Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In the case of warfare, this especially true. War is more than two sides; war is one nation against another, but it is also one army against itself. Psychological warfare can do as much damage as actual physical warfare, as can be seen in the novel World War Z by Max Brooks. When I place myself in the shoes of the heads of state at the Honolulu conference, I find myself siding with Roosevelt; had I been there, I would have voted in favor of continued fighting. I would have voted against living in fear.
I say this because in the fight against the living dead, humanity could have very well gone extinct, and thus humanity needs to continue to fight to maintain the human spirit as well as the human population. Fighting on allows this to happen, because once humans are able to exterminate the zombie population, Earth can once again be “safe”. As the account from Terry Knox proved, even space was not left untouched by the war on zombies. Success would lead to a sense of security and dominance, and can renew our sense of vitality. Without pursuing the offensive, we lose a key part of our identity and a key value. As the president of the United States asked in World War Z, “yes, our defensive strategies had saved the human race, but what about the human spirit?” (267). If human kind isolates itself and lives in continual fear of a zombie outbreak occurring, there can be no advancement. The human spirit will have died, and the zombies would have unconsciously triumphed. No, as Roosevelt said, we only have to fear fear itself. If we remove the source of the original fear (the zombies), then we remove fear entirely.
The decision to pursue the offensive also allows humans a tactical advantage in the war. By accepting only limited zones and merely maintaining them, we are on the defense. However, by actively pursuing the zombies, we switch roles and become the offensive team. As Ernesto Olguin said, “we had to reclaim the plant,” (267). We also “needed heroes, new names and places to restore our pride,” (314). Tactically speaking, we were now in a better position to win. In most sports, the offensive side is the side who scores points, which ultimately wins the game. In this war, the same is true. While there would have to be sacrifice, “it was finally the beginning of the end.” (282). In this case, the end would be the end of the zombie epidemic, which we have framed as a war. Plus, now that human kind was saved, we finally had the stability and resources necessary to wage an offensive type of warfare. With stable habitable zones, human kind could finally pool together the resources necessary to begin reclaiming land and taking out the zombie population. Even just having a Honolulu conference with the remaining world leaders is a good sign. This means that there is potentially enough coordination to wage a combined war effort. As Joe Muhammad said, “you’ve got to admit that [the war] did bring people together.” (336). As we reclaim land, this allows for the human population to expand, maintain defenses of larger territories, and access more resources, which makes our armies even stronger. Essentially, by finally being able to go on the offense, we are finally able to make a dent in defeating the source of our fear.
Our fear was also artificially both inflated and kept at bay by nature of us framing the zombie conflict as a war rather than an epidemic. It was able to inflate our fear by framing the whole issue as a war. This created a sense of urgency, and a sense of fear of the enemy. War is a violent thing. Along with war comes casualty, and everyone fears becoming a casualty. War disrupts life, and social structure, and politics, and we do not like that. Humanity fears this sort of change, and thus war inflated our terror. However, this framing also kept our fear at bay. Had the zombie conflict been framed as an epidemic instead, our terror could have been even worse. We already fear an enemy we can see and stop, but many of us can hardly stomach the idea of an enemy that we can’t see or detect, and one that we cannot fight with guns or physical force. An epidemic framing may have made the population even more fearful. Because while war is horrifying, a small, insidious virus can be even more frightening. How can one protect their family, their children, neighbors, and friends from a small, non-living strand of DNA and some proteins? The honest answer is that you can’t. War was a simpler way of viewing the situation. There were two distinct sides, humans and zombies. The irony of this all, however, is that the zombies were once humans. The two sides were once one.
This idea of the enemy being oneself definitely had psychological implications for the remaining unturned humans. This is one of the reasons why it is crucial to rid the Earth of infected “Zacks”. No one wants to destroy a grandmother, a son, a former teacher, etc. On the human side, the fight against the undead was psychologically grueling. Many of those interviewed in World War Z claimed that they had to dehumanize the undead in order to be able to kill them. Because really, how different were the living and the undead? Or as Jürgen Warmbrunn stated, “That is the only measurable difference between us and ‘The Undead.’ Their brains do not require a support system to survive, so it is necessary to attack the organ itself.” (35). The whole conflict also brought up the issue of what makes up the self, the personality, and the soul. If the undead had none of these things, then what are we? Why are we here? What makes us different from a monkey or a gold fish? And even further than that, are we still a dominant species? Are our religious doctrines correct? These sort of questions could bring down the morale of many a soldier or civilian. The zombies, without even knowing it, were successfully using mental warfare against us.
When it comes down to a decision between simply maintaining the human population and safe zones, or going on the offensive and trying to reclaim territory and the human spirit, I will always side with going on the offensive. What is the point of living if one is living in constant fear? The zombies may have been intimidating, infectious, and taxing on our limited resources, but what is anything worth if humans can’t even enjoy life? What is better, living life deadened and weakened, or struggling yet persevering? I side firmly with the latter.
Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Crown, 2006. Print.