Un Vaincu/Introduction


Here is an English translation of a book written in French on the life of General Robert E. Lee and on the Civil War. An American could legitimately ask : ″Why on earth translate from the French a book on Lee and the Civil War when they have already been treated, in English, in so many other interesting books ?

There are several answers to that question, the first being that the book was written in 1875 by my Grandmother, a Frenchwoman, shortly after the end of the Civil War, and of the 1870 war in which Germany had beaten France. She wrote it for her six children when she was 35 years old and dying of tuberculosis, in an effort to enhance the qualities of the current generation of young people -- those who would have to rebuild France.

Another answer is to benefit my numerous and fascinating American stepchildren and step-grandchildren. The members of our family on both sides of the Atlantic feel close to one another and I wanted to give them one more occasion to experience this closeness by concurring with one another in their admiration of the great man Robert E. Lee had been. He was an example of the virtues to be practiced in daily life, and whenever faced with grave and threatening problems, such as we and our descendants will have to tackle.

But there is another reason why this book needs to be translated in English. While working on the translation, and becoming more familiar with the causes, circumstances, and spirit of the Civil War, I was struck by the remarkable similarities : The misunderstandings between the North and South on the one hand, and the current misunderstandings between the USA and Europe on the other. I believe that it would be constructive for young Americans and Europeans to read about and understand these similarities. It would help them gain the equanimity necessary to solve peacefully, and in the best interest of both sides, the disagreements between them.

The Civil War erupted, as all wars basically do, for economic reasons. General Lee was convinced that it could have been avoided if the proper spirit had inspired both North and South. Today, economic rivalry is inspiring misunderstandings and hostile feelings between the USA and Europe. With the fast economic development of China and Japan, which will increase competition, an economic war between the USA and Europe, both worlds of Judeo-Christian culture, will become really a Civil War. Thanks to the atom bomb it will probably not develop into a military one. It could, nevertheless, develop new forms, and cause uncountable miseries and local bloody fights.

Let us, therefore, endeavor to adopt Robert E. Lee's philosophy. The translation of this book is a minute effort in that direction.

Rémi Boissonnas