“The Foundation”, Andrew Leon Hudson, 2014.
The paradox of this story is that World War One, the war that has been blamed for shattering the self-confidence of Western Civilization and weakening the political and literal immunological systems of millions and exposing them to totalitarian plagues and the Spanish Flu, is not even a memory.
The Great War here exists only in mystical visions and in the memory of a political elite.
The plot is simple enough. At some point in some alternate timeline, the narrator, Karl, and the construction crew he heads up, get on a steam train and travel to the Westerly Fields.
The land is beautiful. As different from my home as a land could be, but still beautiful. No high mountains, no deep forests, no undulating valleys; it stretches to the horizon as smooth and level as an ocean, high lush grass its waves. From time to time islands break the endless green; there, a great, lone tree, heavy branches sweeping the ground like a cloud of leaves; hours later another, surrounded by saplings like a mother with her children; and, as night falls, a cluster of low stone walls, last small remnants of ancient buildings, and we all crowd to one side of the carriage to point and wonder who might have once lived in this vast garden, long forgotten.
At a construction site, Karl meets an old friend, a fellow engineer named Gerhardt. Gerhardt reveals that Karl’s crew is there to build the foundation for a massive statue hundreds of feet high:
… a strident figure, noble in form, classic in style: an archetypal warrior, naked but for crested helmet, pleated skirts and sandalled feet, one hand resting on the pommel of the sword sheathed on its hip.
And the mysterious monument is to have a viewing area where, on a particular date, an assembled group from the Empire’s elite will watch the sun rise along the trailing leg of the statue, behind the torso and up the upstretched arm and balance itself on its palm.
The date? “Eleven, eleven, eleven.”
Neither Karl or Gerhardt have any idea of the significance of the date which in our world is, of course, associated with the armistice that ended the Great War.
As Karl digs on the site with his men (evidently this world doesn’t have backhoes or other mechanical digging equipment), he begins to have dreams and visions. His shovel begins to dig not in dirt but “bodies, corpses with familiar faces, parting with softness of flesh and the splintering of ribcages beneath our blunt, heavy blades.”
He begins to have visions in the day that other men, men of sunken eyes and grey flesh, men not of his crew, are digging with him.
Why, Karl asks Gerhardt, are they on a secret project in a deserted land, land preserved by emperors for who knows how long?
“Maybe … there is something historical here, of powerful interest to the imperial family, which he now wishes to acknowledge in this grand way. Whatever it is, our duty is to obey, and make his wishes actual.”
“What do we seek to memorialize in ignorance?” asks Karl.
As he continues to dig, in an unwitting, unphysical archaeology, Karl sees a dying soldier. And that soldier blends into a mystical, waking vision of vast and forgotten and mechanical forces at work in a past war. It is a vision of two warring giants, machines composed of smaller parts .
Karl’s final meditation and question, as he continues work on the Foundation, is how so many dead men were not only lost to war but memory.
Hudson story is enigmatic. Why are the Westerly Fields vacant? Did the German Empire win the war in this timeline? Did they depopulate the land they conquered? And why wipe the memory of victory out?
Hudson has done something rather remarkable in this story. Yes, he, like so many authors, has used World War One as a metaphor. But it is an unusual, startling metaphor that brings to mind the fumbling and forbidden attempt by those in totalitarian regimes to capture memories of history. And it is audacious to imagine a history where the Great War is the Forgotten War.
World War One Content
- Living Memory: No.
- On-Stage War: Yes — via mystical vision.
- Belligerent Area: No.
- Home Front: No.
- Veteran: No.