Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Bit of Fun Speculation: Why A Zombie Uprising Wouldn't Be An Apocalypse

Yep. I’ve been watching AMC’s The Walking Dead. Creeps you out at all the right places, and makes you think when you’re not jumping.  I like it. 

But honestly: a zombie apocalypse?  

Biological improbabilities aside*, it's simply not plausible to me. But  it is interesting to think that we’re so screwed up as humans that we couldn’t handle a zombie uprising. Sure there are lots of them, but they are dumb (in most incarnations - for now we'll stick with the Romero-type zombie). They don't plan, hide, adapt, co-operate or even use tools. The only weapon they have is numbers. And they’re mortal. On the other hand, you can't get them to surrender or break their morale. But still, any sizeable number of humans with weapons, armoured vehicles, construction equipment and basic engineering skills should have no problem. People would die, certainly, but I don’t think civilisation would crumble if action were taken quickly**

So the dead have risen and are becoming a bit of a problem. Now what? Well, as previously mentioned, they’re pretty stupid. They don’t have a capacity to plan or reason. They can’t climb over significant barricades, and their idea of siege warfare is to stand around moaning at the obstruction. So here's what I think, and it's something we rarely see in the movies - although Max Brook did something vaguely similar in his novel "World War Z".

First secure safe areas behind high walls. Then draw the undead en masse into an ambush zone, for example, chopper in a few guys in APCs, have them step out like cheese in a mouse trap, and when the Zs come to chow down, batten down the hatches and wait for the next phase: a modern version of the chariot charge. Line up a few tank platoons, and then just run the fuckers over. Squish ‘em to mulch, then follow up with armoured infantry to take out what’s left. Lather, rinse, repeat. Same story in cities: APCs up and down the streets to take out the large numbers, then infantry sweep and clear. It’d be much simpler than clearing out, say, Hue or Fallujah. The bad guys aren’t sneaking around taking potshots at you from concealed positions. They’ll come right up to you and let you pop 'em. Piece of piss. 

Military forces the world over ambush and defeat other smart, well-armed humans on a regular basis. Hannibal killed 70,000 Romans at Cannae in a few hours with nothing more than horses, swords and bows***. Beats me why a modern, fictional military can never do anything effective against the mindless hordes of the undead. 

In Brook's story, the military eventually mothballed their hi-tech weapons & went back to basics: phalanx-type infantry units with bite proof body armor. In large engagements, soldiers fired volleys of single headshots from long range in what seems almost Napoleonic-era warfare but with accurate weapons. Once they figured that out, they took back the world. But again, it got out of hand in the first place because of human stupidity. 

So much for the apocalypse. 

And what's with the popularity of zombies? They’re biologically implausible and easily defeated (unless everyone -government, military, all the way down to Joe Soap- consistently makes the wrong decision in no brainer situations, like they do in the movies). I think it’s several things:
  • The thought that our civilization is so fragile that an enemy the Romans could have defeated could bring it down;
  • That human egos and emotions could overcome our intellect and allow sheer brute force destroy us;
  • The sheer terror of relentless, mindless ghouls coming to devour us and our families alive;
Yet zombies are fun. There's no need to feel guilty about killing them, and the movies are generally a commentary on how screwed up we humans are in letting our emotions and egos run the show instead of being rational and doing the obvious.

Personally, I’m more worried about a pandemic taking out 20-30% of us, a bad winter wiping out even more, leaving the survivors in a more or less preindustrial society. 

But having said that, I really enjoyed season 1 of The Walking Dead.

* Dead is dead. Once the heart stops, none of the body's cells get oxygen and begin to die. That includes motor neurons and muscles. So no more movement of any description. And how do their teeth stay intact? Zombies of this kind are clearly impossible. Now, the "28 days later" "I am Legend" type? Not so clear cut. They're not undead, but infected with some kind of "rage" virus. Could this happen? Who knows? :)

**A study on the mathematics of a zombie uprising: by Philip Munz, Ioan Hudea, Joe Imad and Robert J, Smith?. In Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress, eds. J.M. Tchuenche and C. Chiyaka, Nova Science Publishers, Inc. pp. 133-150, 2009. ISBN 978-1-60741-347-9.

***The Romans seem to have panicked when they realized they were surrounded and trapped, making it easier for Hannibal's forces to wipe them out. Zombies, of course, wouldn't panic, but this would make them even more predictable. And as Sun Tsu said, if you know yourself and your enemy, you won't lose in a hundred battles. 

Posted via email from John's posterous

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