Alfred Dreyfus was framed for a crime committed by someone else. It is instructive for Americans to look back less than a century to how a civilized nation, France, was able to frame – by forgeries, invented claims of confession and other false evidence – an honorable officer. The Dreyfus Affair is a sordid tale of judicial corruption at the highest levels. It could not have been accomplished without the active complicity of the military, the prosecution, the judiciary and others within the government. Nor could injustice have prevailed for so long without the acquiescence of the mainstream press, many intellectuals and large elements of the populace.
Eventually, the fraud was exposed by a handful of courageous journalists, lawyers and relatives of the accused. France was transformed, first by the wrongful conviction and later by his vindication. An understanding of the Dreyfus case is an essential antidote to complacency about our own system of justice and its potential for abuse.