In 1893 an artillery captain in the French Army was accused of treason. Alfred Dreyfus was charged with providing Germany with a list of secret French military documents. He was convicted in 1894, reduced in rank and transported to Devil’s Island to serve a life sentence. But Dreyfus’s story did not end with his conviction. “The Dreyfus Affair” instead dragged on for 12 years before being laid to rest in 1906.

In 1896, or just about the time the Katipunan waged the first republican revolution in Asia, Lt. Col. George Picquart, head of French military intelligence, discovered that another officer, and not Dreyfus, had provided the Germans the information Dreyfus had been accused of writing and transmitting. The relatives and friends of Dreyfus also uncovered the same evidence at about the same time.

To save face, the French Army court-martialed the real culprit, but acquitted him. In 1898 the successor of Picquart confessed that he had forged the documents that had led to Dreyfus’s conviction. He was arrested and killed himself in prison.

In all this time Dreyfus remained in Devil’s Island, the tropical hell-hole the French abandoned as a prison for its worst criminals only in the mid-1930s, and was tried for the second time only in 1899, or five years after his conviction. He was again found guilty, but his sentence was reduced to 10 years. But another government took power in France, and his sentence was nullified and Dreyfus pardoned. Only in 1906 was he restored to the army, and even decorated with the Legion of Honor.

The prevailing anti-Semitism in France and much of Europe at the time helps explain the injustice committed against Dreyfus, who was a Jew. The anti-Semitism issue was only one of others his case provoked, however. The Dreyfus case became the most important public issue in France, dragging into it allegations not only of anti-Semitism in the French Army, but also of corruption and incompetence, and the moral bankruptcy of the conservative government and its agencies.

Lt. SG Antonio Trillanes IV is no Dreyfus, and in any case is only one of some 300 officers and men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines against whom charges of treason, coup d’

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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