“J’Accuse” is the title of one of the most famous polemics of the century – Emile Zola’s 1898 open letter accusing the leaders of the French Army of deliberately framing Col. Alfred Dreyfus. Zola’s letter takes its title from the ringing paragraphs at the finale:
“I accuse Lt. Col. du Paty de Clam … I accuse General Mercier … I accuse General Billot … etc.”
Dreyfus was of course Jewish, and the battle between the Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards quickly transformed itself into a grand argument over the place of Jews in France. The anti-Dreyfusards regarded Jews as inherently alien and disloyal by definition. Facts never mattered much to them: When it was finally proven that one of the documents that condemned Dreyfus had in fact been falsified by the Army, a leading anti-Dreyfusard named Charles Maurras hailed the “heroic forgery.”
As little as they liked Dreyfus, however, the anti-Dreyfusards liked Emile Zola if possible even less. They charged him with libel, prosecuted, and convicted him – many of them threatened to murder him; they succeeded instead in driving him into exile. He died in 1902 under suspicious circumstances; some believe he was murdered in retaliation for his defense of Dreyfus. So it is really rather a perverse triumph for the author of “J’Accuse” that the anti-Dreyfusards of our day now seek to borrow Zola’s words.
Yet there they are in the current issue of The American Conservative under the byline of Pat Buchanan.
“We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America’s interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people’s right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity.”
Buchanan’s authority to decide which wars are in America’s interest and which are not is rather badly tarnished by his own opposition to the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 and the opposition of many of his neo-isolationist pals to the campaign against the Taliban. Even more bizarre is this sudden concern for “friends and allies” from a man who has spent the past decade and a half denying that America needed either.
More on all that for another day. In the meantime, here is a rewriting of “J’Accuse” that is perhaps more in keeping with the ideals and principles of its original author, who – though a lifelong man of the Left – was always a patriot.
“We charge that a cabal of writers who misuse the title of ‘conservatives’ are rallying to defend an Iraqi dictator who has waged war on American allies, attempted to assassinate an American president, fired on American aircraft, and who is now arming to threaten Americans with mass murder.
“We charge them with making common cause with left-wing radicals and radical Islamists, former communists and other people who hate the United States – all in order to prematurely halt the war on terror and preserve the Iraqi dictator’s rule.
“We charge them with forgetting George Washington’s warning in his Farewell Address against ‘habitual hatred’ for any nation – and instead allowing their unreasoning loathing of the Jewish state to lead them into what Washington condemned as a ‘passionate attachment’ to Baathist Iraq.
“We charge them with disregarding their wartime duty to lay aside their prejudices and resentments for the sake of the common good. We charge them with attempting to undermine a conservative Republican president in a moment of national emergency. We charge them with acting as excuse-makers for America’s enemies. We charge them with failing to put America first.”