Jeopardy! category: ’99 (13-4-2015)
$800 clue: On Sept. 19, 1899 French President Emile Loubet pardoned this soldier
The gist: In late 1894, it came to light to the French army that secrets regarding new artillery parts had been passed to the Germans by someone high up in the French military echelons. Suspicion immediately fell on Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish Frenchman of Alsace-German descent. Less than thirty years earlier, France had suffered a humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, which resulted in the fall of the Second French Empire (founded by Napoleon), the rise of the German Empire (founded by Kaiser Wilhelm and Otto von Bismarck), and, more specifically, France’s forfeiture of the Alsace-Lorraine region to Germany. Dreyfus himself had been born in French-controlled Alsace-Lorraine in 1859, and his family, newly successful in the textile business, moved to Paris upon German annexation of the region. As a result of his family’s experience during the war, he enrolled in a military education when he turned 18, where he succeeded academically, but was given poor marks for personality, along with other Jewish students. This military discrimination went hand-in-hand with rising anti-Semitism and nationalist throughout French society, which began to see not only Jews but also Protestants and others of non-French-Catholic descent, who were seen as and accused of being not “true Frenchmen.” Being not only Jewish, but also coming from an ethnically German region, speaking French with a Yiddish-German accent, and being a promising young officer in a military that had long been dominated by the old aristocracy, Dreyfus was a particularly ripe target for the France’s right-wing’s simmering resentment and frustration.
When evidence of espionage on behalf of the German army came to light, the military needed to pin the accusation on someone. Dreyfus, for the reasons above and for his position in the artillery corps, was quickly identified as an ideal scapegoat. Based on a highly pseudoscientific graphological analysis of Dreyfus’ handwriting and the “borderau,” a recovered letter allegedly written to a German officer explaining the specifics of a treasonous intelligence transfer, Dreyfus was arrested, tried and convicted in a secret court-martial, publicly stripped of his rank and discharged from the army, and exiled to Devil’s Island, French Guyana, where he would remain for four years.
In the meantime, debate over the debacle raged back in France, as both public figures and the masses took took either the “Dreyfusard” or “anti-Dreyfusard” position. The real culprit, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, was identified in mid-1896, and many noted intellectuals, including the future French Prime Minister George Clemenceau and famed journalist and writer Émile Zola, spoke out publicly in favour of Dreyfus, while the military and others insisted that Esterhazy and Dreyfus was separate issues, despite the abundantly clear handwriting match between Esterhazy and the bordereau. In early 1898, Zola published his famous open letter, “J’Accuse!”, in Clemenceau’s newspaper L’Aurore, for which he was later found guilty of libel. As the Dreyfus Affair raged and intensified, it also attracted unwanted international attention on France, and numerous countries had elected in response to the affair to boycott 1900 Universal Exposition, to be held in Paris in 1900. In 1899, Dreyfus was re-tried and again found guilty, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary; in response, the President personally issued him a pardon. He was released from Devil’s Island for the trial, but went straight into a military prison and then house arrest. This action allowed Dreyfus to be released from prison and return to house arrest in France, despite the army having never officially recanted its verdict. In 1906 a civilian court finally overturned the ruling of the second trial, officially absolving Dreyfus of liability, but the French army took until 1995, a year after the official French military historian invited international scorn by stating that Dreyfus’ innocence was nothing more than “a thesis generally admitted by historians,” to officially pardon him.
The clue: How many pardoned French people can you name? Probably just one, and that ought to be all you need to know this answer. The date and the President’s name are truly just icing on the cake.
In Jeopardy!: “Alfred Dreyfus,” surprisingly, appears in just seven regular and two FJ! clues in the J!Archive, always either somehow about his trial and/or pardon (and mentioning his nationality), or asking about Zola, his most famous defender. Of course, “Dreyfus” alone returns many, many more clues, but that includes the others like Richard (with an extra ‘s’) and Julia Louis-. But in general, if it’s about a historical French trial, in the late nineteenth century, especially if it uses the word “affair,” it’s going to be Dreyfus if it’s looking for the defendant or Zola if it’s looking for a defender.