The Corner


In a Zombie Apocalypse the Military Would Be Toast

In response to The Audacity of Hopeful Economic Rhetoric

Jonah, I’m afraid you have a bit too much confidence in our boys in digital-print camouflage. As I understand the dynamics of the Walking Dead universe (at least as illustrated in Fear the Walking Dead), the apocalypse starts when a wave of “the flu” sweeps through the country — except this flu is rapidly fatal if you’re symptomatic. Note that several people “turn” without being bitten. The sickest members of society die first (junkies and the homeless), but then people start falling like flies within 24 hours or so of the first victims. They immediately reanimate and start munching everyone around them.

The immediate chaos would impact our military almost as badly as the civilian population. All of a sudden guys are fighting off zombies in the barracks, officers are home trying to keep the wife from eating the children – all while they’re being frantically called in to collect their weapons and respond to the nightmare that’s erupting everywhere. In a nation of 320 million, if even 5 percent are fatally infected with the initial virus, that’s 16 million zombies munching away, plus a significant and immediate loss of military combat power as troops fight off their undead comrades (not knowing that every bite is fatal). Assuming the military could stabilize its own bases within, say, 24 to 48 hours (though the barracks, dining facilities, and hospitals would be scenes of utter carnage), then the few hundred thousand remaining troops (most of them not combat soldiers) would face the task of dealing with a zombie population that would be crossing the 100 million mark, and rising. 

Cornell researchers modeled the zombie outbreak, and estimated that New York City would fall in a day. In that circumstance, the best the military could do is attempt to set up safe zones and then try to slowly clear the surrounding countryside — locating as many survivors as they could. But they’d lose people, they’d have no real supply line left, and 100 million zombies would turn into 200 million fast. Soldiers would run out of bullets before they’d run out of zombies to kill — especially since a kill requires a head shot (easier said than done — there’s a reason we’re trained to aim for center mass.) Given that reality, I think the show did a decent job on a limited budget in showing a doomed urban safe haven strategy.

I think you’re closer to the mark criticizing the way the show handles the startling lack of information. It goes from #BlackLivesMatter protest to the L.A. power grid failing in the course of one night — and no one has the slightest clue of what’s going on. I think the show punts on all this a bit by focusing on one frantic family and knocking the power out so soon. But in its defense, if they’ve read the Cornell paper, I suppose having everything go to hell in one night is acceptable storytelling choice.

In the end, I may be a bit more of a glass half-full sci-fi critic than you are. If memory serves, you turned on Battlestar Galactica with both barrels, while I thought it regained its footing after its odious Iraq insurgency season (quick Google search – yep, you unloaded on Battlestar). But you must write your zombie novel. I’d be disappointed, however, if it’s a mere 200 page account of a few hero cops facing down the lamest apocalypse ever. The cops can’t handle the undead. The Army can’t handle the undead. So you best grab your guns and your dogs and get out of urban America as fast as humanly possible.


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