American Rhetoric: Movie Speech

"The Life of Emile Zola" (1937)


Zola's Open Letter to the President of France Charging Corruption Against the Army

Audio mp3 delivered by Paul Muni


Zola: Mr. President of the Republic, permit me to tell you that your record without blame so far is threatened with a most shameful blot -- this abominable Dreyfus affair. A court-martial has recently, by order, dared to acquit one Esterhazy, a supreme slap at all truth, all justice.

But since they have dared, I, too, shall dare. I shall tell the truth. Because if I did not, my nights would be haunted by the specter of an innocent being expiating under the most frightful torture a crime he never committed.

It is impossible for honest people to read the iniquitous bill of accusation against Dreyfus without being overcome with indignation and crying out their revulsion.

Dreyfus knows several languages -- crime.

He works hard -- crime.

No compromising papers are found in his apartment -- crime.

He goes occasionally to the country of his origin -- crime.

He endeavors to learn everything -- crime.

He's not easily worried -- crime.

He is easily worried -- also a crime.

The Minister of War, the Chief of the General Staff and the Assistant Chief never doubted that the famous Boudreaux was written by Esterhazy. But, the condemnation of Esterhazy involved revision of the Dreyfus verdict. And that, the General Staff wished to avoid at all costs.

For over a year, the Minister of War and the General Staff have known that Dreyfus is innocent, but they've kept this knowledge to themselves. And those men sleep, and they have wives and children they love.

One speaks of the "honor of the Army." The Army is the people of France themselves. And the Dreyfus affair is a matter pertaining to that Army. Dreyfus cannot be vindicated without condemning the whole General Staff. That is why the General Staff has screened Esterhazy -- to demolish Dreyfus once more.

Such, then, Mr. President, is the simple truth. It is a fearful truth. But I affirm with intense conviction: The truth is on the march, and nothing will stop it.

Mr. President:

I accuse Colonel Dort of having been the diabolical agent of the affair, and of continuing to defend his deadly work through three years of revolting machinations.

I accuse the Minister of War of having concealed decisive proofs of the innocence of Dreyfus.

I accuse the Chief of Staff and the Assistant Chief of Staff of being accomplices in the same crime.

I accuse the Commander of the Paris Garrison of the most monstrous partiality.

I accuse the War Office of having viciously led a campaign to misdirect public opinion and cover up its sins.

I accuse the first court-martial of violating all human rights and condemning a prisoner on testimony kept secret from him.

And finally, I accuse the Esterhazy court-martial of covering up this illegality by order, thus, in turn, committing the judicial crime of acquitting a guilty man.

In making these accusations, I am aware that I render myself open to prosecution for libel. But, that does not matter. The action I take is designed only to hasten the explosion of truth and justice.

Let there be a trial in the full light of day!

I am waiting.






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HTML transcription by Michael E. Eidenmuller.