J'accuse (letter)

J'accuse (letter)

J'accuse ("I accuse") was an open letter published on January 13 1898 in the newspaper "L'Aurore" by the influential writer Émile Zola.

The letter was addressed to President of France Félix Faure, and accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French General Staff officer sentenced to penal servitude for life for espionage. Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence. The letter was printed on the first page of the newspaper, and caused a stir in France and abroad. Zola was prosecuted and found guilty of libel on February 23, 1898. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England, returning home in June 1899.

Other pamphlets proclaiming Dreyfus's innocence include Bernard Lazare's "A Miscarriage of Justice: The Truth about the Dreyfus Affair" (November 1896).

As a result of the popularity of the letter, even in the English-speaking world, "J'accuse!" has become a common generic expression of outrage and accusation against a powerful person.

Alfred Dreyfus

Alfred Dreyfus was born in Mulhouse, in northeast France, into a Jewish family. [http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9279233 Alfred Dreyfus Biography (1859-1935)] . Biography.com (2007). Retrieved February 16, 2008.] In 1871, he left his native town for Paris because Germany had annexed the province. While an artillery captain for the General Staff of France, in 1894 Dreyfus was suspected of providing secret military information to the German government. A cleaning woman and French spy by the name of Madame Bastian working at the German Embassy was at the source of the investigation. She routinely searched wastebaskets and mailboxes at the German Embassy for suspicious documents.Burns, M. (1999). "France and the Dreyfus Affair: A Documentary History". NY: St. Martin's College Publishing Group.] She found a suspicious at the German Embassy in 1894, and delivered it to Commandant Hubert-Joseph Henry, who worked for French military counterintelligence in the General Staff. The bordereau had been torn into six pieces, and had been found by Madame Bastian in the wastepaper basket of Maximilien von Schwartzkoppen, the German military attaché. When the document was investigated, professional handwriting experts testified that the handwriting on the bordereau was very similar to that of Alfred Dreyfus.Rothstein, E. [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/arts/design/17drey.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1 "A Century-Old Court Case That Still Resonates"] . "The New York Times" (October 17, 2007).] There were also assertions from military officers who provided confidential evidence. Dreyfus was found guilty of treason in a secret military court-martial, during which he was denied the right to examine the evidence against him. The Army stripped him of his rank in a humiliating ceremony and shipped him off to Devil's Island, a penal colony located off the coast of South America. Because France was going through a period of anti-Semitism, there were very few who defended Dreyfus, most of whom were his family. In 1899 Dreyfus returned to France for a retrial, but although found guilty again, he was pardoned. In 1906 Dreyfus appealed his case again, only to find the annulment of his guilty verdict. In 1906, he was also awarded the Cross of the Légion d'honneur, which stated, “a soldier who has endured an unparallelled martyrdom.”

History of Émile Zola

Émile Zola was born on April 2, 1840 in Paris. Zola's main literary work was "Les Rougon-Macquart", a monumental cycle of twenty novels about Parisian society during the French Second Empire under Napoleon III and after the Franco-Prussian War.Shelokhonov, S. (2008). [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0957652/bio Biography for Émile Zola] at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 15, 2008.] He was also the founder of the Naturalist movement in 19th-century literature. Zola was among the strongest proponents of the Third Republic and was elected to the Légion d'honneur. He risked his career in February 1898 when he decided to stand up for Alfred Dreyfus. Zola wrote an open letter to the President of France, Félix Faure, accusing the French government of falsely convicting Alfred Dreyfus and of anti-Semitism. Zola titled his letter “J’accuse” or “I accuse,” which was published on the front page of the Paris daily "L'Aurore". Zola was brought to trial for libel for publishing his letter to the President, and was convicted two weeks later. He was sentenced to jail and was removed from the Légion d'honneur. To avoid jail time, Zola fled to England, and stayed there until the French Government collapsed; he continued to defend Dreyfus. Just four years after his famous letter to the president, Zola died from carbon monoxide poisoning which was caused by a stopped chimney. On June 4, 1908, Zola's remains were laid to rest in the Panthéon in Paris.

Arguments in J'accuse

Émile Zola argued that "the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus was based on false accusations of espionage and was a misrepresentation of justice." He first points out that the real man behind all of this is Major du Paty de Clam. Zola states: "He was the one who came up with the scheme of dictating the text of the bordereau to Dreyfus; he was the one who had the idea of observing him in a mirror-lined room. And he was the one that Major Forzinetti caught carrying a shuttered lantern that he planned to throw open on the accused man while he slept, hoping that, jolted awake by the sudden flash of light, Dreyfus would blurt out his guilt."Zola, E. [http://www.chameleon-translations.com/sample-Zola.shtml "J'Accuse"] . "L'Aurore" (January 13, 1898). Translation by Chameleon Translations. Retrieved February 12, 2008.] Next Zola points out that if the investigation of the traitor was done properly, then the evidence would clearly show that the bordereau came from an infantry officer and not artillery, such as Dreyfus. Émile Zola strongly defends Alfred Dreyfus and all of justice when he states: "These, Sir, are the facts that explain how this miscarriage of justice came about; The evidence of Dreyfus's character, his affluence, the lack of motive and his continued affirmation of innocence combine to show that he is the victim of the lurid imagination of Major du Paty de Clam, the religious circles surrounding him, and the 'dirty Jew' obsession that is the scourge of our time." After more investigation, Zola points out that a man by the name of Major Esterhazy was the man that should have been convicted of this crime, and there was proof provided, but he could not be known as guilty unless the entire General Staff was guilty, so the War Office covered up for Esterhazy. At the end of his letter, Zola accuses General Billot of having held in his hands absolute proof of Dreyfus's innocence and covering it up. He accuses both General de Boisdeffre and General Gonse of religious prejudice against Alfred Dreyfus. He accuses the three handwriting experts, Messrs. Belhomme, Varinard, and Couard, of submitting false reports that were deceitful, unless a medical examination finds them to be suffering from a condition that impairs their eyesight and judgment. Zola's final accusations were to the first court martial for violating the law by convicting Alfred Dreyfus on the basis of a document that was kept secret, and to the second court martial for committing the judicial crime of knowingly acquitting Major Esterhazy.

Subsequent Use of Term

* In 1982, Graham Greene declared in his pamphlet "J'Accuse — The Dark Side of Nice" that organized crime flourished in Nice.
* In 1989, J'accuse was used against baseball player Pete Rose [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE7DD173FF937A15755C0A96F948260 "'J'Accuse' for Pete Rose" by Andrew Rosenthal, writing for "The New York Times" on June 24, 1989 (Observer section)] .]
* In 2003, it was used against England's criminal justice system. [Farrall, S. (2003) [http://crj.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/3/2/161 "J'accuse: Probation Evaluation-Research Epistemologies"] "Criminal Justice" 3:2-3, 161-268.]
* In 2008, the term was used against the genocide in Darfur. [ [http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/5894017.html "World is correct to echo Zola on Darfur: 'J'accuse!'"] by Austin Bay in the "Houston Chronicle" on July 17, 2008 (Viewpoints, Outlook section).]


Further reading

[http://www.law.uga.edu/academics/profiles/wilkes.html Donald E. Wilkes, Jr.] , [http://www.law.uga.edu/academics/profiles/dwilkes_more/his9_jaccuse.html "J'accuse...!" Emile Zola, Alfred Dreyfus, and the Greatest Newspaper Article in History] (1998).

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