In the event of a zombie apocalypse — or, if you prefer, zombiepocalypse — the Pentagon plans to save the nation with the Chaplain Corps, remote-controlled robots, and hand sanitizer.
If an evil magician creates the zombies, the chaplains will step up. Robots could repair and operate power plants where human workers would otherwise attract hordes of the undead. Hand sanitizer has never been proven to stop the viruses that reanimate corpses, but it kills 99 percent of germs. Why not give it a try?
It sounds silly, because it is silly.
But those measures are detailed in “CONPLAN 8888,” or “Counter-Zombie Dominance,” an authentic United States Strategic Command working paper dated April 2011.
“This plan was not actually designed as a joke,” says the 31-page document published recently by Foreign Policy. “The hyperbole involved in writing a ‘zombie survival plan’ actually provided a very useful and effective training tool.”
The Pentagon doesn’t really think zombies are a threat to Mom and apple pie. Zombies present an opportunity to theorize how the military would react to a fast-spreading biological threat that could spawn hordes of enemy combatants and wreak chaos across the globe.
In other words, it’s just a hypothetical model for tactical purposes that gets the top brass thinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pulled a similar stunt when it issued guidelines to the public on zombie preparedness earlier this year. The CDC used the zombie ploy to explain how to prepare for any major disaster.
The irony that’s probably lost on the generals, however, is that the Pentagon is inextricably linked to zombies. Really.
“It’s actually the US military that first brought zombies to our attention,” Sarah Juliet Lauro, an assistant professor of English at Clemson University who has written extensively on the subject, told VICE News.
The US marines occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934. While there, they witnessed first-hand how voodoo priests held sway over the recently departed. In truth, these so-called zombies were victims drugged to appear dead, then buried, exhumed, given an antidote and then drugged again to the point where they were mindless brutes good for little but hard labor.
“When the marines came back from their deployments, they had all sorts of fascinating stories about the folklore,” said Lauro, who counts A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism among her books. “One of the stories that gets the most attention is this narrative about dead men resurrected by sorcerers and now existing in this kind of permanent slave state.”
The marines’ tales led journalist-occultist William Seabrook to travel to Haiti to investigate the voodoo origins of zombies. (Seabrook also journeyed to West Africa, where he dabbled in cannibalism.) His 1929 book, The Magic Island, is credited with sparking the zombie phenomenon in pop culture.
Since then, Lauro said, zombies have become vessels for our fears. She didn’t think it was odd for the military to conjure them up as a straw man for war games.
“Every generation has thought the apocalypse will come in their lifetime,” she said.
In the 1950s and 1960s, zombie movies were saturated with Cold War fears of nuclear fallout. Today, climate change evokes images of skeletal refugees searching desperately for food, water, and shelter. Medical advancements, meanwhile, promise to keep our bodies alive even when our minds no longer function.
“Maybe we feel like the walking dead because, if it weren’t for these crazy technological advances we’ve seen over the past two centuries, how many of us would live to the ages we’ve attained?” said Lauro.
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