The Aernoult-Rousset Affair

Military Justice on Trial in Belle Époque France

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
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French military justice constituted an "exceptional jurisdiction": a legal subsystem designed to serve not justice but discipline, and carefully insulated from external political intervention. Reformers had attempted to ameliorate its harshness. But when the Clemenceau government elected to abort further reforms in 1907-09, it strengthened the case of radicals who insisted that military justice was unreformable by the bourgeois state. Radicals sought not to improve the quality of military justice, but to expose its linkage to the class struggle (i.e., to portray the Army and its courts as devourers of proletarian youth). When Émile Rousset alleged that Albert Aernoult, his fellow prisoner in an Algerian compagnie de discipline, had been beaten to death by guards, he created an opportunity for radicals to advance that agenda. The Aernoult-Rousset Affair (1909-12) did breach the political insularity of French military justice. Yet the Affair's political and juridical outcomes were ambiguous.