Thursday January 29, 2015
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03-138 The Dreyfus Affair III

Thursday Jan 29, 2015

Lead: Accused of spying for the Germans in 1894, French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus became the subject of a furious cultural struggle.

Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In the last part of the 1800s France was a study in conflict. Little more than half the population even spoke the French language. Rural areas were suspicious of the more prosperous industrial cities. Railroads that would help bring the country together were delayed until late in the century. Many Frenchmen openly advocated a return to monarchy and deeply resented the so-called Third Republic, set up after the German victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Leading the call for monarchy were several Roman Catholics who felt threatened by Republican attacks on Catholic schools.

One of the few French institutions that received widespread support was the army. Another war with Germany was expected, and therefore the army was shocked when evidence revealed a traitor passing War Ministry secrets to the Germans. The spy was Major C.F. Esterhazy. Deeply in debt due to his wife's health problems, Esterhazy approached the German military attaché in Paris with an offer to sell information. One of his messages to the Germans was discovered in 1894 and the search was on, but they missed the real traitor and settled on Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a brilliant staffer whose reputation for blunt criticism of fellow officers' mediocre ideas had made him few friends around the General Staff. He was convenient, unpopular, and Jewish - a perfect scapegoat easily swept aside by an army fearful for its reputation. Despite flimsy evidence Dreyfus was secretly tried, convicted, and sent to a French prison colony off the coast of South America.

While Dreyfus rotted away on Devil's Island he became a cause célèbre. The first crack in the army's case against the captain came when Lt. Colonel Georges Picquart discovered incriminating evidence against Esterhazy who, unaware of the circumstances that had caused Dreyfus' downfall, had kept up his intrigue. The original letter that had sparked the charges against Dreyfus was clearly Esterhazy's handwriting. When Picquart tried to bring charges against the spy his superiors dismissed him and the scandal became public. France gradually divided in warring camps over Alfred Dreyfus.

Next time: the long way back.

The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is 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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