Assuming Fear in the Enemy

The narrator interviews Todd Wainio, a former U.S. Army infrantryman who fought in the battle at Yonkers, a failed attempt to show the public that the government had the zombie crisis under control:

Sure, we were unprepared, our tools, our training, everything I just talked about, all one class-A, gold-standard clusterfuck, but the weapon that really failed wasn’t something that rolled off an assembly line. It’s as old as… I don’t know, I guess as old as war. It’s fear, dude, just fear and you don’t have to be Sun freakin Tzu to know that real fighting isn’t about killing or even hurting the other guy, it’s about scaring him enough to call it a day […] what did we call the first round of Gulf War Two, “Shock and Awe”? (Brooks 103-4)

Through Wainio’s explanation of why the battle was such a failure, Max Brooks criticizes the poor military policy of the U.S. government and comments on the government’s inelastic expectations of fear in humanity. For example, Wainio describes that “real fighting” occurs when one manipulates the opponent with fear. His absolute diction in the use of the word “real” highlights the rigid assumptions of the government—that in any “real” battle, the enemy will respond to the use of fear as a weapon. At Yonkers, the government’s failure to realize that the zombie war did not follow the government’s definition of a “real” battle reflects Brooks’ commentary on the U.S. government’s illogical black-and-white perspective on affairs outside its familiar borders.

Brooks uses Wainio’s dialogue as a symbol for the government’s policy stance to reveal how the government bases its weaponry and tactics on the assumption that every enemy is capable of feeling fear. For instance, Wainio implies that war has always correlated with fear, even before the use of those weapons “that rolled off an assembly line.” The image of the assembly line implies standardization and familiarity; if fear is more basic than weapons built on the assembly line, there is an implication that fear should have been the most instinctual response in any battle. Wainio’s confident and even arrogant tone when describing the aspect of fear in war—as shown by his disregard for Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist who wrote The Art of War—reflects the presumptuous attitude of the U.S. government in its military endeavors.


Fires in Baghdad during the U.S. “Shock and Awe” campaign, which Brooks parallels with the battle at Yonkers (Image taken from

As a result of these assumptions, the U.S. government in World War Z depended on machinery and technology that were “class-A, gold-standard,” descriptions that imply reliability and invincibility. Ironically however, the assault ended in failure, and Wainio’s biting tone reveals his disapproval of the government’s plan for the battle. Paralleling this attitude to the failed Yonkers battle, Brooks alludes to the “Shock and Awe” campaign during the Iraq war as a historical example of the government’s failure in military policy when acting on assumptions. Through this example, Brooks criticizes the impracticality of military tactics and the American government’s inability to adapt to new situations because of its assuming attitudes.



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