World War Z and Ebola

I use the book World War Z by Max Brooks in my politics of film and fiction course for a number of reasons.  Written as a series of interviews with survivors ten years after the end of the zombie war that are left out of the official UN report, the book serves up a pretty devastating social commentary that creates a great foundation for discussion of a wide range of issues, from the state of nature to nuclear proliferation, the benefits and drawbacks of an isolationist grand strategy, and whether the ends justifies the means in policymaking.

Since Brooks based the book on real-world reactions to infectious diseases, instructors who are looking for interesting ways to bring discussions of the response to Ebola into the classroom could do worse than assigning excerpts from this book.  The section, for example, on the ‘Great Panic’ would be an interesting way of examining the Ebola fear coming from some sectors in the US.  One excerpt has a cooperative society break down as food and other supplies dwindle and a harsh winter sets in; another describes how as one country tries to reduce its exposure to the plague, its inability to communicate effectively with a neighboring state results in the onset of armed conflict. Later in the book, someone proposes a plan that might prevent the epidemic from wiping out the remaining humans, but poses some severe ethical questions. Finally, Brooks himself has said that the international response to Ebola has actually been much better than that he wrote about in regard to the Zombie plague (where denial and lack of communication and cooperation resulted in the epidemic spreading worldwide), allowing some interesting contrasts between the two.

All of these can be promising start-off points for discussions of real-world issues.  Each interview is only a few pages, and thus can be read quickly in class before discussion.  If you have more time, it may be worthwhile to consider assigning larger sections or even the entire book.


Leave a Reply