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French Military Justice and the Aernoult-Rousset Affair
A dramatic story about military justice with implications for today
“Although the Aernoult-Rousset affair has been examined by others, no one else has placed it fully in context, both the political controversy and the long tradition of military justice. Cerullo’s style has verve and zest. He has organized the material skillfully and even creates a modicum of suspense.”—Benjamin F. Martin,Louisiana State University
On February 11, 1912, an estimated 120,000 people in Paris participated in a ceremony that was at once moving and macabre: a public procession to Père Lachaise cemetery, where the remains of a soldier named Albert Aernoult were incinerated following a series of angry speeches denouncing the circumstances of his death. This ceremony occurred at a pivotal point in the “Aernoult-Rousset Afair,” a tumultuous, three-year agitation over the practice of French military justice labeled by contemporaries a “proletarian Dreyfus Affair.”
Aernoult had died on July 2, 1909, in one of the French Army’s Algerian penal camps, allegedly at the hands of his officers. His death came to the attention of the public through the intervention of a fellow prisoner, a career criminal named Émile Rousset, who had provoked prosecution in a military court in order to launch his own “J’Accuse” against camp officers. Rousset’s charges had seemed to be bearing fruit, until he himself was indicted for murder in September 1911. At that point, the entire Affair took on a new intensity—an intensity reflected in the massive turnout at Aernoult’s funeral.
Military prosecutors, convinced that Rousset was a predator with a genius for gaming France’s military-justice system, built a powerful case against him. His supporters, for their part, campaigned in the legislature, in the press, in court, and on the street, using the interlocked Aernoult and Rousset cases to shine a very public light on the “judicial minotaur” that was, in their view, the military jurisdiction.
Cerullo’s lively, suspenseful account of this dramatic story, which has never been fully told, will become the standard. Minotaur will interest historians of modern France; military historians; students of military justice; legal scholars; and general readers of modern European history.
John Cerullo is Professor of Modern European History at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester.
(2010) 298 pp., 16 illus.
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