World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Page 7


But didn’t the plague originate in China?
It did, as well as did one of the greatest single Maskirovkas in the history of modern espionage.
I’m sorry?
It was deception, a fake out. The PRC knew they were already our number-one surveillance target. They knew they could never hide the existence of their nationwide “Health and Safety” sweeps. They realized that the best way to mask what they were doing was to hide it in plain sight. Instead of lying about the sweeps themselves, they just lied about what they were sweeping for.
The dissident crackdown?
Bigger, the whole Taiwan Strait incident: the victory of the Taiwan National Independence Party, the assassination of the PRC defense minister, the buildup, the war threats, the demonstrations and subsequent crackdowns were all 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. And it worked! Every shred of intel we had on the PRC, the sudden disappearances, the mass executions, the curfews, the reserve call-ups—everything could easily be explained as standard ChiCom procedure. In fact, it worked so well, we were so convinced that World War III was about to break out in the Taiwan Strait, that we diverted other intel assets from countries where undead outbreaks were just starting to unfold.
The Chinese were that good.
And we were that bad. It wasn’t the Agency’s finest hour. We were still reeling from the purges…
You mean the reforms?
No, I mean the purges, because that’s what they were. When Joe Stalin either shot or imprisoned his best military commanders, he wasn’t doing half as much damage to his national security as what that administration did to us with their “reforms.” The last brushfire war was a debacle and guess who took the fall. We’d been ordered to justify a political agenda, then when that agenda became a political liability, those who’d originally given the order now stood back with the crowd and pointed the finger at us. “Who told us we should go to war in the first place? Who mixed us up in all this mess? The CIA!” We couldn’t defend ourselves without violating national security. We had to just sit there and take it. And what was the result? Brain drain. Why stick around and be the victim of a political witch hunt when you could escape to the private sector: a fatter paycheck, decent hours, and maybe, just maybe, a little respect and appreciation by the people you work for. We lost a lot of good men and women, a lot of experience, initiative, and priceless analytical reasoning. All we were left with were the dregs, a bunch of brownnosing, myopic eunuchs.
But that couldn’t have been everyone.
No, of course not. There were some of us who stayed because we actually believed in what we were doing. We weren’t in this for money or working conditions, or even the occasional pat on the back. We were in this because we wanted to serve our country. We wanted to keep our people safe. But even with ideals like that there comes a point when you have to realize that the sum of all your blood, sweat, and tears will ultimately amount to zero.
So you knew what was really happening.
No…no…I couldn’t. There was no way to confirm…
But you had suspicions.
I had…doubts.
Could you be more specific?
No, I’m sorry. But I can say that I broached the subject a number of times to my coworkers.
What happened?
The answer was always the same, “Your funeral.”
And was it?
[Nods.] I spoke to…someone in a position of authority…just a five-minute meeting, expressing some concerns. He thanked me for coming in and told me he’d look into it right away. The next day I received transfer orders: Buenos Aires, effective immediately.
Did you ever hear of the Warmbrunn-Knight report?
Sure now, but back then…the copy that was originally hand delivered by Paul Knight himself, the one marked “Eyes Only” for the director…it was found at the bottom of the desk of a clerk in the San Antonio field office of the FBI, three years after the Great Panic. It turned out to be academic because right after I was transferred, Israel went public with its statement of “Voluntary Quarantine.” Suddenly the time for advanced warning was over. The facts were out; it was now a question of who would believe them.
[It is spring, “hunting season.” As the weather warms, and the bodies of frozen zombies begin to reanimate, elements of the UN N-For (Northern Force) have arrived for their annual “Sweep and Clear.” Every year the undead’s numbers dwindle. At current trends, this area is expected to be completely “Secure” within a decade. Travis D’Ambrosia, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, is here to personally oversee operations. There is a softness to the general’s voice, a sadness. Throughout our interview, he struggles to maintain eye contact.]
I won’t deny mistakes were made. I won’t deny we could have been better prepared. I’ll be the first one to admit that we let the American people down. I just want the American people to know why.
“What if the Israelis are right?” Those were the first words out of the chairman’s mouth the morning after Israel’s UN declaration. “I’m not saying they are,” he made sure to stress that point, “I’m just saying, what if?” He wanted candid, not canned, opinions. He was that type of man, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He kept the conversation “hypothetical,” indulging in the fantasy that this was just some intellectual exercise. After all, if the rest of the world wasn’t ready to believe something so outrageous, why should the men and women in this room?
We kept up with the charade as long as we could, speaking with a smile or punctuating with a joke…I’m not sure when the transition happened. It was so subtle, I don’t think anyone even noticed, but suddenly you had a room full of military professionals, each one with decades of combat experience and more academic training than the average civilian brain surgeon, and all of us speaking openly, and honestly, about the possible threat of walking corpses. It was like…a dam breaking; the taboo was shattered, and the truth just started flooding out. It was…liberating.
So you had had your own private suspicions?
For months before the Israeli declaration; so had the chairman. Everyone in that room had heard something, or suspected something.
Had any of you read the Warmbrunn-Knight report?
No, none of us. I had heard the name, but had no idea about its content. I actually got my hands on a copy about two years after the Great Panic. Most of its military measures were almost line for line in step with our own.
Your own what?
Our proposal to the White House. We outlined a fully comprehensive program, not only to eliminate the threat within the United States, but to roll back and contain it throughout the entire world.
What happened?
The White House loved Phase One. It was cheap, fast, and if executed properly, 100 percent covert. Phase One involved the insertion of Special Forces units into infested areas. Their orders were to investigate, isolate, and eliminate.
With extreme prejudice.
Those were the Alpha teams?
Yes, sir, and they were extremely successful. Even though their battle record is sealed for the next 140 years, I can say that it remains one of the most outstanding moments in the history of America’s elite warriors.
So what went wrong?
Nothing, with Phase One, but the Alpha teams were only supposed to be a stopgap measure. Their mission was never to extinguish the threat, only delay it long enough to buy time for Phase Two.
But Phase Two was never completed.
Never even begun, and herein lies the reason why the American military was caught so shamefully unprepared.
Phase Two required a massive national undertaking, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the darkest days of the Second World War. That kind of effort requires Herculean amounts of both national treasure and national support, both of which, by that point, were nonexistent. The American people had just been through a very long and bloody conflict. They were tired. They’d had enough. Like the 1970s, the pendulum was swinging from a militant stance to a very resentful one.
In totalitarian regimes—communism, fascism, religious fundamentalism—popular support is a given. You can start wars, you can prolong them, you can put anyone in uniform for any length of time without ever having to worry about the slightest political backlash. In a democracy, the polar opposite is true. Public support must be husbanded as a finite national resource. It must be spent wisely, sparingly, and with the greatest return on your investment. America is especially sensitive to war weariness, and nothing brings on a backlash like the perception of defeat. I say “perception” because America is a very all-or-nothing society. We like the big win, the touchdown, the knockout in the first round. We like to know, and for everyone else to know, that our victory wasn’t only uncontested, it was positively devastating. If not…well…look at where we were before the Panic. We didn’t lose the last brushfire conflict, far from it. We actually accomplished a very difficult task with very few resources and under extremely unfavorable circumstances. We won, but the public didn’t see it that way because it wasn’t the blitzkrieg smackdown that our national spirit demanded. Too much time had gone by, too much money had been spent, too many lives had been lost or irrevocably damaged. We’d not only squandered all our public support, we were deeply in the red.
Think about just the dollar value of Phase Two. Do you know the price tag of putting just one American citizen in uniform? And I don’t just mean the time that he’s actively in that uniform: the training, the equipment, the food, the housing, the transport, the medical care. I’m talking about the long-term dollar value that the country, the American taxpayer, has to shell out to that person for the rest of their natural life. This is a crushing financial burden, and in those days we barely had enough funding to maintain what we had.
Even if the coffers hadn’t been empty, if we’d had all the money to make all the uniforms we needed to implement Phase Two, who do you think we could have conned into filling them? This goes to the heart of America’s war weariness. As if the “traditional” horrors weren’t bad enough—the dead, the disfigured, the psychologically destroyed—now you had a whole new breed of difficulties, “The Betrayed.” We were a volunteer army, and look what happened to our volunteers. How many stories do you remember about some soldier who had his term of service extended, or some exreservist who, after ten years of civilian life, suddenly found himself recalled into active duty? How many weekend warriors lost their jobs or houses? How many came back to ruined lives, or, worse, didn’t come back at all? Americans are an honest people, we expect a fair deal. I know that a lot of other cultures used to think that was naïve and even childish, but it’s one of our most sacred principles. To see Uncle Sam going back on his word, revoking people’s private lives, revoking their freedom…
After Vietnam, when I was a young platoon leader in West Germany, we’d had to institute an incentives program just to keep our soldiers from going AWOL. After this last war, no amount of incentives could fill our depleted ranks, no payment bonuses or term reductions, or online recruiting tools disguised as civilian video games. 1 This generation had had enough, and that’s why when the undead began to devour our country, we were almost too weak and vulnerable to stop them.
I’m not blaming the civilian leadership and I’m not suggesting that we in uniform should be anything but beholden to them. This is our system and it’s the best in the world. But it must be protected, and defended, and it must never again be so abused.
World War Z
[In prewar times, this outpost was considered the most remote on Earth. Situated near the planet’s southern geomagnetic pole, atop the four-kilometer ice crust of Lake Vostok, temperatures here have been recorded at a world record negative eighty-nine degrees Celsius, with the highs rarely reaching above negative twenty-two. This extreme cold, and the fact that overland transport takes over a month to reach the station, were what made Vostok so attractive to Breckinridge “Breck” Scott.
We meet in “The Dome,” the reinforced, geodesic greenhouse that draws power from the station’s geothermal plant. These and many other improvements were implemented by Mister Scott when he leased the station from the Russian government. He has not left it since the Great Panic.]
Do you understand economics? I mean big-time, prewar, global capitalism. Do you get how it worked? I don’t, and anyone who says they do is full of shit. There are no rules, no scientific absolutes. You win, you lose, it’s a total crapshoot. The only rule that ever made sense to me I learned from a history, not an economics, professor at Wharton. “Fear,” he used to say, “fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe.” That blew me away. “Turn on the TV,” he’d say. “What are you seeing? People selling their products? No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.” Fuckin’ A, was he right. Fear of aging, fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of failure. Fear is the most basic emotion we have. Fear is primal. Fear sells. That was my mantra. “Fear sells.”
When I first heard about the outbreaks, back when it was still called African rabies, I saw the opportunity of a lifetime. I’ll never forget that first report, the Cape Town outbreak, only ten minutes of actual reporting then a full hour of speculating about what would happen if the virus ever made it to America. God bless the news. I hit speed dial thirty seconds later.
I met with some of my nearest and dearest. They’d all seen the same report. I was the first one to come up with a workable pitch: a vaccine, a real vaccine for rabies. Thank God there is no cure for rabies. A cure would make people buy it only if they thought they were infected. But a vaccine! That’s preventative! People will keep taking that as long as they’re afraid it’s out there!