An officer and a spy

November 15th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Managed to read An Officer and A Spy on Wednesday while flying to and from Auckland. It’s a novel by Robert Harris, based on the Dreyfus Affair.

Harris is an excellent novelist. Fatherland is the novel he is probably most well-known for. He has also written some very good historical fiction books around Pompeii and Cicero.

I had been generally aware of the Dreyfus Affair, but not to any great detail. Harris brings it to life, with his novel written from the point of view of Georges Picquart.

Two things struck me while reading the novel.

The first was how horrendous the gross miscarriage of justice was that saw Dreyfus convicted on next to no evidence, but even worse how the Army used forgeries and worse to persist in trying to prove he was a traitor, and the malice against those who produced evidence to the contrary. Even worse was that they then moved to protect the real traitor, just so they would not have to admit they were wrong.

The second is the extent of antisemitism in France 100 years ago. The Holocaust perpetuated by the Nazis did not come about in a vacuum. Antisemitic sentiments were strong in many parts of Europe, and people were quite happy to see an innocent patriotic solider rot in an island prison just because he was a Jew.

Anyway if you’re a student of history, I can recommend the book as an excellent read.

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11 Responses to “An officer and a spy”

  1. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    I saw a film (possibly TV movie?) on the Dreyfuss Affair some time ago. They were discussing the lawyer who spent so much time fighting for Dreyfuss, and at the end of the film, someone remarks about how he put so much of himself into the fight, and suffered a lot personally, that he was basically the perfect man (or something like that). And the person they say this to, says something like “no, he didn’t like Jews (recalling an early event in the film where the lawyer says something about how Dreyfuss is probably guilty because he’s a Jew). I think it’s the only time I have ever seen anti-semitism used to make someone seem more awesome.

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  2. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    You are correct about the widespread anti-semitism in Europe, DPF, especially Eastern and Central Europe, where the appalling pogroms were driving Jews to seek refuge in the New World.

    In Germany and Austria, there was also vicious anti-Semitism before the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

    Jews seem to have made suitable scapegoats for everything because they differed in religion, culture, language, and perhaps in the flaky concept of “race” — they were all the “outsiders” wrapped in one. Their religion and love of learning, and the oppressive restrictions that kept them out of many occupations with the fortunate exception of finance, helped make them more successful than the average citizens, so they were also envied.

    We in countries like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States aren’t without shame in discrimination against Jews. In hindsight, we could have admitted many, many more Jewish refugees in the last few dark years before World War 2 broke out.

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  3. stephieboy (3,169 comments) says:

    Certainly the Dreyfus affair was a watershed event in the history of Anti Semitism in Europe but it was tremendously noble and uplifting how elements in the French Intelligentsia and public leapt to his defence. Am thinking especially of the great writer Emile Zola who wrote a fine polemic in defence of Alfred Dreyfuss,,” J ‘ Accuse”. Consequently he was not only pardoned for allegedly betraying secrets to the Prussians but completely exonerated of any wrong doing.
    I would make a point of reading Robert Harris’s novelization of the affair over the Summer holidays.
    Thanks for that DF.!

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  4. RRM (9,933 comments) says:

    Have a read of the group “This is Europa” on Facebook.

    History repeats, sooner or later we will see a “final solution” against the Muslims in Europe.

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  5. adamsmith1922 (890 comments) says:

    I am reading this excellent book a tthe moment

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  6. Longknives (4,767 comments) says:

    “History repeats, sooner or later we will see a “final solution” against the Muslims in Europe.”

    The way those fuckers are breeding (eight to one in some European countries) it is far more likely to be Christians being loaded onto trains…

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  7. Dio Gratia (2 comments) says:

    There’s also a non-fiction book in English, The Dreyfus Affair by Piers Paul Read published in 2012.

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  8. Bob R (1,377 comments) says:

    ***History repeats, sooner or later we will see a “final solution” against the Muslims in Europe.***

    @ RRM,

    Err, actually once again the jews are being forced to flee…this time from Muslims.

    “Former Dutch EU commissioner says “recognizable” Jews are no longer safe in Netherlands due to Muslim anti-Semitism.”

    http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/I-see-no-future-for-Jews-in-the-Netherlands

    Similar stories across Europe and the EU report on anti-semitic violence showed it was increasing – guess why?

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  9. Daigotsu (459 comments) says:

    Robert Harris is known Labour member and personal friend of Tony Blair

    I don’t trust his take on history

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  10. stephieboy (3,169 comments) says:

    Daigotsu (408) Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Then you’d really appreciate Frederick Forsyth’s “take on history “. He’s an avowed champion of David Cameron and the conservative party.
    BTW , your point.?!

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  11. jackinabox (776 comments) says:

    “The first was how horrendous the gross miscarriage of justice was that saw Dreyfus convicted on next to no evidence, but even worse how the Army used forgeries and worse to persist in trying to prove he was a traitor, and the malice against those who produced evidence to the contrary. Even worse was that they then moved to protect the real traitor, just so they would not have to admit they were wrong.”

    That sounds a lot like the Rex Haig and Scott Watson cases.

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