awkwardly

Saturday

Militaristic Spin in World War Z

I don't know if Max Brooks is a gung ho conservative, or just a middle of the road kind of guy who has fallen victim to military propaganda. Clearly a guy who writes about an organized war against zombies with that much detail about the tactics, custom hand weapons, specific rifles and the ineffectiveness of artillery has some interest in war and the military.

Brooks adds footnotes throughout World War Z to make it seem like non-fiction, which is a convincing technique. He even uses footnotes to correct claims by some of his fictional characters. Some of the footnotes explain jargon that developed after the zombie outbreak, or fictional weapons or equipment created for the war. Others are apparently universal facts, in the world of this novel and in our real world.

For example,
"Ubunye: a word of Zulu origin for Unity." (Page 195)
"Bosozoku: Japanese youth-oriented motorcycle gangs that reached their popular peak in the 1980s and 1990s." (Page 214)
"Prewar specs put the [International Space Station] water recycling capability at 95 percent." (Page 257)

At least two of the footnotes about our real world jumped out at me as factually incorrect, or very misleading. Either Brooks or his narrator are presenting a view of events that disputes or minimizes challenges to the reputation of the real US military and its leaders.

On page 273, General D'Ambrosia says, ". . .[A]ll nations have their limits. There might be individuals within that group who are willing to sacrifice their lives; it might even be a relatively high number for the population, but that population as a whole will eventually reach its maximum emotional and physiological breaking point. The Japanese reached theirs with a couple of American atomic bombs. The Vietnamese might have reached theirs if we'd dropped a couple more(2), but, thank all holy Christ, our will broke before it came to that."

Footnote 2 on that page says, "It has been alleged that several members of the American military establishment openly supported the use of thermonuclear weapons during the Vietnam conflict."

Technically that is true. It has been alleged that President Bill Clinton denied having sex with Monica Lewinsky. Dozens of witnesses at a press conference heard him say, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." And we don't need to take their word for it, because it was a televised press conference. They replayed the video clip enough that most of us have memorized that line and incorporated it into our vocal impressions of Clinton, along with "I didn't inhale" and "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

War planners might not have been caught on camera proposing the use of nuclear weapons during the Vietnam conflict, but there is undisputed evidence of it in their own reports, which are available in the form of The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department's Secret History of the Vietnam War. (Probably at your local library.) At some point it becomes awkward to continue stating an established fact as "alleged," and it certainly seems awkward or misleading in this case. 

The other one that caught my attention was on pages 53-54, another section interviewing General D'Ambrosia, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. The General says, "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)"

Footnote 1 on that page says, "Before the war, an online 'shooter game' known as 'America's Army' was made available, free of charge, by the U.S. government to the general public, some have alleged, to entice new recruits."

Presumably the narrator and his footnotes are meant to be reliable, even if the other characters are not. In this case, the narrator seems to be softening the general's claim by adding "some have alleged." Consider that the game was distributed online, through inserts in gaming magazines, and at recruiting stations, according to The Nation. The game contains links to recruiting site GoArmy.com. Recruiters have sponsored game tournaments so they can make contact with players. One of the people making the allegation that America's Army is a recruiting tool was Chris Chambers, former deputy director of development for the game. And that was while the game was being rolled out, not a statement by a disgruntled employee who was fired or left the project for ideological reasons. (Just to make things even more recursive, the military is now developing Virtual Recruiting World, a game designed to train recruiters.)

Military spokesmen have admitted from the start that it was intended as a recruiting tool. A person would have to be incredibly naive not to see that it is made for recruiting, even if they had ever denied it. Since when has the military been ashamed of recruiting?

Wikipedia says Max Brooks was a history major in college. I'm not saying he's consciously shilling for the military. Maybe he just succumbed to military propaganda over the years. Whatever the cause, his historical mistakes seem to cover up the US military's real warts, in a book that gives an otherwise warts-and-all view of the blood and gore in a zombie apocalypse.

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