Tuesday 14 August 2012

World War Z - it might be closer than we think

In World War I the world fought imperialism. In World War II it opposed the Nazis. In World War Z, however, humanity is facing a somewhat more elusive enemy. How do you defeat someone, who cannot be killed because he is already dead?

World War Z is exactly what the title says - an oral history of the zombie war, a war set in the nearby future, which nearly eradicated humanity as we know it. Brooks is a journalist from the United Nations, whose role is to supplement the official 'facts and figures' report of the zombie war with a personal touch. That is, the 10-years-after account of the war lacked any human perspective;it was merely a historical representation of the war events. Brooks feels the human component is vital to the story - as already discussed human memory is fleeting and fragile. Without the personal story of the survivors, humanity will easily forget and eventually face the same problem again. Thus, the journalist goes on a global adventure to interview people from differen countries, social classes, and ages, who have fought and survived the Zombie War. The whole novel is set in the form of personal interviews and the variety of voices and characters forms a complete picture of what the world would look like if faced with an epidemic of that scale.

The body-eating, crawling, grotesque zombies are indeed cool but don't let Brooks's novel fool you that easily. More than a post-apocalyptic horror tale, World War Z uses a zombie outbreak as a metaphor for any of the challenges we currently experience (poverty, global warming, diseases, terrorism). It starts quite naturally - in a remote village in a third world country as a virus (resembling quite closely the outbreak of AIDS for example). The developped countries' politicans act as they have always had - completely ignoring whatever is happening outside their well organized countries. Placebos start appearing while the politicans close their eyes, following a rather common but obviously unsuccessful approach - as long as we ignore the problem, it doesn't exist. As with many other contemporary challenges, the moment to theoretically control and stop the disease was long past when the men of power finally realized there was something to be done. Zombies (terrorism, aids, global warming, you name it) already spread across all continents threatening to destroy a race that fallaciously (still) believes it is superior to nature. We are born and raised with the idea that humanity cannot seize to exist since we are too clever to do so. Unfortunately, Brooks shows that with the current political, economic, and social order, we are absolutely unprepared to face any major problem with a global outreach.

So the Great Panic is a fact. From the USA to Russia and from the Nordics to Africa governments realize something must be done. The first reactions are political - the Pakistani blame the Israeli, South Korea starts feeling threatened by North Korea, and the USA and Russia feel the great urge to resume the Cold War. At times Brooks is terribly smart (and unfortunately right). Quite a long time is lost in the zombie war (as in many other conflicts) when countries point their fingers at each other instead of at the common enemy. Meanwhile, the undead are rising and slowly threatening to overwhelm the living. Surprisingly (or maybe not; totally depends on your political orientation) the rather totalitarian countries such as North Korea and Russia are the first ones to successfully start defeating the zombies. I am not advocating for any particular regime but people in that countries always had what it took to fight - a sense they were belonging to their country and a patriotic feeling, which made them proud to die in the hands of a zombie so that the great Mother Russia can survive. The individualist capitalistic society of the USA was the most severely hurt. Suddenly the smart white-collared CEOs and CFOs became redundant. What society needed was strong and skillful workers. The plumber became higher than the manager. Brooks ingeniously shows how quickly social order can be reversed in times of crisis and how the people that think themselves indispensable to the economic development of the world will be the first ones to take on the zombie skin.

As with all wars, there are winners and there are losers. Although in Brooks' world it seemed as if the whole world was the loser. Yes, indeed some nations (especially the Nordics, since zombies tend to freeze in low temperatures) did better than others (I am not saying it but I indeed point to the Americans) but overall the result was a mass anarchy and chaos, several hundreds of millions dead (or undead) and major disatisfaction and lost of faith in the ruling governments. What will happen if the world is faced ever with such a devastation? Brooks gives a similar answer to McCarthy in his apocalyptic novel The Road:WE ARE NOT PREPARED.

Falaciously we believe we can survive and beat any disaster that comes our way. Hurricanes and earthquakes have shown us mother nature is and always will be more powerful. The War on Terror has clearly proved that politicans are more concerned with their public face instead of with making the right decisions. The great talks of cooperation and help will be over instantly the moment humanity faces an unknown enemy. At that point it will be every man for himself.

Entertaining, witty, ironic, and humurous, Brooks's World War Z is a must read for anyone with a least a bit of common sense, who is not blinded by big words and fallacious promises. On the plus side, there are some great zombie moments, which made even me look with suspicion behind my back. Strongly recommended!

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