I cannot believe World War Z was written AFTER the pandemic – it reads like a satire / political commentary of public response to COVID.
While there is quite a bit that’s compelling to think about from a policy perspective (eg, is it justified to lie to the public to prevent panic? is it justified to sacrifice a few to save many?) – I did not find the story gripping. I got about half way through and stopped reading it.
I was reminded of Ministry of the Future – there’s a global ensemble cast of characters, with loosely connected stories. But there’s not really a complex arc for any one character – for each one, there’s just a life / death survival moment we enter in medias res.
The phrase that comes to mind is: “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”
Notes and quotes…
1028 “You spoiled children think democracy is a God-given right. You expect it, you demand it! Well, now you’re going to get your chance to practice it.”
His exact words, stamped behind my eyelids for the rest of my life.
What did he mean?
We would be the ones to decide who would be punished. Broken up into groups of ten, we would have to vote on which one of us was going to be executed. And then we…the soldiers, we would be the ones to personally murder our friends. They rolled these little pushcarts past us. I can still hear their creaking wheels. They were full of stones, about the size of your hand, sharp and heavy. Some cried out, pleaded with us, begged like children. Some, like Baburin, simply knelt there silently, on this knees, staring right into my face as I brought the rock down into his.
[She sighs softly, glancing over her shoulder at the one-way glass.]
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. We could have said no, could have refused and been shot ourselves, but we didn’t. We went right along with it. We all made a conscious choice and because that choice carried such a high price, I don’t think anyone ever wanted to make another one again. We relinquished our freedom that day, and we were more than happy to see it go. From that moment on we lived in true freedom, the freedom to point to someone else and say “They told me to do it! It’s their fault, not mine.” The freedom, God help us, to say “I was only following orders.”
1272 I know “professional” historians like to talk about how Yonkers represented a “catastrophic failure of the modern military apparatus,” how it proved the old adage that armies perfect the art of fighting the last war just in time for the next one. Personally, I think that’s a big ’ole sack of it. 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. Break their spirit, that’s what every successful army goes for, from tribal face paint to the “blitzkrieg” to…what did we call the first round of Gulf War Two, “Shock and Awe”? Perfect name, “Shock and Awe”! But what if the enemy can’t be shocked and awed? Not just won’t, but biologically can’t! That’s what happened that day outside New York City, that’s the failure that almost lost us the whole damn war. The fact that we couldn’t shock and awe Zack boomeranged right back in our faces and actually allowed Zack to shock and awe us! They’re not afraid! No matter what we do, no matter how many we kill, they will never, ever be afraid!
- Read World War Z by Max Brooks.