Phalanx & Politics

“Oh, c’mon. Can you ever “solve” poverty? Can you ever “solve crime? Can you ever “solve” disease, unemployment, war, or any other societal herpes? Hell no. All you can hope for is to make them manageable enough to allow people to get on with their lives. That’s not cynicism, that’s maturity. You can’t stop the rain. All you can do is just build a roof that you hope won’t leak, or at least won’t leak on the people who are gonna vote for you.” (Brooks, 61)

In this passage, Grover Carlson, a fuel collector in Texas and former White House Chief of Staff, discusses Phalanx, the placebo that was introduced to calm the hysteria of the masses in response to “African rabies.” When the interviewer mentions that the problem wasn’t actually solved, Carlson responds with the above passage.

Image result for placebo pill

Carlson’s colloquialisms in phrases such as, “Oh, c’mon”; “gonna”; “Hell no.” point to his casual tone and dismissive attitude. He seems to be both self-confident and pompous, evident in his asking of questions and responding to them by himself. Carlson asks if poverty, crime, disease, unemployment, or war can be solved. The repetition of the word “solve” emphasizes its true meaning of being able to completely repair an issue. Because of this repetition, the reader immediately understands that the societal issues being mentioned are too complex to be fully repaired. Issues such as poverty and unemployment and disease are dependent on a number of factors, and Carlson seems to imply that “African rabies” is as well. The phrase “societal herpes” provides a vivid image, since it associates societal issues with an infection that is often uncontrolled and cannot be immediately suppressed.

Carlson suggests that the containment of “African rabies” and the hysteria associated with it is crucial to its possibility of being “managed.” He states that it cannot be “solved” but only “managed.” What Carlson seems to suggest is that the appearance of the disease is what must be managed, if not the disease itself, because the latter cannot be “solved.”

African rabies here serves as a comprehensive metaphor for societal issues that are often perpetuated because the root causes are not targeted. One example would be the cycle of poverty in the US. Impoverished areas often lack enough funding for schooling and healthcare which affects the entrance of low-income individuals into the job market. The cycle of poverty perpetuates because the basic resources required to maximize one’s capability are essentially limited by the political system. Similarly, “African rabies” is not actually solved but simply covered up through Phalanx. Thus, through Carlson’s words, Max Brooks seems to be making larger statement about the political institutions in the US.

Image result for cycle of poverty

Carlson calls accepting this prejudiced system “maturity” and invokes the vivid metaphor of building a roof and hoping it won’t leak or at least leak on the voting base. Phalanx serves as the roof that is being built to reduce the leaking, or the public hysteria, and the voting base comprises those who truly matter in society. This passage is significant because it seems to represent the opinion of an authority figure who shows no remorse for injecting a placebo into the market, and in fact, states that the disease cannot be solved, and so it must be hoped that the public does not discover the truth. Brooks seems to use this passage to make a candid statement about the corruption, secrecy, and disparities of the US political system.


Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Broadway Books, 2006.



2 thoughts on “Phalanx & Politics

  1. When I was reading this passage, I also noticed the colloquial language that Grover Carlson uses while describing such a serious situation as the zombie war. I thought that the incongruity between his language and his status as former White House Chief of Staff, one of the highest positions in the executive branch, suggests political commentary on the focus on appearances and the lack of sincerity in the government. Also, I would go further than the idea of lack of control to say that his comparison of societal issues with “herpes” demonstrates a contemptuous and condescending attitude toward the nation and its citizens, because herpes often has a connotation of promiscuity and irresponsibility. Rather than genuinely attempting to help the people, he instead distances himself from the situation by using the image of “societal herpes,” again revealing a lack of responsibility the government has for its people. I agree that the metaphor of the leaking roof reveals that, to political leaders, the voting base contains the people who truly matter in society. I also think that it demonstrates what truly matters to the political leaders themselves; having a large voting base equates to acquiring power and wealth. Overall, I agree that this passage seems to comment on the corruption of a government that is made up of people who only care about their selfish interests, with no genuine concern for the people.


  2. Hi!
    I enjoyed reading your post.
    Your point about how issues such as poverty and unemployment and disease are dependent on many different factors was interesting. In the passage, the repetition of the word “solve” brings up the point that there are many issues in this book (as well as society in general), such as poverty, unemployment, and disease. Often, in present day, we try to “solve poverty” as a whole, but people forget that those kinds of issues are interconnected with others. It’s not possible to solve just poverty. Solving poverty would mean having to solve sanitation issues, employment issues, and many more. It’s not merely an issue of trying to solve poverty instead of trying to improve the overall quality of life so that issues like poverty aren’t as much of a concern. I feel that the solution to solving poverty, unemployment, or disease would be to not only target one issue, but also to target the broader spectrum of all issues combined.


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