Zombie researcher and historian Max Brooks' book World War Z details a global zombie apocalypse which pushes human civilization to the brink of extinction. While Brooks covers the reaction of nations and people around the world, particular focus is given to the North American front of World War Z, and the American experience in the Plague Years.
The "Great Denial"
The Zombie virus originated in communist China, and it is loosely implied that it was the result of biological warfare experiments based on captured research from Imperial Japan in the second World War. However, due to a massive Chinese cover up, the first recorded attacks were in South Africa. At first, it was thought that the plague was nothing more than a new strain of rabies. However, infected refugees from China, and then Africa, soon spread the virus to every country on Earth. For about a year, there was no official reaction to the zombies, and the mainstream news ignored it, although an increasing level of rumors began to spread. The virus began to spread in the summer of 2012, and because it was an election year, the current US administration did not want to spread panic over something as fanciful-sounding as a "zombie-virus" so it took no overt action.
What the US government did support was sending in special forces soldiers on covert missions to destroy isolated zombie outbreaks. These so-called "Alpha Teams" operated entirely in secret, but they achieved all of their designated objectives with an incredible degree of success. Early zombie outbreaks tended to happen in the slums of major cities, where infected foreign refugees attempted to hide, and eventually in hospitals, where bite victims were taken. Unfortunately, the Alpha Teams were only ever meant as a stop-gap measure, until the regular Army could be fully mobilized. As this would have required a military buildup on a scale not seen since the second World War, to combat a "zombie virus", Phase Two of the government response was never implemented.
The public settled into an atmosphere of denial. The initial cover story that it was just an outbreak of a particularly bad strain of rabies led to the creation of fake vaccines by profiteers, the most notable of which was "Phalanx". Soon everyone in America was buying the Phalanx vaccine, lulling themselves into a false sense of security. Meanwhile, the winter of late 2012/early 2013 slowed the pace of the epidemic, because zombies freeze in extreme cold. Combined with the containment actions of the Alpha Teams, everything seemed like it was under control. However, as the spring of 2013 progressed, the zombies began to thaw and move more freely, and the number of infected increased exponentially. Soon, the Alpha Teams were overwhelmed. In May 2013, a female reporter finally broke the news that the "zombie virus" was indeed real, and infected corpses were actually rising again to attack the living. While this did finally warn the population, it came far too late, long after preventative measures could have been implemented, and arguably led to the next phase of the war, the Great Panic.
The Great Panic
Main article: The Great Panic
"The Great Panic" is the name commonly given to the time of mass hysteria and breakdown of society surrounding humanity's realization of the reality facing them. Due to the "news as big business" culture which had spread in America at the time, and the lack of official government warning, the first thing Americans knew of the undead threat was when zombies came crashing through their living room windows. Thousands of people tried to outrun the zombies by driving away in their cars, leaving to massive traffic snarls and countless accidents. Increasingly, vehicles fleeing from one infected city would be heading to another city that was also already infected, with vehicles fleeing from it in the direction they had just come. Crazy, random shooting occurred, as hundreds of "wannabee Rambos" began literally shooting everything that moved, doing more damage than the actual zombies at first. Food, gun, and camping stores were looted on a massive scale across the United States in attempts to retrieve supplies and prepare for survival in the wilderness.
Several major cities, particular New York, were completely overrun by the zombies, producing millions more infected that swelled the ranks of the undead horde. The military finally decided to make one big, dramatic, "morale-boosting victory" to calm the population down so they could focus on dealing with the zombies themselves. In August 2013, the combined might of the United States military confronted the bulk of the New York city infestation, which numbered in the millions, just north of the city in Yonkers.
The Battle of Yonkers
Main article: Battle of Yonkers
Yonkers proved to be a catastrophic failure, a high-profile military campaign intended to restore American morale, but, due to the reliance on Cold War-era tactics (which were geared towards blowing up Soviet armor divisions trying to blitz Eastern Europe), flaunting "cutting-edge" technology to the press (such as ineffecitive anti-armor/rapid-fire/saturation weaponry and cumborsome MOPP gear) and other unforeseen/overlooked problems (such as previously chained-up zombies bursting out from houses behind the line), resulted in a complete rout. Artillery, shrapnel, and incendiary-based weaponry, designed to inflict mortal wounds on living bodies, proved useless against the living dead, shredding bodies to bits, but leaving the brains intact. The military used anti-tank weapons against a human-wave attack numbering in the hundreds of thousands (if not millions), and were overrun by a literal tidal wave of zombies.
A direct result of the high press coverage was that ultimately, most of the nation watched as the US Army was either cannibalized or forced to flee in the face of the zombie hordes. Though the Army escaped the encounter with relatively few casualties considering the disastrous planning, those who did die had their gruesome demises, (i.e., being eaten alive by the swarms of zombies), while being broadcast on live TV to millions of Americans. Instead of the planned "morale and confidence boosting victory", the entire country was shown that even if the US military concentrated most of its power, both numerically and technologically, against the zombies, the zombies would still win.
The Redeker Plan and "Go North!"
Adding to this was the irresponsible, "news as big business" culture in America at the time: even after the initial live transmissions, the big media outlets would continue to constantly rebroadcast footage of the disaster at Yonkers. Instead of broadcasting any coherent or helpful information, such as evacuation plans, anti-zombie tactics, survival techniques, etc. the major news channels simply aired 24 hour looped footage of the Battle of Yonkers over and over again. This hyped up the remaining US population into genuine mass hysteria, and cost many lives that were lost due to lack of any information.
Eventually, barely 10 days after Yonkers, the US government implemented the "Redeker Plan" which was being adopted by countries across the world: to retreat to a small, geographically defensible area, and re-entrench against the zombie hordes not only within the country but spilling in across political borders. In the United States, this meant retreating westward behind the Rocky Mountains, blowing all of the mountain passes, and completely abandoning the eastern two thirds of the country.
The remaining news channels did begin to give one other message to those left behind: "Go north!", urging people to drive to Canada, where the cold weather was known to slow the movement of the zombies. However, they did not offer any responsible cold weather survival guides, advice on camping/rationing, what stockpiles to take along, etc.; nothing other than telling people to jump into their cars and drive northwards. As a result, many who managed to outrun the zombies and reach the Canadian subarctic simply froze or starved to death, and cannibalism soon set in. In the winter of late 2013/early 2014 alone, 11 million people would die from starvation and exposure in the Canadian subarctic. After the Government's retreat behind the Rocky Mountains, such news corporations were either federalized, or brought under the government's thumb in some way and forced to broadcast reliable info that would actually help against the undead.
Securing the West Coast Safe Zone
The first year after the Battle of Yonkers and fall of most of the United States (and all nations of the world) was a constant struggle to secure the West Coast Safe Zone. On a daily basis, there was a danger of zombie hordes overwhelming the heavily guarded passes through the Rocky Mountains, and to a lesser extent the coastlines. Meanwhile, the West Coast Safe Zone had to be cleared of the zombies within its own borders.
Initial major operations included the famous "Battle of the Five Colleges" in which university students armed with nothing but ROTC rifles and improvised hand weapons were able to fortify their campus and successfully hold off 10,000 zombies from the Los Angeles suburbs. Another major operation was the series of "sweep and clear" missions in Los Angeles: this was apparently part of a drawn-out process which gradually exterminated the zombies in the major cities within the West Coast Safe Zone.
Over time, as major zombie hordes within the Safe Zone were exterminated, emphasis was shifted to fully clearing the zone of all isolated stragglers. A major help during this time period were the volunteer "Neighborhood Security Teams" which patrolled residential areas.
After the first terrible year, by late 2014 things began to stabilize: the West Coast Safe Zone was cleared of all zombies, and defensive perimeters in the mountain passes were holding. Nonetheless, most of the United States was overrun by zombies, with the US capital relocating to Hawaii, (Alaska was presumably overrun, along with much of Canada, due to their sheer size making them indefensible).
The emphasis now shifted to rebuilding the shattered United States economy, first for basic survival needs, and then to go into full wartime production in order to build up enough force to eventually take back the rest of the country. This process would take another 6 years, until the Battle of Hope which occurred 7 years after Yonkers.
Home Front U.S.A.
Despite the turmoil engulfing the nation, the new president (referred to hence as "The Big Guy") decided to forgo the option of granting himself extended emergency powers, and insisted on holding democratic elections. He told his Vice President ("The Whacko") that the only thing holding the American people together was the ideals that America represents.
Arthur Sinclair Jr. was appointed the Director of the newly-formed Department of Strategic Resourses, or "DeStRes", and Sinclair faced a monumental task ahead of him. West of the Rocky Mountains was heavily damaged during the Great Panic, as a result there were too few places to house the millions of refugees. Famine, restlessness, disease and homelessness were rampant, and industry, transportation and trade had evaporated, compounded by zombies attacking the defensive line in the Rockies and outbreaks in the safe zone.
The plan was to get the people fed, housed, clothed, and back to work as soon as possible, thus the creation of DeStRes. Sinclair spent the first few months getting America's bearings and learning everything he possibly could on economics. Sinclair tried to find and use "Tools and Talent", the skills of the workforce and the means by which they could those skills. Skilled artisans and tradesmen like machinists, gunsmiths, metalworkers, masons, carpenters, and engineers were at an all-time shortage, as most of the refugees were businessmen, accountants, executives, lawyers, representatives, and consultants who all lacked the simple know-how to fix a cracked window. Over 65% percent of the potential workforce was classified as F6, or those with no valued vocation. This required a massive work retraining program, the most radical since WWII. A big challenge to this was transportation mostly due to lack of fuel, which saw a massive comeback of horses and bicycles.
The first problem was to drain the hundreds of refugee camps before they drained the Government's resources. Anyone classified F6 and physically able was used as unskilled labor, i.e. clearing rubble, harvesting crops and digging the numerous graves that winter. Those classified A1, those with war-appropriate skills, became part of the Community Self-Sufficiency Program (CSSP) under the National Reeducation Act, designed to instruct those without vocational skills. This became vitally successful: in the first few months there was a significant drop in requests for government aid. There was some friction however, since most instructors were first-generation immigrants, who knew how to get by with few resources. Many of their former white-collar students resented now having to learn how to fix toilets from people who used to fix their toilets.
The new name of the game was "bang for buck", or the R.K.R (Resource to Kill Ratio) strategy. Every penny had to go towards killing as many of the undead as possible. Director Sinclair may not have had direct control over the Military's R&D, but since the R&D leases out to private contractors, and since those same contractors rely on resources controlled by DeStRes, Sinclair had DeFacto control. Any weapons and equipment currently in-development or in-production that had too little R.K.R for it's price was mothballed. Any existing equipment, weapons, and vehicles were either put in storage or cannibalized for parts and spare metal. Sinclair faced stiff resistance from Military Generals, but this was more out of frustration and stress than anything else.
The US had to force itself to face the reality that a single jet dropping a bomb on a zombie horde, was actually far less efficient than sending in an equivalent force of infantry: the most efficient method of killing an infantry-based enemy (zombies) is with other infantry. If it cost $1 million to fuel, maintain, and arm a plane, $1 million worth of fully equipped infantry could actually kill far more zombies. Thus, most of the US Air Force was mothballed, left in cold storage hangars. Remaining flights were just used for supply runs, never against zombies.
The U.S. Navy, when fuel was available, was reduced to a similar state as the Air Force: transport on men and materials. Several vessels were refitted for other, non-combat uses: the USS Saratoga served as a floating conference hall, first for the U.S. Government, then later for the Saratoga Conference, the meeting of various nations on how best to face the worldwide zombie threat, where the U.S. President made it clear that America would eventually go on the permanent offensive until North America was free from infestation.
Crime and Punishment
(edit and elaborate upon: the Eckhart incident)
Due to the dwindling resources, the United States had to change how it dealt with people who broke the law. The prison system was temporarily abolished, since it was far too wasteful to pay, clothe, arm, and train prison staff to guard thousands of able-bodied potential workers, who also had to be fed, clothed and housed, all without contributing to the economy. The Attorney General suggested that all the convicts be dumped into the eastern White Zones, something both the President and the Vice President opposed. The president didn't want to run the risk of running into one of these former cons as the new "Grand High Imperial Warlord of Duluth" when the U.S. Army would later take back the country. Several members of his cabinet thought he was just making light, until the very thing happened in several European countries.
The new solution for those who broke the law was public punishments, i.e. stockades and whippings in front of a crowd. The V.P. was at first vehemently opposed to this for moral reasons, until the President made him see reason. Why shell out what little resources were available to separate these individuals from society when they could serve as an excellent public deterrent? What worked better than the fear of the actual beatings was the fear of public shame: as “The Whacko” later said “In a time where everybody is pitching in to help one another, the ‘’worst’’ thing you could do to someone was to march them into the town square with a sign over their head that reads ‘I Stole My Neighbor’s Firewood’.” However, this kind of punishment only worked if ‘’everyone’’ was held equally accountable for their crimes, and it was said that after several corrupt politicians were given fifteen lashes for war profiteering that crime dropped significantly.
There was still the death penalty for very extreme cases, and there were forced work gangs made up of repeat offenders who had been already given plenty of second chances and still continued to break the law.
During the height of the Great Panic, even within the Safe Zone on the west coast there were many problems with secessionists. Some were crazed religious fundamentalists (Fundies) or on the other end, crazed environmentalist cults that saw the zombie plague as nature's judgment (Greenies); these were always more of a nuisance than a real threat. The big problem during the first shaky year trying to stabilize the Safe Zone was that several secessionist groups tried to fight the government. Some of them were reacting to the zombie epidemic and thinking they were better off on their own; some were crazed survivalists that had been planning something like this for years (in the event of nuclear war, etc.) and just used the zombie epidemic as a convenient excuse. The secessionists within the West Coast Safe Zone were acknowledged to be rebels trying to set themselves up as bandit-kings in the face of the chaos and anarchy of the time. The response to them was obvious: they were enemies of the country and were dealt with without hesitation. The more difficult moral dilemma came with the secessionists east of the Rockies. Several survivor enclaves were embittered at the US military abandoning them, and as the saying went, "we didn't leave the USA, the USA left us". As they were liberated, each of these secessionist zones were presented with the option of full amnesty, pardon, and peaceful reintegration. Most took the offer, but a few did not, such as the large survivor enclave in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which had to be retaken with lethal force.
Roy Elliot films; News media brought under federal control and made to broadcast important and helpful information; Radio Free Earth
Notable Technologies Developed
Due to the R.K.R. plan, anything produced had to give as much '"bang for buck" as possible. Some of the following are notable examples, some highly ingenious, some spectacular failures, some which were almost mothballed and decommissioned but wound up finding new uses during the war.
Standard Infantry Entrenchment Tool A.K.A. The Lobotomizer or Lobo: A prime example of an improvised tool with as many purposes as possible, as well as a prime zombie killer. Designed by U.S. Marine mechanics and fashioned from recycled cars, its appearance is a cross between a shovel and a medieval battle ax, which explains its multiple purposes quite nicely. As Sinclair states, over 23 million of these were manufactured during World War Z, and are still in production ten years after.
Standard Infantry Rifle or SIR: The military's new rifle, SIR (as soldiers respectfully called it) sacrificed ease and rate of fire for accuracy, ease of manufacture and reliability (Todd Wainio said that it never, ever jammed on him), along with a new type of explosive ammunition (PIE; Pyrotechnically Initiated Explosive) allowed for armies to cut down zombies effectively and made battlefield sanitation as the incendiary ammunition destroyed the zombies' brain. Its extensions kit is lightweight, easy to carry, and can easily and quickly convert the gun for different situations, from stealth to long-range sniping.
D-17 Dirigible: An airship design originally opposed by Sinclair, because since the only cost-effective lightweight gas at the time was hydrogen, he didn't want to fund a "fleet of modern-day Hindenburgs". He was eventually convinced of their effectiveness in zombie warfare, and the Civil Air Patrol was organized to use them. Its tasks were to scout infested areas, provide evacuation and rescue, resupply and occasional air support for ground troops.
Laser Weapons: These Humvee-mounted "Wonder Weapons" almost mothballed, but saved after Roy Elliot's film Fire of the Gods, which shows their use against zombies. The Zeus cannon, basically a solid-state cutting laser, could boil a zombie's brain or blast a hole clear through the head, while the fluoride-based ICBM-killing MTHL was powerful enough to practically "atomize" a ghoul, the sight of which is sure to boost the spirits of the war-weary. Though too bulky, expensive, and slow for effective zombie warfare, it was retained for its original purpose: destroying bombs, booby-traps, and clearing minefields set by survivalists. This technology is not fictional and is used by the US and Israeli military.
Project YellowJacket: a high-tech super weapon idea that wasted far too much time and resources. Some nerds from Silicon Valley thought it up. They claimed that they could make bombs that when deployed, burst into thousands of tiny self-propelled bomblets that would each seek out a zombie head. They claimed that it could end the war within 48 hours of deployment. The project was obviously too good to be true, and Sinclair is still kicking himself for the amount of money he wasted on it.
The United States, after relocating the capital to Hawaii and establishing the area west of the Rocky Mountains as its safe zone, restructures its economy for complete wartime production. In the East, several quarantine zones attempt to maintain their barricades with minimal resupply drops and limited help. The military reforms its tactics and adopts new weapons to better cope with massive battles against the zombies, focusing on precise headshots, instead of high rates of fire.
Islands in the Sea of Zack
While the West Coast Safe Zone was being established, there were also a very significant number of holdouts east of the Rocky Mountains. The United States officially had the highest proportion of survivors holding out in infected areas than any other country in the world. This is attributed as partially due to the high level of private gun ownership in the United States, and partially due to the "independent spirit" fostered in the American mentality. In contrast, the lack of private gun ownership in Japan led to the home islands being completely abandoned. These enclaves were supplied by air using the Continental Airlift, the only major remaining operation for the US Airforce.
Official wartime maps categorized and color-coded these survivor enclaves east of the Rock Mountains:
- Green Zones - active military facilities. Some had also been converted into refugee centers. Some were still contributing to the war effort. Others were well defended, but had no strategic impact.
- Red Zones - "Offensively Viable" assets such as factories, mines, and power plants. These were not in active operation, but they were actively defended by custodial teams. The goal was to defend and maintain the facilities until they could eventually be liberated and contribute to the overall war effort. Some of these facilities were not liberated until nearly a decade after Yonkers, during which times many untended civilian buildings collapsed due to simple lack of maintenance on a scale of years.
- Blue Zones - Entirely civilian enclaves that had managed to establish defensive perimeters. Some were one or two family forts, others entire towns with populations in the hundreds. The military dropped off volunteer special forces soldiers to aid them, as well as supply drops if possible (and as the West Coast economy recovered).
- Purple Zones - a handful of refuel and repair facilities for the aircraft and crews in the Continental Airlift. Few and far between due to the sheer size required of an airfield which needed to be defended, they still managed to bring airfleet survivability up to 92%.
Areas which were still overrun by zombies, also commonly called "infected zones", were technically referred to as "White Zones". The West Coast Safe Zone was shaded grey on maps. Further, a handful of civilian Blue Zones attempted to actively secede from the US, embittered at their abandonment after the disaster at Yonkers, most notably the secessionist zone at the Black Hills.
The Road to New York
After 7 years of retooling and redeveloping the US military, the experimental new army was first tested at the Battle of Hope.
Soon afterwards, the war to reclaim the United States began in earnest, with a massive drive east from the Rockies, a campaign termed the "Road to New York". The campaign lasted 3 years, slowly inching across the nation and clearing literally every square foot, one step at a time. When the massive battle to reclaim New York City itself (renamed The Heros City) finally ended with boots on the Atlantic coast, VA day was declared.
- Several of Max Brooks' other books, such as The Zombie Survival Guide, make it clear that the Zombie virus "Solanum" has existed for thousands of years. Infestations were always isolated, until modern technology and travel allowed it to spread on a global scale during World War Z. Brooks followup book, Recorded Attacks, reveals that Japanese bio-warfare divisions (i.e. "Unit 731") operating in occupied China were experimenting with the virus, and that when their positions were overrun by the Soviets, their research was captured. The Soviet Union also experimented with the zombie virus at remote Siberian bases for a time, but when containment was breached the bases were destroyed with nuclear bombs (under the guise of atomic testing) and the project terminated. The Chinese Politburo, unfortunately, continued the research.
- See "Battle of Yonkers, section "Date" for explanation establishing World War Z's timeline