About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why Georges Picquart Fought for Alfred Dreyfus

Georges Picquart
In my last post, a review of An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, I touched upon the pivotal role of Colonel Georges Picquart in reversing the wrongful conviction of Alfred Dreyfus.

In that review I spoke of Picquart as a genuine man of honour who refused to countenance injustice.

David B. Green reviewed the book in Haaretz. In his review he discusses why Picquart would not give up his quest to clear Dreyfus and provides a quote from an interview with Robert Harris:

Picquart acted out of duty, not out of any special sympathy for Dreyfus. This complexity and ambivalence make him an inherently fascinating character. Harris is convinced that, “overall, what Picquart felt was loyalty to the law, to rationality, and duty, and above all, justice.” In the final analysis, he concludes, “I don’t think he could have lived with himself if he didn’t do something.”

Going back over 100 years, Florence Earle Coates in a poem, Picquart, written in 1902 gave her perspective on his actions:

For love of justice and for love of truth—
Aye, 't was for these, for these he put aside
Place and preferment, fortune and the pride
Of fair renown; the friends he prized, in sooth,
All the rewards of an illustrious youth,
And set his strength against a swollen tide,
And gave his spirit to be crucified—
For love of justice and for love of truth.

Keeper of the abiding scroll of fame,
Lo! we intrust to thee a hero's name!
Life, like a restless river, hurrying by,
Bears us so swiftly on, we may forget
The name to which we owe so deep a debt;
But guard it thou, nor suffer it to die!

An Officer and a Spy further made clear that Picquart valued the security of his nation above the "honour" of the army.

Yet it was his personal sense of integrity that drove him to resist the hierarchy of the army though the personal consequences were extreme. He was wrongfully convicted, dismissed from the Army and ostracized by his former comrades. Fortunately, when Dreyfus was cleared Picquart was also restored. In one of the more startling developments he was actually made Minister of War.

I do not know the source of his integrity. He never wrote a memoir.

Many people profess integrity but fail when tested. Picquart met the challenge. He told the Dreyfus family that they need not thank him as he had obeyed his conscience.

It happens that Picquart died 100 years ago on January 19, 1914. Many at that time thought his memory would be immortal. In Pierre Stutin's review of the book on the affairedreyfus.com he quotes Paul Desachy:

    "When events will have receded into the distant past, when, one
     by one, all the major players will have been laid down in their
     graves, poets and novelists will keep them alive in the memory
     of men. The glory of France will be reflected in these evocations
     of a tragic page. Heroes are revealed by crises of conscience.
     Our generation will have provided a mutitude of them, and, first
     among them, the greatest of them all, because he was a soldier –
     o military servitude ! – Georges Picquart.”

Were it not for An Officer and a Spy few would have remembered, let alone honoured, the 100th anniversary of Picquart's death.

His example should remain an inspiration to never let the "honour" of an institution and its leadership take precedence over truth. There is no honour in protecting and perpetuating a lie.


  1. Bill - Thanks for sharing this really interesting background on Picquart. It's good to be reminded that there are people with that deep a sense of integrity and doing the right thing. And I'm especially impressed that he continued to act with integrity despite all the pressure he faced. That's not easy.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. His personal and professional life were deeply affected but he did not waver. He is a heroic figure.

  2. What a fascinating post Bill - I told you how much I enjoyed the book (and your review of it) and here you make valuable points about Picquart. As you say, he deserves to be more remembered, and his principles and integrity deserve the utmost respect.

    1. Moira: Too often we focus on the most public figures in scandals and affairs when there may be a person, such as Picquart, who is equally, if not more, deserving of being rememered and respected.

  3. This is fascinating to know about the pro-justice Picquart. Good to find out more about him, and that he was so dedicated to righting this terrible wrong.

    Another hero in the fight to free and exonerate Dreyfus was Emile Zola. The film entitled The Life of Emile Zola, starring Paul Muni, was my first education on the Dreyfus case. It's a terrific film, which everyone should see. Brilliant.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I agree Zola had a crucial role. I doubt the fight for Dreyfus would have succeeded without the combination of Picquart and Zola.

      There remains reason to be suspicious of Zola's death.

  4. Hope everyone sees the movie classic with Paul Muni about Emile Zola.