In Max Brooks’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, he explores a variety of scenarios occurring before and during the global Zombie War. Most of his fictional report deals with the spread of zombies and humanity’s efforts to survive against the living dead. However, a running theme throughout the novel is violence within the ranks of the living. This violence runs through the entire book, appearing on small domestic scales, primarily during the Great Panic, up to nuclear warfare, and everything in between.
Before the Great Panic, violence in the book is relatively minimal and focused on two primary conflicts. First is Taiwan Strait Incident. Detailed Bob Archer, director of the CIA, China orchestrated the Taiwan Strait Incident. This is an implied conflict between China and Taiwan, with tensions building between their respective allies. Director Archer says, when asked about the Chinese cover-up for the Walking Plague outbreak, “…the whole Taiwan Strait incident: the victory of the Taiwan National Independence Party, the assassination of the PRC defense minister, the build-up, the war threats, the demonstrations, and subsequent crackdowns were engineered by the Ministry of State Security and all of it was to divert the world’s eye from the real danger growing within China.
”l As their people rose from the dead and attacked, the Chinese began to crack down and eliminate the threat, but in what appears to be fear of international misunderstanding of their actions or for fear of seeming vulnerable they orchestrate the early stages of a conflict to cover themselves.
In addition to this, Brooks uses the character, Saladin Kader to illustrate the fictionalized continuation of an all too omnipresent conflict in the real world, Kader begins his interview by explaining his time as a young member of the Palestinian diaspora, living in Kuwait. When his father decides to take the Israeli Government on their offer of asylum, Kader does not believe in risen dead, much less seeking shelter from his people’s historic enemy, eventually deciding to join the Jihadi organization, “the Children of Yassin.”2 The fact that Kader considers this shows the slow spread of the virus and the even slower spread of a willingness amongst the population to accept its existence. Even as outbreaks become more and more frequent, pre-war grudges and conflicts continue. When his father prevents this and takes Kader to Israel, they experience the other notable pre-war conflict. Kader recounts his family’s travel northward into Israel, “There was shooting, from the windows, doorways. I could see that it was soldiers versus civilians, civilians with guns or homemade bombs.” He later details the experience of being pulled into a Starbucks by an IDF soldier, later killed shielding the Kader family from a grenade. To Kader’s surprise, the man who had thrown that grenade was Jewish, rather than Arab, and what he was witnessing was not a Palestinian attack, but an Israeli civil war, sparked by the retreat from Jerusalem and acceptance of the Palestinian refugees. This conflict is a clear sign of continued unwillingness to accept the changes needed to survive the coming zombie war. Here the conflict stems from millennia-old grudges. Realistically, this kind of ethnic conflict would lead to infighting despite a greater and more immediate threat.
The second form of violence that the living brings against themselves before and during the Zombie War is within or between families building up to, and during, the Great Panic. The first example of this that Brooks presents is once again recounted by Saladim Kader. When Kader announced to his family that he planned to join the Children of Yassin.
His father, whom Kader, assumed to be weak reacted aggressively to his son’s attempt to stay away from the safety of Israel. Kader’s father lashed out, as he recounts, “I saw something in his eyes, something I didn’t recognize, and then suddenly he was on me, a lightning whirlwind that threw me up against the wall, slapped me so hard my left ear rang… His next slap sent my vision flashing white. ‘YOU WILL LEAVE WITH THIS FAMILY OR YOU WILL NOT LEAVE THIS ROOM ALIVE!’” In this scene, Kader’s father sees the threat of the coming war and has tried to make his son see reason with reason, but his son only wants the violence of fighting for what he believes in. To this end, Kader’s father responds to violence with violence, attacking his son to scare him, successfully, into giving up his Jihadi aspirations and fleeing to safety in Israel. This further demonstrates human nature is under imminent threat. Kader’s father came to the base most instinct of resolving conflict with violence while simultaneously indulging his parental instinct to make his family safe. The second instance of this more domestic form of violence is narrated by Sharon, a woman who spent much of the war alone as a feral child in the wild wreckage of the continental United States. In Sharon’s account of the night she was left on her own she says, “Abbie cried hard. Mrs. Cormode picked her up. [she mimes lifting something or someone and swinging them against the wall.] Abbie stopped… “Shhh… it’s okay, baby, it’s okay…'[Her hands move down from her face to her throat, tightening into a strangling grip.] ‘I won’t let the get you. I WON’T LET THEM GET YOU!” Here another form of parental response rears an uglier head. Faced with a seemingly insurmountable threat, Sharon’s mother attempts to strangle her, and Abbie’s mother brain’s her against a wall. This demonstrates a sense of futility made easier by the opportunity to end another’s suffering. These examples are vastly different from one another. However, each stems from a parental instinct to provide as much comfort and mercy for one’s child as possible, whether that was seeking shelter with a former enemy or attempting to give them a less terrifying and painful demise.
Finally comes, the more official or larger scale acts of violence during the Great Panic. From independent civilian sieges to full-blown nuclear war, the violence expanded alongside the threat of the living dead. First, Brooks introduces the reader to Maria Zhuganova, a Russian army veteran who survived not only the Zombie War but the series of concurrent Russian military purges known as “decimations.” She first describes her and her fellow soldiers’ angry reaction to discovering how they had been kept in the dark about the Zombie threat. Until the man leading the uprising was gunned down to restore order. The Spetsnaz proceeded to order a decimation, execution of one-tenth of the force by the other nine-tenths.
She explains the decimation purpose, “Brilliance. Sheer fucking brilliance. Conventional executions might have reinforced discipline, might have restored order from the top down, but by making us all accomplices, they held us together not just by fear, but by guilt as well.”? This demonstrates a different use of violence, where violence is used to maintain order, rather than spawning in its absence. This is historically predictable. In times of crisis, governments have often turned to threats of violence to control their troops. Brooks is spot on in his interpretation of intra-military response in the face of the greatest threat in human history.
Brooks’s second prominent example of larger-scale living on-living violence is narrated by the former mercenary T. Sean Collins, who had briefly worked in a fortified mansion, televising celebrities during the apocalypse. Unsurprisingly this celebrity fortress was besieged by civilians seeking to share in their safety. Collins explains the civilian invasion of the fortress, “They were carrying ladders, guns, babies. A couple of them had these heavy satchels strapped to their backs. They were booking it for the front gate, big tough steel that was supposed to stop a thousand ghouls. The explosion tore them right off their hinges and sent them flipping into the house like giant ninja stars. ‘Fire!’ the boss was screaming into the radio. ‘Knock ’em down! Kill ’em! Shoot shoot shoot!” Here, civilians fought rich civilians in an attempt to take advantage of the shelter. This illustrates another historically grounded reaction to the crisis. Classism has often led to additional conflict amidst a greater conflict. The rich have great resources, which the average person wants an equal share of, leading to conflict between people of different social classes. The last prominent act of violence in the Great Panic is a nuclear exchange, born from a border dispute between Iran and Pakistan, narrated by Major Farahnakian. Thousands of Pakistani and Indian refugees were pouring into Iran, in unsustainable and uncontrolled droves. Iran bombed and destroyed the bridge connecting the two countries. Pakistan saw this as an act of war, destroying all communication between the nations and retaliating with military attacks, leading to repeated retaliation between the two.
Major Farahnakian detailed the last straw, “We created a beast, a nuclear monster that neither side could tame… No one knows how many died in the blasts or would die when the radiation clouds began to spread over our countries, over India, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, over America.” This exchange represents the penultimate act of human warfare. The fear of losing resources to refugees is evident in real refugee crises, and the lack of negotiation brought on by the chaos of a zombie apocalypse, allowed these fears to grow until military action was taken. Of course, with no communication available, it was impossible to negotiate a ceasefire, and the conflict escalated until the most destructive weapons on earth were used repeatedly, destroying to nations. This shows the last sort of vestige of the old world, carrying out war against other living humans, while the dead would eventually prove to be a greater threat.
As panic gripped the human race, in World War Z, Max Brooks, depicted great acts of violence, from domestic violence to nuclear war. Historically violence has accompanied chaos, but Brooks raises the stakes by creating more chaos than any single event in the history of the human race. The Zombie War scenario allows Brooks to create unique, but realistic battles for his character to fight.