Madness, hypocrisy and historical ignorance swirl around the military kangaroo court that has sentenced Pvt. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison. It’s a classic example of the old adage that, “Those who fail to learn history’s lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them in the future.”
Almost every facet of this latest episode of the American Empire’s wicked indifference to truth and justice is like an eerie replay of the infamous state show trial and political scandal that occurred in France, in 1894, with the framing and railroading of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer, who was imprisoned for life in the penal colony of Devil’s Island in French Guinea for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy.
During the state show trials against Dreyfus, some 120 years ago, high-ranking military and political officials suppressed all information that told the real truth that would have ultimately exonerated Captain Dreyfus. So for twelve years after his conviction, Dreyfus rotted in a Devil’s Island nightmare while word of the military court’s framing of Dreyfus, and cover-up of who the real criminal perpetrators and traitors were, slowly continued to spread throughout the world, thanks to the persistence of one of France’s most revered writers and philosophers: Emile Zola.
It was only because of a vehement open letter written by Emile Zola, and published by a brave editor of a Paris newspaper, that more and more pressure gradually was put upon the French government until it finally had no choice but to reopen the case.
The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued during the second trial ended up dividing French society between those who supported Dreyfus (referred to as Dreyfusards), and those who condemned him, who became known as Anti-Dreyfusards. “The Dreyfus Affair”, as it came to be known, embittered French politics to the point that eventually afforded the radical opposition an opportunity to come into power.
In the end, all the accusations against Captain Dreyfus were demonstrated to be baseless and Dreyfus was finally exonerated, given a pardon by the French government and reinstated as a major in the French Army.
A classic Hollywood film, released in 1937, and starring Paul Muni, was “The Life of Emile Zola”. Though supposedly focused upon Emile Zola’s life, the film actually does a magnificent job covering the trial, conviction and eventual pardon of Major Dreyfus and more accurately should have been entitled “The Dreyfus Affair”. Rather than focus solely on Zola’s life, the film spends more time depicting how the false conviction of Dreyfus was clearly a miscarriage of justice, falsely based upon charges of espionage and treason that were driven more, at the time, by a widespread hatred and fear of the German Empire.
One historian described “The Dreyfus Affair” by saying, “Its enduring significance lies in its manifest embodiment of multiple narratives and multiple strands of historical causality…It shows how long-standing beliefs and tensions can be transformed by particular circumstances and by particular individuals into a juggernaut that alters the political and cultural landscape for decades. In the interest of increasing our understanding of the past, present and future, the complexity of that transformation should be recognized and analyzed rather than packaged for moral or political usefulness.”
So “The Dreyfus Affair” remains today as a universal symbol of iniquity that was justified by reasons of State and a country’s national goals and ambitions, be they political economic, military or cultural. It remains a bellwether of a complex miscarriage of justice where a major role is played by the press and public opinion.
Yet now the world has another universal symbol of injustice and wickedness that rightly could also be dubbed “The Manning Affair”. Like Dreyfus, Manning has been made a scapegoat of an empire’s political-military-economic system’s inherent failings.
This time around it is the American Empire and its rigid, corrupt hierarchy that is on trial. The hatred and fear this time not fixated upon the German Empire but upon all whistleblowers, whomever and wherever they may be. Now it isn’t the gross degradations of Captain Alfred Dreyfus at the Military School in Paris, who was compelled to pass in disgrace before the troops, but the inhumane degradations suffered over the past three years by Bradley Manning at the Guantanamo Military Prison. Now it is not the military guards who were given strict orders never to talk to Dreyfus, in order to drive him to utter despondency, but military guards who constantly ridicule Manning for his moral, ethical, political convictions and now his newly revealed desire to become a woman and henceforth be known as “Chelsea Manning”.
The Manning Affair is a classic case of one lowly young honourable man being made a scapegoat for America’s failed international foreign policies. Just like the Hippie & Peace Movement’s were blamed for America’s ultimate failure during its war against Vietnam, Manning is being made a scapegoat for not only America’s failed War of Terror in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, but for the moral and ethical panic that he and other whistleblowers like him have begun to everywhere set off.
Yet just like the French political-military-prison system failed to break the spirit of Major Dreyfus, so too do the recent statements made by Private Manning since his conviction suggest that President Obama, and all those to whom he gives orders, will inevitably fail in their attempts to crush the spirit of Bradley Manning. The French system of injustice set out to destroy Dreyfus in the most inhumane, degrading ways, yet Bradley Manning already has shown that depriving him of his clothing and forcing him to stand at attention every night in the nude will not have the intended effect sought by his captors. Like Major Dreyfus, in spite of the many years of categorical condemnation, harsh torture and punishment that he was forced to endure, he went on to eventually become an inspiring example of stellar courage which millions of French men and women sought to emulate. So, too, now will be the case with Bradley Manning!
It took nearly 12 years for the French Government to finally realize the gross error of its ways and grant a pardon to Major Alfred Dreyfus. But 120 years later it shouldn’t take President Barack Obama anywhere near as long to grant such a pardon.
If the President truly intends to demonstrate to the world the just democratic way of life he so often espouses, it shouldn’t take him more than a few days or weeks at the most to realize the universal truths, across the ages, that those like Major Dreyfus and Private Manning represent in the world.
Jerome Irwin is Canadian based writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.