This story is about war. THE war. It's about its beginning, its middle and its end. I warn you, this tale is not a beautiful one. Many believe that it was the greatest lesson, the one where we learned how far we as humans could go. But I tell this story in the hope that future generations can learn to change. But that is only hope, and in the end, what does it really do for us?"
“Perhaps man’s greatest mental faculties are our imagination and our creativity. Our imagination led us to believe that man would one day fly. Our creativity enabled us to build ships that sailed the skies. Man has made paintings that are more vivid than reality. We have written books that capture the minds of generations. We have even used creativity to make the most beautiful art of all: music. Renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once said, 'Imagination is more important than knowledge.' Say what you will about Einstein and his peculiarities, he saw the truth behind our potential.”
Professor Ethan stopped speaking and looked over the class. The pause pulled us out of a collective reverie. He had barely started speaking, but he already had our undivided attention. It was like he was a squeaky toy and we were a large overactive dog. He was slim, tall and had dark hair that contrasted his bright blue eyes. He wore a plain long-sleeved shirt with dark jeans and black boots. The men in the crowd admired him for his powerful demeanor, the women for his solid grace. The women also admired him for another quality, one that the men couldn’t quite appreciate.
He looked over us like a man surveying a new plot of land that he had just bought. In many ways we were just that. He owned us and we knew it. More importantly, he knew it as well. He could control our thoughts; make them weave one direction then another, all with the power of his baritone and his words.
“There are around 100 people here today. Some of you are here to listen to tales of how my actions have shaped the world as we know it today. Some of you are here seeking to gain wisdom. There are even those who are here purely for entertainment.” He gave another dramatic pause. “But there is one thing that connects all of you together. One thread that that gives you a common purpose.” He gave a knowing smile. “You’re here because of me.”
“I started today’s lecture with a little spiel about imagination and creativity. Can anyone here tell me why?” He looked curiously over the crowd. The question made us uneasy. We had all heard stories about Ethan, The People’s Champion. He was a popular subject among the survivors of The War. Everyone here heard stories of his life. We knew he was smart, always one step ahead. One of his more popular stories was how he escaped The Thos in Europe. He was the only target to ever elude them. It’s hard to think of him as a professor asking us a question. After a few terse moments, we began to realize that we weren’t going to get anywhere through silence. Finally, one of us mustered the courage to speak up.
“Because creativity is important?” It was a blonde girl on the third row. She started off bold as brass but ended with an upward inflection, turning her answer into an unconfident question. Ethan grinned.
“A safe answer, but I’ll take it.” He began to pace, unconsciously gesturing with his hands. “We’re going to be spending the next four months together. In that time, I will try to teach you a great myriad of different things. You will learn about our history, how The War started, and how we survived.” He stopped and looked us over while we scribbled down his words. With our limited resources, we knew that this was the closest thing we were going to get to a class syllabus. We looked up and his expression darkened. “Despite all that, it’s as useless as cow shit. The most you can do with the knowledge I give you is hope that it makes good fertilizer and that something grows because of it.”
The sudden change in his mood and tone caught us off guard. In the beginning of the class, we had no idea what to expect. But no one thought that he would tell us that what we were going to learn was useless. But Ethan smiled a wide smile, like a child playing a prank on unsuspecting adults.
“There’s only one thing that is truly important in my class. It’s the one thing that I want you to take away. It’s subtle in its concept and terribly complex in its execution.” He hesitated. “The only thing – no. No wait.” He gave a great gusting sigh and gave us an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, I’m doing this all wrong.” He shook his head, slightly irritated. “I can stand here and tell you what it is. In fact, I can tell you in a single simple sentence. You’ll go home, tell your friends and family what you learned in my class and you’ll think that you know what it means. Some of you actually might. But none of you willunderstand.
There is a bold line between knowing and understanding. Hopefully at the end of the term all of you will know. A special few will be in right on the line, the demilitarized safe zone between the two. But I bet that none of you will understand.” Professor Ethan had been pacing then and stopped abruptly, as if noticing it only then. He turned and looked at us. “We are not limited by race, by sex or by size. We are not limited by our talents or skills. We are not limited by our experiences, our circumstances or even our knowledge. No. We are limitedonlyby our creativity.”
“There are a lot of disagreements about the causes of the war. Some say it was because The United States was too stubborn, and jumped into the fray too late. Some thought that political systems around the world changed unsustainably. Some thought it was because of the rampant corruption in Southeast Asia, African pirates, The Recession and the most popular of all, the worldwide loss of oil.” Ethan grinned and gave a slight chuckle. “Professor Alvin across the hall, in fact, is a great fan of the theory that it was the inevitable semi-apocalypse. He believes,” he said, adding a slight British accent, “that ‘The War was actually an event that was meant to clean this old world of the human population, allowing it to heal itself and become the planet it was years before we fucked it up.’” He stopped abruptly and snapped his head up at us, looking shocked. We laughed and he gave a shaky, embarrassed smile, talking normally again. “Seeing as it almost did wipe us out completely, one could see the merits to his argument.”
He started pacing again, wearing a thoughtful expression. He brought his hand up to his chin and rubbed absentmindedly. We used the lull to add some extra points to our notes. He seemed to be thinking about what he was going to say next.
“Um, excuse me sir.” It was a boy in the back of the class. He was older than most of us, 24. He had a large, terrifying scar that ran from the top of his right eyebrow down to the bottom of his left cheek. It was as if someone had hacked at his face using a hatchet, narrowly missing his eyes. He cleared his throat self-consciously as we all turned to look at him. He raised his voice. “I was just wondering what you thought sir. About the cause of the war, I mean.”
“Ah.” Ethan said with an odd inflection. “That’s a good question.” It was as if it startled him. He frowned. “I suspect they all played a major part in causing The War. But I’ve found that it is easier to blame other countries or circumstances that are beyond our control. We are so blinded by the horror of what happened that we cannot see that at the time we were too ignorant, too naïve to see what was happening, where it was all leading to. Instead of acknowledging what was happening and doing something about it, we ignored it as best we could.” Despair flashed across Ethan’s face as he looked at us again. This time, his boldness and his swagger was replaced by the posture one assumes when trying to express guilt: a hunched back, with muscles not quite relaxing or tensing, but sagging helplessly. “For that, I apologize to you young ones. It is because of our folly that you are named The Lonely Generation.”
“To truly understand what caused the war, I’m going to take you back. When cars weren’t an extravagant luxury, but a basic necessity. When entertainment came to us easily through our fingertips, which were perpetually connected to some machine. But I can’t tell you how other people lived. I can only tell you my story, so that’s how we’ll start.” He took a deep breath. “The year is 2020…”