1. What is the tone of this letter? Would you expect the letter to contribute positively to Dreyfus's situation? Why or why not?
2. What particular miscarriages of justice does Zola point to in Dreyfus's conviction?
3. Does Zola make an issue of Dreyfus's Judaism in this letter? Should he have stressed it less or more? Why or why not?
Will you permit me, in my gratitude for the kindly welcome that you once extended to me, to show my regard for the glory that is rightfully yours, and to say to you that your honor, so bright hitherto, is threatened with the most shameful, the most indelible of stains? You have emerged from base calumnies safe and sound; you have conquered our hearts. You seem radiant in that patriotic fête which the Russian alliance has been for France, and you are preparing to preside at the solemn triumph of our Universal Exposition, which will crown our great century of labor, truth, and liberty. But what a mud stain on your name--I was going to say on your reign--is this abominable Dreyfus affair! A council of war has just dared to acquit an Esterhazy in obedience to orders,--a final blow at all truth, at all justice. And now it is done! France has this stain upon her cheek; it will be written in history that under your presidency it was possible for this social crime to be committed.
Since they have dared, I too will dare. I will tell the truth, for I have promised to tell it, if the courts, once regularly appealed to, did not bring it out fully and entirely. It is my duty to speak; I will not be an accomplice. My nights would be haunted by the specter of the innocent man who is atoning, in a far-away country, by the most frightful of tortures, for a crime that he did not commit.
And to you, Mr. President, will I proclaim this truth, with all the force of an honest man's revolt. Your honor convinces me that you are ignorant of it. To whom, indeed, should I denounce the malevolent gang of the really guilty, if not to you, the first magistrate of the country?
First, the truth as to the trial and conviction of Dreyfus.
A calamitous man has managed it all, has done it all--Colonel du Paty de Clam, then a simple major. He is the entire Dreyfus case; it will be fully known only when a sincere investigation shall have clearly established his acts and his responsibility. He appears as the most heady, the most intricate, of characters, haunted with romantic intrigues, delighting in the methods of the newspaper novel,--stolen papers, anonymous letters, meetings in lonely spots, mysterious women who convey overwhelming proofs by night. It is he who conceived the idea of dictating the bordereau to Dreyfus; it is he who dreamed of studying it in a room completely lined with mirrors; it is he whom Major Forzinetti represents to us armed with a dark lantern, trying to gain access to the accused when asleep, in order to throw a sudden flood of light upon his face, and thus surprise a confession of his crime in the confusion of his awakening. And I need not say more. I simply claim that Major du Paty de Clam, entrusted as a judicial officer with the duty of preparing the Dreyfus case, is, in the order of dates and responsibility, the leading person among those guilty of the fearful judicial error that has been committed. . . .
The Dreyfus case was a case for the war office,--a staff officer accused by his staff comrades, convicted under the pressure of the chiefs of staff. Accordingly he cannot come back innocent unless all the staff is proved guilty. Consequently the war offices, by all imaginable means, by press campaigns, by communications, by influence, have protected Esterhazy only to ruin Dreyfus a second time. Ah! with what a sweep should the republican government clear away this band of Jesuits, as General Billot himself calls them! Where is the truly strong and wisely patriotic minister who will dare to re-shape and renew all? How many of the people I know are trembling in view of a possible war, knowing in what hands lies the national defense! And what a nest of base intrigues, gossip, and corruption has this sacred protector, entrusted with the fate of the country, become! We are frightened by the terrible light thrown upon it by the Dreyfus case, this human sacrifice of an unfortunate man, of a "dirty Jew." Ah! what a mixture of madness and folly, of crazy fancies, of low police practices, of inquisitorial and tyrannical customs, the good pleasure of a few persons in gold lace, with their feet on the neck of the nation, cramming back into its throat its cry of truth and justice under the lying and sacrilegious pretext of the raison d'état!
Another of their crimes is that they have accepted the support of the filthy press, have suffered themselves to be championed by all the knavery of Paris, so that we now witness knavery's insolent triumph in the downfall of right and simple probity. It is a crime to accuse of troubling France those who wish to see her generous, and place her at the head of free and just nations. It is a crime to mislead public opinion, to rouse it to a delirium with a view of compassing this man's death. It is a crime to poison the minds of the lowly and the humble, to exasperate the passions of reaction and intolerance, while seeking shelter behind odious anti-Semitism, which, if not suppressed, will destroy the great liberal France of the Rights of Man. It is crime to exploit patriotism for works of hatred, and, finally, it is a crime to make the sword the modern god, when all human science is at work on the coming temple of truth and justice. . . .
Such, then, is the simple truth, Mr. President, and it is frightful. It will remain a stain upon your presidency. I suspect that you are powerless in this matter,--that you are the prisoner of the constitution and of your environment. You have none the less a man's duty, upon which you will reflect, and which you will fulfill. Not indeed that I despair of triumph. I repeat with more vehement certainty, truth is now in motion, and nothing can stop it. To-day sees the real beginning of the affair, since not until to-day have the two opposing parties met face to face : on one hand, the guilty, who do not want the light; on the other, the doers of justice, who will give their lives to get it. When truth is buried in the earth it accumulates there, and assumes so mighty an explosive power that, on the day when it bursts forth, it hurls everything into the air. We shall see whether its enemies have not merely prepared the way for the most appalling disaster yet to come.
But this letter is too long, Mr. President, and it is time to finish.
I accuse Lieutenant Colonel du Paty de Clam of having been the diabolical author of judicial error,--unconsciously, I am willing to believe,--and of having then defended his fatal work, for three years, by the most guilty machinations.
I accuse General Mercier of having made himself an accomplice, at least through feebleness of mind, in one of the greatest iniquities of the century.
I accuse General Billot of having had in his hands certain proofs of the innocence of Dreyfus, and of having suppressed them; of having rendered himself guilty of this crime of lèse-humanité and lèse-justice for a political purpose, and to save the compromised staff.
I accuse General de Boisdeffre and General Gonse of having made themselves accomplices in the same crime, one undoubtedly through clerical passion, the other perhaps through that esprit de corps which makes of the war office the unassailable ark of the covenant.
I accuse General de Pellieux and Major Ravary of having conducted a rascally inquiry,--I mean by that, a monstrously partial inquiry, of which we have, in the report of the latter, an imperishable monument of naive audacity.
I accuse the three experts in handwriting, Belhomme, Varinard, and Couard, of having made lying and fraudulent reports, unless a medical examination should prove them to be afflicted with diseases of the eye and of the mind.
I accuse the war office of having carried on in the newspapers, particularly in L'éclair and in L'écho de Paris, an abominable campaign, to mislead opinion and cover up their faults.
I accuse, finally, the first council of war of having violated the law by condemning an accused person on the strength of a secret document, and I accuse the second council of war of having covered up this illegality, in obedience to orders, in committing in its turn the judicial crime of knowingly acquitting a guilty man.
In preferring these charges I am not unaware that I lay myself liable under Articles 30 and 31 of the press law of July 29, 1881, which punishes slander. I consciously expose myself to the provisions of the law.
As for the people whom I accuse, I do not know them; I have never seen them; I entertain against them no feeling of revenge or hatred. They are to me simple entities, enemies of the social welfare. And the act that I perform here is nothing but a revolutionary measure to hasten the triumph of truth and justice. I have but one passion, the passion for the light, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much, and which is entitled to happiness. My vehement protest is simply the cry of my soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me into the court of assizes, but let the investigation take place in the open day. I await it.
Accept, Mr. President, the assurance of my profound respect.
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