Monday August 03, 2015
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03-136 The Dreyfus Affair I

Monday Aug 03, 2015

Lead: In the 1890s the trial and conviction of Alfred Dreyfus exposed the great divisions in France and in European society as a whole.

Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In 1870 Prussia, the military powerhouse of northern Europe crushed the forces of French Emperor Napoleon III in a swift military campaign. France was unprepared for the much more modern Prussian technology and tactics and was overwhelmed. The war brought important changes in both countries. The old Prussian chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, used the war emergency to force reluctant parts of Germany into a single German empire led by the Prussian king who was then crowned Kaiser William I at Versailles just outside of Paris in January 1871. Bismarck understood the value of the gratuitous insult. Nothing could be more humiliating to the French than to have the new German emperor crowned in the palace of France's greatest king, Louis XIV.

For their part, the French took advantage of Napoleon's capture and defeat to establish the Third Republic, so named because for the third time since the French Revolution in 1789 France had adopted a Republic as its form of government. Bismarck forced a humiliating peace treaty on the French, taking from them millions in reparations and Alsace-Lorraine, a huge section of the Rhine Valley.

The new Republic held elections late in the winter. The conservative results of that election plus the insulting peace arrangements so infuriated the citizens of Paris that the city declared itself a commune independent of the nation and for ten weeks held out against the full force of the Republic.

Humbled by the Germans and embarrassed by the city militia's long holdout, the French army slowly began to rebuild its reputation and fighting strength. Conservative elements of French society jealously defended the army. Despite its poor performance in the early 1870s they saw it as the bastion of things good and patriotic in French life. Many of the army's defenders felt that a new war with Germany was inevitable and that those who would criticize the army's tactics, its leaders, or its preparations for war were undermining national morale. Thus, it was with horror that evidence emerged in 1894 that there was a traitor in the War Office. Anxious to find someone, anyone, to blame, the authorities settled on Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an Alsacian Jew. Despite his absolute innocence, he was tried, convicted, and sent to the penal colony on Devil's Island off the coast of French Guiana. Dreyfus became the focus of a titanic struggle in French society between powerful cultural forces.

Next time: the flourishing business of French anti-Semitism.

The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmondís School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Iím Dan Roberts.


Chapman, Guy. The Dreyfus Trials. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1972.

Dreyfus, Alfred. Five Years of My Life. New York: Peebles Press International, 1977.

Feldman, Egal. The Dreyfus Affair. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981.

Snyder, Louis. The Dreyfus Case. New York: Rutgers University Press, 1973.

Copyright 2015 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.


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