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World War Z | Blame | Summary

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Summary

Interview 1: Langley, Virginia, USA

The investigator interviews Bob Archer, CIA director, in his surprisingly modest office.

Archer starts by addressing the common misconception that the Central Intelligence Agency can know and thwart every threat to the nation. But the truth is no agency has the resources or the reach to discover every threat. Before the Great Panic, the CIA was aware of trouble in China. They knew the military was sweeping people up, disappearing some and imprisoning others. But Archer and other agents looked for what they expected to find, and they weren't expecting to find the walking dead. The Taiwan Strait crisis, in which the Taiwan National Independence Party tried to break from China, led to crackdowns, curfews, and executions—all of which provided cover for the real crisis. A purge of the agency during the Cold War had driven many bright analysts out, so the ranks were filled with "brownnosing, myopic eunuchs." The smart agents who stayed did so out of patriotism.

Archer suspected what was actually happening in China and tried to bring his ideas to colleagues and superiors. For his trouble he was banished to an obscure posting in Argentina. Soon after Archer's transfer, Israel made its voluntary quarantine public, and the report was superseded by facts on the ground anyway.

Interview 2: Vaalajarvi, Finland

Travis D'Ambrosia is Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. The investigator meets him in Finland, where he's overseeing sweeps of reanimating zombies—a necessity every summer above the snow line.

D'Ambrosia starts by admitting the U.S. military let the American people down, but he insists on explaining how it happened. At a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shortly after Israel's quarantine, the chairman asked, "What if the Israelis are right?" Supposedly, he was proposing a hypothetical exercise, but simply allowing the experienced people in the room to entertain the thought was like breaking a taboo. Everyone had heard rumors, bits of information; but no one had read the Warmbrunn-Knight report. The Joint Chiefs' proposal to the White House made similar recommendations, however. The White House approved Phase One because it could be carried out quickly, cheaply, and quietly. Special Forces (Alphas) would move into infested areas and destroy the zombies. This phrase was successful, though records will remain sealed for 140 years. But Phase One was intended only as a stopgap. Phase Two, which never began, was the real solution. Like World War II it required an enormous investment of public support and financial commitment, and the nation's willingness to commit was spent after the long conflicts in the Middle East. "War weariness" had set in, especially because victory hadn't been unquestionably clear, as it was in World War II.

To carry out Phase Two many civilians would have had to enlist or be drafted, at great cost. The public had seen volunteer military members redeployed repeatedly and return home wounded, only to receive inferior treatment. They'd had it with such unspoken deals. D'Ambrosia recalls facing similar problems during Vietnam, but the public crisis of faith was worse now. D'Ambrosia makes it clear he's not blaming civilians. He approves of the volunteer military system but warns, "it must be protected, and ... never again be so abused."

Interview 3: Vostok Station: Antarctica

The investigator travels a long way to interview Breckinridge "Breck" Scott at the outpost he's leased from the Russians. Vostok Station, powered by geothermal energy, is near the South Pole, accessible by an overland journey of a month and bitterly cold. Scott moved in just before the Great Panic and has never left.

Scott recalls the only thing he learned while studying business at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School that made sense: fear sells. Ads target people's fears no one will love them, that they'll be alone, that they'll fail. When he heard breathless news reports about the so-called African rabies, he knew he had a winning business idea. He met with trusted colleagues and came up with a pitch for a rabies vaccine for people. He crows, even now, over the idea of a vaccine, which people will buy even if they're not sick. A cure would have had fewer customers. His team reached out to people in the biomed industry, and soon they had a prototype ready. The business-friendly White House staff pushed approvals through the Food and Drug Administration in just two months, and the president's poll numbers shot up when he promised not big government but "big protection ... big-time!" Scott and his colleagues profited wildly.

Scott is unrepentant about the vaccine's uselessness. In his opinion people have always used ineffective vaccines—they get a flu shot not knowing whether it'll prevent a year's dominant strain. The vaccine worked against rabies, so he wasn't pushing a false ad campaign. Still, he made his first fortune selling ineffective medicines to combat radiation sickness after a dirty bomb scare, and since authorities such as the surgeon general and the FDA wanted the vaccine, no one objected. The vaccine, Phalanx, was just the start for Scott, who soon began marketing air purifiers for homes and cars and a filter people could wear during airplane flights—none of which underwent testing. Scott could hardly set up dummy companies fast enough to handle the money flowing in. Phalanx helped people handle their fear so the nation could keep running. If anyone was to blame, Scott says, it was the reporter who broke the news that Phalanx didn't work, for telling the truth and causing the Great Panic. He blames the people who first called the plague rabies, the people who approved Phalanx without doing any research, "all the sheep" who trustingly bought the drug—anyone but himself.

Interview 4: Amarillo, Texas, USA

Grover Carlson was White House chief of staff before the Great Panic. He now collects cow manure for a bioconversion plant. The humor of this reversal of fortunes isn't lost on the investigator.

Three months before Israel closed its borders, Carlson read the Warmbrunn-Knight report and briefed the president, whom he calls a "propped-up patsy." The White House's response to the report was appropriately restrained. A threat assessment was written, a video for law enforcement on how to handle an outbreak was produced, and a government website with information for civilians was created. The White House also pushed Phalanx through approvals, grateful to have a placebo to calm a jittery public just after a hard-fought election. At no point did Washington reveal any information that would cause a panic, not only because of the economic fallout of chaos but because the public was tired of war. Carlson didn't worry about the media, either, because its ties to Wall Street corporations made it wary of a stock market alarm. Solving the problem of the plague wasn't the goal—keeping the nation running was. The government handled the first few small outbreaks through Phase One provisions, Phalanx became available, and people adjusted to the new normal. As far as Carlson is concerned, the government did just enough to manage the crisis, given its other responsibilities.

Interview 5: Troy, Montana, USA

The investigator meets Mary Jo Miller, the first mayor of Troy, a community designed to withstand zombie attacks. Troy's homes are built on stilts, and a concrete wall dotted with guard towers surrounds the solar-powered community. Miller, Troy's designer, has seven contracts to build similar communities elsewhere in the nation.

Before the Great Panic Miller was an anxious, overcommitted wife and soccer mom living near San Diego. She fretted over the house, the pets, the kids, her husband's new business, and other such matters. She didn't have much time to watch the news, but one day she arrived at work to find a colleague, Mrs. Ruiz, packing up her desk. Her family was moving to Alaska to get away from "them." Miller dismissed Mrs. Ruiz's concerns, but she noticed her children were stressed. Her doctor prescribed medications to calm them, and Miller made sure they got the Phalanx vaccination. Her husband, Tim, bought a gun, so they thought they were prepared. Rumors popped up now and then, but keeping track of them was tedious.

One evening, as Tim watched a game and Miller did laundry, the dog began to bark, at deer or a rabbit, she thought. Tim had the volume up high and was caught off guard when a zombie crashed through the sliding glass door. Tim looked for a weapon as the zombie grabbed him; they wrestled on the floor as Miller ran for the gun. In the hallway she heard Jenna scream. A huge, muscular zombie, leaning through the window, had her by the hair and was trying to pull her toward its mouth. Miller grabbed the zombie by its bulky neck and somehow, driven by adrenalin, tore off its head—or so her kids later reported. Her memory of these moments is blurred. Tim ran in, gun in one hand and the dog's leash in the other, and told Miller to get the kids to the car. As Miller started the car's engine, she heard her husband's gun fire.

Analysis

"Mistakes were made" seems to be the mantra of the interviewees in this section of World War Z. The interviewees are all Americans, though Scott no longer lives in America, for good reason. Each points to failures that led to the Great Panic. The United States had time, resources, and information, yet the nation was caught unprepared.

As in Chapter 1 denial and lack of transparency are part of the problem. Again, readers see governments that not only withhold information but dispense misinformation. The CIA punishes Archer for trying to get traction on the outbreaks, and the White House approves Phalanx knowing full well it's ineffective. Carlson makes the point that the alternative, telling the truth, would have provoked panic and economic chaos, and his practical perspective sounds reasonable. Yet all this approach did was delay the crises. When the zombies invade Miller's San Diego home, she says, "all the lies fell away."

But in Chapter 2 other issues become clear as well. Reliance on and trust in technology misled people, for example. Scott points out this problem when he says his customers are the "bad guys" who were stupid enough to buy his vaccine and air filters; if they got hurt, then "boo-fuckin-hoo"—they should have known better. Carlson adds the White House's perspective when he mentions how grateful they were for Phalanx, not because it would save people but because it would fool people. Even years after the plague, no vaccine has been invented, he points out. People bought the lie because it made them feel better. Similarly, just having a gun in the house makes the Millers feel they can ignore the news—even though they keep putting off learning to use it. Readers can assume, since Tim Miller isn't with his family in Troy, the technology failed him.

Also to blame is the desire of the powerful to stay in power, whether their power is political or economic. The media chooses not to stir the waters to keep its cash flow, Carlson says, and the current president was elected on promises of peace and prosperity. No one was willing to commit "political suicide" by telling war-weary Americans the hard truth about the coming crisis. In The Zombie Survival Guide, the investigator notes governments are groups of people and are therefore as "fearful, shortsighted, arrogant, closed-minded, and generally incompetent" as individuals can be. Blame is easy; preparedness and action are hard.

Contrasting personalities emerge, now that 12 interviewees have spoken, and readers can quickly sort them into two categories: those who accept blame, and those who point the finger elsewhere. In the first group are interviewees like Miller, who in hindsight regrets her distracted approach to life, and D'Ambrosia, whose remorse over the treatment of veterans is profound. More memorable (because villainous characters often are) are interviewees like Scott, who refuses any blame but jokes that if there's a hell, the "dumb shits" who bought Phalanx may be there, waiting for a refund. Carlson, too, refuses blame. When the investigator points out the U.S. government knew a global disaster was unfolding but did little to arrest it, he says bluntly, "Grow up."

A note on Brooks's style: By this point in World War Z readers have listened, so to speak, to 13 different voices, including the investigator's. One of the work's particular achievements is how different each interviewee sounds. Some are direct and serious; others are rude or profane. Carlson's cynicism, Miller's pragmatism, and D'Ambrosia's gravitas, for example, stand out against the work's other voices. The effort invested in differentiating the interviewees' diction and attitude is part of the work's verisimilitude. Real oral histories capture exactly this: each individual's unique set of experiences and particular style of story-telling.

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