Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Peter Pouncey

Peter Pouncey was born in Tsingtao, China, of English parents. At the end of World War II, after several dislocations and separations, the family reassembled in England, and Pouncey was educated there in boarding schools and at Oxford. He is a classicist, former dean of Columbia College, and president emeritus of Amherst College.

From a Q & A about his first novel Rules for Old Men Waiting, at the Random House website:

Rules for Old Men Waiting deals largely with wars of the twentieth century. What is your first memory of war?

I have written in a memoir that I’m working on, called The Broken Times, about coming to myself near the pleasantly peaceful city of Victoria, British Columbia, on the southern point of Vancouver Island. We had washed up there, looking across the water at Mount Baker, at the outbreak of World War II, and were there through the war. It was fine for us children, but a desperately anxious time for our mother: “Bereft of her husband incommunicado with Chiang Kai-shek’s government in the far west of China, of her father and brother in a Japanese interment camp near Shanghai, and of her own mother in the blitz in London, my mother listened in the kitchen to the BBC news, hearing the Axis extending its reach through the world on an ever-widening front. We three children listened with her in silence, sensing her fear, and fearing it.”

How do the wars of the twentieth century relate to our times?

There is no question that the follies of 20th century are the same as our own. The scale of consequences rises: recently we celebrated 150 years since the Charge of the Light Brigade. On that day English cavalry charged the Turkish artillery batteries in the Crimea, and only 195 out of 600 returned. On the first of July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, there were 67,000 British casualties before lunch — waves of perhaps the finest volunteer force ever assembled sent as infantry across level ground into the teeth of modern machine guns, some of whose barrels became red-hot with the ceaseless slaughter they were dishing out. The pattern is in fact invariably the same: the generals and politicians almost never know what they are sending their men into. It was the same with Athens, in the middle of the war that would destroy her: she decides in 415 BCE to send another expedition to conquer Sicily. An army of 40,000 prime troops and a fleet of 200 ships were comprehensively destroyed. Jingoistic slogans seem almost always to win out over considered thought.
Read the entire interview.

The Page 99 Test: Rules for Old Men Waiting.

--Marshal Zeringue