensationalize it, emphasizing the most lurid facts and theories. (For example: Dreyfus was convicted because he was a Jew; there was a clerico-military conspiracy behind the Affair, led by the Jesuits; a German and an Italian military attaché knew Dreyfus was innocent but could not tell anyone because this would reveal that the two men were having a homosexual affair.) These spicy aspects make the tale interesting but they also distort and occlude the facts. Begley pretty much leaves them alone and sticks to essentials.

He scarcely even mentions the role of the popular press, which most writers treat as central to the whole case. But Begley, a novelist as well as lawyer, does spend many pages discussing the effect of the Affair on literature, primarily the fiction of Marcel Proust and Anatole France. For readers and writers of serious fiction, these pages fulfill the promise in the book's title: truly, this is why the whole thing really matters.

Alas, how much more unfortunate it is when Begley tries to compare the Dreyfus Affair with the American political and military scene following September 11, 2001. Begley tries to draw parallels between Captain Dreyfus's four-year imprisonment on Devil's Island, and the incarceration of the Taliban fighters and so-called terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Now, whatever you think of Dreyfus or the prisoners at Guantanamo, you have to agree that this comparison is quite a stretch. The only possible point of parallel is in the heightened states of nationalistic fervor and vigilance. But in the American example events closely followed on one another, while in late-19th century France the hyper-wary patriotism began in 1871, nearly a quarter-century before the Dreyfus case.

Begley dates his foreword in early 2009, at the time of the Obama inauguration. It is embarrassing to read, a smarmy, naive bit of drivel predicting how the new black president will undo all the wicked things that have come into place since 2001. No doubt Begley has had cause to regret this. Perhaps this is why the book is so hard to find. I hunted it down for weeks, at every chain and independent bookstore I passed, finally discovering one last copy, autographed, in a tiny shop around the corner from the author's house.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Dreyfus 26 mars 2012
Par Devoted yogi - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
This book is very detailed but shocking in the facts it uncovers. It's confusing to keep all the characters straight; there is a list of them in the back which I didn't discover until the end because I had a Kindle. There is also a helpful chronology. It's an important historical account which draws parallels to the prisoners of Guantanamo. I could have done with less detail. Well written.
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