From the President
Illustration of John C. Bravman, President
Illustration: Joel Kimmel

Reading and Remembrance

There are few things I enjoy more than spending time with a good book. Often those books deal with history, both ancient and modern, because I believe that to be a useful and purposeful citizen you need to have an understanding of history. In years past, I’ve regularly consumed books on World War II, in which my father served. But in the last year, as the days drew nearer to the 100th anniversary of the end of that first world war, I’ve found myself digging into accounts of World War I.
Some are old favorites. Like many high schoolers in the 1970s, I was compelled to read All Quiet on the Western Front, a classic by Erich Maria Remarque that was made into a devastatingly realistic movie in 1930, told from the German point of view. I reread it often.

I recently reread Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, because it is such a powerful work. Fussell tells the story of the war through the voices, lives and writings of four authors — Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and David Jones, analyzing them and their works in an unsparing manner. But he also brings to life “the troglodyte world” of the trenches and reminds us that “this war to end all wars” also introduced the world to chemical warfare.

The Great War book that most resonates with me is R.F. Delderfield’s novel To Serve Them All My Days. The book depicts David Powlett-Jones, a young working-class soldier who returned from the war to teach in a prep school led by gung-ho military officers who did not suffer as he did in the war. He struggles at first in his new role, then becomes a beloved teacher. As the book concludes, World War II is on the horizon, and Powlett-Jones sees war fever returning in the attitudes of those around him. In some small way, I can relate to Powlett-Jones who, like me, unexpectedly becomes an academic, choosing a life of service to students, faculty and alumni.

The Great Swindle, a novel by Pierre Lemaitre, begins just as the war is ending and follows the lives of two French soldiers who, desperate and impoverished, concoct a scheme to swindle money out of families seeking fitting monuments for dead loved ones. The focus on World War I cemeteries and battlefields brings me to the Bucknellians in World War I project, which in the last year and a half has sent two groups of students, faculty and staff to France to locate our own war dead. (You can read more about the latest stage of the project on Page 32.) Those fortunate to be involved with this project will always remember those moments in France and lessons learned. In 2020, they will have the opportunity to contribute to Bucknell in World War I: History and Sources, a book that will make their experiences available to the entire Bucknell family.

One takeaway that I’m sure they will articulate is that history is the altar from which we learn. We don’t need to worship at the altar of history, but we should honor and learn from it. It is the privilege and the duty of academics, especially those entrusted with the teaching of history and literature, to ensure that history, however favorable or unfavorable it may be, is remembered, understood and never forgotten.

Copy of John C. Bravman signature

John C. Bravman