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 Dreyfusardscommitted to restoring freedom and honor to an innocent man convicted of a crime committed by anotheragainst 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.
Beyond being a clear introduction to the historical, legal, cultural and literary ramifications of the Dreyfus Affair, this book is a call to arms to contemporary creative writers to address the damage done to "the fabric of American society by the crimes and abuses of the Bush administration committed in the course of its pursuit of the war on terror." Begley eagerly awaits the emergence of America's Zola or Proust, to probe courageously the wounds of deep political division in great fiction. "Once again it is up to us poets to nail the guilty to the eternal pillory," Zola wrote to Dreyfus's wife. Begley argues that that time has come again.