1. The Old Man
Years later, long after the events that so scarred the continent had faded, Karl Lattamore enjoyed relating to his grandchildren one of those memories that takes on meaning only in retrospect. It was a story about a man who visited Karl’s hometown a decade or so before the war. At that time Karl was a big burly adolescent whose life revolved around roughhousing and troublemaking. Indeed, he cared so little about his education that his father wanted him to quit school and get a job in the local foundry, but his mother insisted that he stay put. She carried the day because of a recently-passed law that mandated compulsory education for everyone sixteen years old and under. But although his mom and the government could compel his attendance, no one could make him learn anything between the pages of a book.
One spring day Karl’s teacher introduced his class to a friend of his visiting from the capital. He was a sallow young man, probably in his late twenties, with a bowler cap, lounge suit, neat mustache, and hair parted down the middle of his square-shaped head. He informed the students that remarkable and beneficial things were happening in the world. He asked them to consider some of the great technological advances that had taken place over the past few decades: telegraph wires that transmitted information almost instantaneously, railroads that transferred people and goods quickly over long distances, photographs to freeze memories in place, and electricity that brought artificial light into homes and businesses. He informed them that there was more technology on its way to further transform their small community for the better. He discussed machines that played sound, internal combustion engines for horseless vehicles, typewriters that promoted faster and clearer communications, and moving pictures. When one boy asked about military technology, the man referenced new weapons such as bolt action rifles, machine guns, and breech-loading artillery to keep the savage tribesmen in the southern wastelands at bay. These changes, he continued, were not just materialistic. He explained that people in the capital were exploring new ways to understand the mind, space and time, and humanity’s origins.
The thing that Karl remembered the most about the man’s speech, though, was his contention that these advances marked a new epoch for humanity. Economic interdependence, advanced technology, universal education, and rationalized thinking were changing both society and individuals into something better than before. Progress, he intoned, was displacing not only hunger, conflict, and disease, but also sin, shame, and guilt. He looked around the room conspiratorially, touched his heart, and said, “It turns out that God was inside of us all along – we just didn’t know it until now.”
At this point of the story, a gnarled and wrinkled Karl invariably lifted his shirt to show his grandkids the long jagged scar on his torso that they knew he had acquired during the Allerian War. Pointing at each child for emphasis, he always said, “Progress can’t change what’s in people’s hearts.”