Today my daughter and I did what we traditionally do on those federal holidays that we get off but most people don’t — we went to a museum. Today’s destination was the Newseum, which turned out to have a couple of displays located at the intersection of law and the military. Included in the “G-Men and Journalists” exhibit was a small display about the 1942 German saboteur operation that resulted in the Supreme Court’s Ex Parte Quirin opinion. 317 U.S. 1 (1942). The display included one of the desks used in the courtroom set up in Main Justice to try to saboteurs by military commission. It also included J. Edgar Hoover’s courtroom access pass. That exhibit is temporary, but will remain on display through 2011. A permanent exhibit called “The First Amendment Gallery” includes two of Captain Simcha Goldman’s yarmulkes. See Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986). The museum also displays other artifacts of legal but non-military interest, including the armband worn by Mary Beth Tinker, one of the successful petitioners in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969).
Also this weekend, I finished Louis Begley’s Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters. It starts slowly and the last chapter is dreadful, but I nevertheless recommend the book. It traces the improbable events that shook the French Army and society in the last decade of the nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth centuries–events that famously led Georges Clemenceau to observe: “It suffices to add ‘military’ to a word for it to lose its meaning. Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.” That quotation doesn’t appear in Begley’s book, but the sentiment surely does as it examines the command influence, nationalism, and anti-Semitism that led an innocent Jewish captain to be twice convicted by court-martial while the General Staff protected the Catholic major who actually had sold French military secrets to the Germans.
For those of you who, like me, aren’t fully conversant with the Dreyfus affair, it’s useful to read the chronology at the end of the book (215-28) before reading the rest. I discovered it after reading the first chapter and found it helpful in following the rest of the narrative. Unfortunately, I overlooked the “cast of characters” sketches at pages 205-13 until I was almost finished; the “cast of characters” section would have helped me as I struggled to recollect exactly who, say, Paléologue was as his and similarly Gallic names reappear in the narrative. But here’s my best piece of advice. Stop reading and consider the book complete at page 186. Don’t read Chapter 5, most of which consists of–and I’m not making this up–an extended plot narrative of Proust’s posthumously published Jean Santeuil. For anyone who actually cares about Jean Santeuil, I would imagine that a 15-page plot synopsis is unnecessary. For those like me who don’t, a 15-page plot summary is painful. Chapter 4 ends with insightful speculation about what motivated Dreyfus’s actions after his vindication. Chapter 5 ends with an overwrought comparison of the Dreyfus affair and the Bush Administration’s post-9/11 policies. Chapter 4 offers a far more satisfying conclusion.