Alfred Dreyfus was a French Jewish artillery officer whose trial and conviction in 1894 on charges of treason can easily be seen as a precursor to the Kavanaugh trial–yes, trial. And it is past time that those of us on this side of the Atlantic know of this willful travesty of justice. Known today as the Dreyfus affair, the incident eventually ended with Dreyfus’s complete exoneration. No, this podcast is not simply about drawing a parallel between what France did to Dreyfus and what our country is trying to do to Brett Kavanaugh; it goes far beyond that.
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Alfred Dreyfus was a French Jewish artillery officer whose trial and conviction in 1894 on charges of treason can easily be seen as a precursor to the Kavanaugh trial–yes, trial. And it is past time that those of us on this side of the Atlantic know of this wilful travesty of justice. Known today as the Dreyfus affair, the incident eventually ended with Dreyfus’s complete exoneration. No, this podcast is not simply about drawing a parallel between what France did to Dreyfus and what our country is trying to do to Brett Kavanaugh; it goes far beyond that.
Emile Zola, a contemporary of Dreyfus and a French writer and playwright, published an open letter, “J’Accuse…!”, a bitter denunciation of the heavily biased trial and foregone conclusions in France in January of 1898. In the letter Zola addressed President of France Félix Faure and accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army General Staff officer who was sentenced to lifelong penal servitude for espionage. Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence. The letter was printed on the front page of the Paris newspaper and caused a stir in France and abroad. For his accusations against the false accusers, Zola was prosecuted for libel and found guilty in 1898. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England and continued to defend Dreyfus.
Captain Dreyfus was guilty of nothing more than being a convenient target, but he suffered greatly by being disgraced and imprisoned in a penal colony. Zola was guilty of nothing more than attacking the indefensible and defending the unpopular and vulnerable; he also suffered.
That sort of thing can’t happen here, can it? After all, we have this centuries-old judicial system that, if anything, is overly protective of the accused. But aren’t we all too capable of attacking targets of convenience in the pursuit of an agenda–exactly what France did to Alfred Dreyfus over 100 years ago?
When conservative Justice Clarence Thomas was similarly accused by Anita Hill in 1991, he made it clear that his impassioned denials had less to do with possibly of being on the Supreme Court than his personal reputation and dignity. “This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”
Justice Thomas quite understandably saw this as a race issue. Perhaps it is more about gender and politics. Anita Hill, Dr. Christine Ford and Deborah Ramirez are very progressive females; Thomas and Kavanaugh are conservative males. And is Roe v Wade the political elephant in all of these rooms? Judaism was the elephant in Dreyfus’ courtroom.
We are asked to believe victims and survivors. And we should all acknowledge that elapsed time from an alleged incident to the person coming forward does not disqualify a claim. Speaking of victims and survivors, make no mistake: there is a victim and a survivor in the Kavanaugh case. The question is who. Is it Kavanaugh or one or both of his accusers?
And how do we fairly judge before we state, “I believe.”? In criminal court, the standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case, the standard is lower, “a preponderance of evidence.” In neither case do things like gut feel, going in bias or worldview play a deciding role in generating the standards of proof. I am okay with someone baldly stating they believe a female who has accused a male. That’s intellectually and morally bankrupt, but legal. Just as I am okay with someone saying they believe accusations against Jews. Also intellectually and morally bankrupt, but legal. But aren’t we better than that?
Today’s key points:
- The “I believe” standard can be appropriately pretty loosey goosey when talking about movies, sports, board games and the like. “I believe the Jets are going to win it all.”
- The “I believe” standard when deciding another’s fate in a criminal or civil court is appropriately much higher and needs to be rigorously applied.
- The “I believe” standard when applied to voting, whether it is us voting for our government or our representatives voting on our behalf, needs to be at least as high as the “preponderance of evidence” standard in civil courts.
Let’s apply the two Results With Reason main tenets to today’s issues. The two main tenets that we believe in at Results With Reason are:
- Personal Responsibility; practice it, teach it and
- Be Your Brother’s Keeper.
Today’s application is again straightforward:
- Personal Responsibility. Engage in honest political conversation. Talk to people about what is important and why it is important. Show them love, respect and trust as you do.
- Be your Brother’s Keeper. Be patient with each other; some will understand what you saying immediately, others will not. Teach and encourage; don’t criticize and reject. Love and lead. Remember, we are all in this together.
Now it is time for our usual parting thought. It is not enough to be informed. We need to act. And if we, you and I, don’t do something, then the others who are doing something, will continue to run the show.
Remember: Knowledge by itself is the booby prize.
Will Luden, writing to you from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.