World War Z

World War Z

by

Max Brooks

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Zombies Symbol Icon

In World War Z, the zombies symbolize change—upsetting, terrifying, destabilizing change that completely transforms people and the world. Before the outbreak, many of the characters are settled in their ways, and one of the hardest things for them to process after the zombies appear is that everything must now be different. Their understanding of their lives and selves no longer makes sense because the contexts from which people derive meaning and value have been upended. All the characters in the novel struggle with this, like Kwang Jing-shu, who finds his lengthy career as a doctor to be inadequate when confronted with this new disease; or wealthy white-collar executives who find that their skills are unusable in a post-zombie world; or Christina Eliopolis, who discovers that her formidable talent as a fighter pilot is useless in the war against the zombies. Since people are lost and confused and tend to fear the unknown, the zombies become a source of terror.

To win against the zombies, people must accept that everything is now different and lower their resistance to new solutions. Israel models this with its “voluntary quarantine” that ends up saving the nation, though this idea is initially mocked by the rest of the world because it is strange and new. The U.S. Army also learns this lesson at the Battle of Yonkers when they fight the zombies using the same methods they’d used in previous wars and are completely overpowered.

Zombies Quotes in World War Z

The World War Z quotes below all refer to the symbol of Zombies. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Humanity vs. Monstrosity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Three Rivers edition of World War Z published in 2006.
Introduction Quotes

The official report was a collection of cold, hard data, an objective “after-action report” that would allow future generations to study the events of that apocalyptic decade without being influenced by “the human factor.” But isn't the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Will future generations care as much for chronologies and casualty statistics as they would for the personal accounts of individuals not so different from themselves? By excluding the human factor, aren't we risking the kind of personal detachment from a history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as “the living dead”?

Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 1: Warnings Quotes

At first the villagers tried to hold me back. They warned me not to touch him, that he was “cursed.” I shrugged them off and reached for my mask and gloves. The boy’s skin was as cold and gray as the cement on which he lay. I could find neither his heartbeat nor his pulse. His eyes were wild, wide and sunken back in their sockets. They remained locked on me like a predatory beast. Throughout the examination he was inexplicably hostile, reaching for me with his bound hands and snapping at me through his gag. […]

I instinctively retreated several paces […]. I am embarrassed to admit this; I have been a doctor for most of my adult life. […] I’ve treated more than my share of combat injuries, faced my own death on more than one occasion, and now I was scared, truly scared, of this frail child.

Related Characters: Kwang Jingshu (speaker), Patient Zero
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

I realized I practically didn’t know anything about these people I’d hated my entire life. Everything I thought was true went up in smoke that day, supplanted by the face of our real enemy.

Related Characters: Saladin Kader (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3: The Great Panic Quotes

The swarm continued among the cars, literally eating its way up the stalled lines, all those poor bastards just trying to get away. And that’s what haunts me most about it, they weren’t headed anywhere. This was the I-80, a strip of highway between Lincoln and North Platte. Both places were heavily infested, as well as all those little towns in between. What did they think they were doing? Who organized this exodus? Did anyone? Did people see a line of cars and join them without asking? I tried to imagine what it must have been like, stuck bumper to bumper, crying kids, barking dog, knowing what was coming just a few miles back, and hoping, praying that someone up ahead knows where he’s going.

Related Characters: Gavin Blaire (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Dude, we had everything: tanks, Bradleys, Humvees armed with everything from fifty cals to these new Vasilek heavy mortars. […] We even had a whole FOL, Family of Latrines, just plopped right there in the middle of everything. Why, when the water pressure was still on and toilets were still flushing in every building and house in the neighborhood? So much we didn’t need! So much shit that only blocked traffic and looked pretty, and that’s what I think they were really there for, just to look pretty.

For the press.

Hell yeah, there must have been at least one reporter for every two or three uniforms!

Related Characters: Todd Wainio (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 94-95
Explanation and Analysis:

Sure, we were unprepared, our tools, our training, everything I just talked about, all one class-A, gold-standard clusterfuck, but the weapon that really failed wasn’t something that rolled off an assembly line. It’s as old as…I don’t know, I guess as old as war. It’s fear, dude, just fear and you don’t have to be Sun freakin Tzu to know that real fighting isn’t about killing or even hurting the other guy, it’s about scaring him enough to call it a day. Break their spirit, that’s what every successful army goes for, from tribal face paint to the “blitzkrieg.” […] But what if the enemy can’t be shocked and awed? Not just won’t, but biologically can’t! That’s what happened that day outside New York City, that’s the failure that almost lost us the whole damn war.

Related Characters: Todd Wainio (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 103-104
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4: Turning the Tide Quotes

Now, I am a good soldier, but I am also a West German. […] We were taught since birth to bear the burden of our grandfathers’ shame. We were taught that, even if we wore a uniform, that our first sworn duty was to our conscience, no matter what the consequences. That is how I was raised, that is how I responded. I told Lang that I could not, in good conscience, obey this order, that I could not leave these people without protection. At this, he exploded.

Related Characters: Philip Adler (speaker), General Lang
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5: Home Front USA Quotes

Yes, there was racism, but there was also classism. You’re a high-powered corporate attorney. You’ve spent most of your life reviewing contracts, brokering deals, talking on the phone. That’s what you’re good at, that’s what made you rich and what allowed you to hire a plumber to fix your toilet, which allowed you to keep talking on the phone. The more work you do, the more money you make, the more peons you hire to free you up to make more money. That’s the way the world works. But one day it doesn’t. No one needs a contract reviewed or a deal brokered. What it does need is toilets fixed. And suddenly that peon is your teacher, maybe even your boss. For some, this was scarier than the living dead.

Related Characters: Arthur Sinclair (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes, they were lies and sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Lies are neither bad nor good. Like a fire they can either keep you warm or burn you to death, depending on how they’re used. The lies our government told us before the war, the ones that were supposed to keep us happy and blind, those were the ones that burned, because they prevented us from doing what had to be done. However, by the time I made Avalon, everyone was already doing everything they could possibly do to survive. The lies of the past were long gone and now the truth was everywhere, shambling down their streets, crashing through their doors, clawing at their throats. […] The truth was that we were standing at what might be the twilight of our species and that truth was freezing a hundred people to death every night.

Related Characters: Roy Elliot (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 166-167
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6: Around the World, and Above Quotes

The data we were broadcasting […] came from all around the world, from experts and think tanks in various government safe zones. They would transmit their findings to our IR operators who, in turn, would pass it along to us. Much of this data was transmitted to us over conventional, open, civilian bands, and many of these bands were crammed with ordinary people’s cries for help. There were millions of wretched souls scattered throughout our planet, all screaming into their private radio sets as their children starved or their temporary fortress burned, or the living dead overran their defenses. Even if you didn’t understand the language, as many of the operators didn’t, there was no mistaking the human voice of anguish. […] I don’t want to know what that was like for the IR operators. […] Not one of them is alive today.

Related Characters: Barati Palshigar (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 198-199
Explanation and Analysis:

Every day, every night, it seemed like the whole planet was burning. We couldn’t even begin to calculate the ash count but we guesstimated it was equivalent to a low-grade nuclear exchange between the United States and former Soviet Union, and that’s not including the actual nuclear exchange between Iran and Pakistan. We watched and recorded those as well, the flashes and fires that gave me eye spots for days. Nuclear autumn was already beginning to set in, the gray-brown shroud thickening each day.

It was like looking down on an alien planet, or on Earth during the last great mass extinction. Eventually conventional optics became useless in the shroud, leaving us with only thermal or radar sensors.

Related Characters: Terry Knox (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7: Total War Quotes

They let us sleep as late as we wanted the next day. That was pretty sweet. Eventually the voices woke me up; everyone jawing, laughing, telling stories. It was a different vibe, one-eighty from two days ago. I couldn’t really put a finger on what I was feeling, maybe it was what the president said about “reclaiming our future.” I just knew I felt good, better than I had the entire war. I knew it was gonna be a real, long-ass road. I knew our campaign across America was just beginning, but, hey, as the prez said later that first night, it was finally the beginning of the end.

Related Characters: Todd Wainio (speaker), The American President
Related Symbols: Zombies
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire World War Z LitChart as a printable PDF.
World War Z PDF

Zombies Symbol Timeline in World War Z

The timeline below shows where the symbol Zombies appears in World War Z. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction
Humanity vs. Monstrosity Theme Icon
...he speaks of goes by many names, but that he prefers to call it “The Zombie War.” He concedes that while the term “zombie” might not be scientifically accurate, there is... (full context)
Chapter 1: Warnings
Fear Theme Icon
...two assistants were frightened and ran away, and Kwang, too, was so unnerved by the sick child that he hurried out and locked the door behind him. (full context)
Fear Theme Icon
The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...investment banker from Xi’an who was escaping into Kyrgyzstan with a locked trailer full of infected family members . Looking at this wealthy man, scratched and desperate, Televaldi was convinced that soon, money... (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
...a refuge from the Ottoman Turks, and they also proved to be effective against the zombies. This has made Meteora popular with pilgrims and tourists. Stanley MacDonald, a Canadian veteran, has... (full context)
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...letting go even when he dug his heels in and tried to pull away. A zombie’s torso emerged as MacDonald pulled, and tore away from the lower half of its body... (full context)
The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...and thought he “was ready for anything,” but nothing could have prepared him for the zombies. (full context)
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...was knocked into a collapsing shanty. When he managed to get up, he saw the zombies, “slouching steadily towards [him] with their arms raised.” (full context)
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A zombie attacked Nyathi from behind, and he saw that it had a knife sticking out of... (full context)
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...had joined the other customers in their jeers and catcalls, disbelieving the story about the zombies, especially since it came from his “most hated enemy.” (full context)
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...vans drove by and was hit by a handheld rocket. It burst into flames and figures started to crawl out of it, through the fire. The soldiers started shooting at them,... (full context)
Chapter 2: Blame
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...It worked, and the CIA focused all their energy on the Taiwan Strait, even ignoring zombie outbreaks in other parts of the world. (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Vaalajarvi, Finland. It is spring, and the zombies who had frozen in winter begin to reanimate. The UN’s Northern Force performs their annual... (full context)
The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...to fight. D’Ambrosia says that the country was “too weak and vulnerable” to stop the zombies. He adds that the American system is “the best in the world,” but that “it... (full context)
The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...Troy’s developer and mayor is Mary Jo Miller, who tells the narrator that before the zombies, she was worried about things like car payments and the crack in her swimming pool.... (full context)
The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
One night, Miller was loading the dishwasher when a zombie broke a sliding glass door and walked into their house in San Diego. She remembers... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Great Panic
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The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
The Cost of War Theme Icon
...a grand piano—and some people were on foot. Some miles along, he saw that “those creatures were swarming among cars” attacking people. Blaire says that this traffic jam was on the... (full context)
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...People tried to hold the doors closed, but they could hear the moans of the zombies. Sharon’s mother told her that she won’t let them hurt her. As the zombies broke... (full context)
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The next day, Arkady, the heavy machine gunner, held an old zombie woman by her throat and showed her to the other soldiers, telling them that he... (full context)
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...the house. The lookout warned that the attackers were running, which made Collins nervous since zombies usually didn’t run. When he looked at them through the sight of his weapon which... (full context)
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...everywhere. He refused to fire at the people because he had been paid to fight zombies, not humans. He walked out to the beach and paddled out onto the water on... (full context)
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...be” thought it would be a good idea to have one big battle against the zombies to show the public they were still in charge so they could begin to calm... (full context)
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...flat roofs of the buildings at Yonkers, from where they could have seen the approaching zombies and been safe from them. Instead, they were placed on the ground, behind sandbags or... (full context)
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The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
The zombies started trickling into the choke point. The soldiers fired rockets, which destroyed three-quarters of them,... (full context)
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Wainio says that many arm-chair theorists cannot understand why the soldiers couldn’t just shoot the zombies in the head. But he says that all their life they had been trained to... (full context)
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The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
Land Warrior showed them just how large the horde of zombies was. They could see thousands, but behind them were millions. Land Warrior also transmitted the... (full context)
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The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
Then, an airstrike began and Wainio took shelter in his hole. A burned zombie head struck him in his back, and it was still trying to bite. After the... (full context)
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...He says that Yonkers destroyed all hope that they’d be able to win against the zombies, and if it weren’t for the South African plan, he is sure that everyone in... (full context)
Chapter 4: Turning the Tide
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The Cost of War Theme Icon
...of Germany after the war ended. He tells the narrator that Hamburg was crawling with zombies and refugees, and he was put in charge of his sector after the commanding officer... (full context)
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The Cost of War Theme Icon
Kondratiuk heard the moan of approaching zombies, and at the same time saw four jets approaching the bridge. He suddenly realized that... (full context)
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The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
Two weeks after Yonkers, three days after the government retreated west, six zombies were spotted in Hendricks’ neighborhood. Her father decided they would leave and “go north” since... (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
...The narrator watches as she uses a crowbar to crush the skull of a reanimating zombie near them. (full context)
Humanity vs. Monstrosity Theme Icon
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...Project Manager Sardar Khan, who says he remembers the monkeys that were fleeing from the zombies, even climbing over people’s heads as the refugees made their way up a narrow Himalayan... (full context)
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The Cost of War Theme Icon
...would never murder these people, and that he would blow the bridge only when the zombies got there—not before. Just then, General Raj-Singh arrived on the scene. Khan says that people... (full context)
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The Cost of War Theme Icon
...and tried to bash his own skull in to escape being bitten by the approaching zombies. Suddenly, he heard the roar of a bomb and was thrown up against the bus... (full context)
Chapter 5: Home Front USA
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...tape across the windows and doors. If it snapped, it could mean there was a zombie in the house, which had happened a few times. One time, Muhammad almost got bitten... (full context)
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...the biggest problem they faced were the quislings—people who went crazy and started acting like zombies. He says that some people are drawn to the things they are afraid of, and... (full context)
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...to the military so he could show people what they were doing to stop the zombies and give them something to believe in. He was refused again because they said the... (full context)
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...rifles, and had planted gardens and dug wells. They had managed to hold off 10,000 zombies, and Elliot got there just in time to capture the victorious final battle on film,... (full context)
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The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...Elliot admits that this was true as they were not the most effective weapons against zombies. Still, Elliot knew these weapons would dazzle Americans since they “worship technology,” which is why... (full context)
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...was the kind of lie that kept people warm when the cold truth of the zombies froze them. He says the “word for that kind of lie” is “Hope.” (full context)
Humanity vs. Monstrosity Theme Icon
The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...the narrator that she was extremely skilled at flying a Raptor, but that in this zombie war, that meant nothing. The DeStRes had said that the air force’s RKR (resource to... (full context)
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...like these, and she says they did have a survival program which even included real zombies. Eliopolis had never been worried about “being alone in hostile territory,” and says she even... (full context)
Chapter 6: Around the World, and Above
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The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...Holland. People were so ill and desperate that they jumped into the moat filled with zombies. But there were also many success stories, and people managed to survive for years behind... (full context)
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The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...enemy. Lies and superstition, misinformation, disinformation. […] Ignorance killed billions of people. Ignorance caused the Zombie War.” She says that facts were the weapons people needed. (full context)
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...how to purify water or process mold spore for Penicillin. They also combatted misinformation like zombies having intelligence or feelings. (full context)
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...and was surrounded by the ocean, all of which made it perfect to repel a zombie invasion. A large part of their citizenry was in the armed forces while almost everyone... (full context)
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...The worries about the North suddenly launching an attack complicated the situation. Now that the zombies are taken care of, Hyungchol Choi wants to go investigate how the entire population of... (full context)
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The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...hadn’t been—he lived in the cyber world, not in Japan. To him, the siafu or zombies “weren’t something to be feared, they were something to be studied.” He tells the narrator... (full context)
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...something cold and slimy, and realized that the whole place stank. He then saw a zombie make its way towards him and jumped back inside his apartment and locked his door.... (full context)
The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
...this energy-independent building with its photovoltaic windows. Alvarez tells the narrator that Cuba won the zombie war, and that it put them in a much better position that where they were... (full context)
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...work as field hands and the guards threatened to throw them into pits filled with zombies if they complained. (full context)
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...Fidel’s ideas. Private businesses and newspapers were started. When the world waged war against the zombies, Cuba became an air hub for the Americas, and the center of “a thriving, capitalist... (full context)
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...into battle.” They didn’t seem to realize that “every dead soldier was now a live zombie.” Captain Chen was furious at this, and believed that if they continued in this vein,... (full context)
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...water. In the first months, they all appreciated being away from the danger of the zombies. They didn’t immediately have any way of monitoring what the situation was on land. (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
...hesitant, and ordered them to blow the foghorn. This immediately brought forth a horde of zombies. This happened to them every time they tried to go ashore. They finally decided to... (full context)
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...to procure sufficient food, medicine, and spare parts. They set up a greenhouse. Every night, zombies would try to make their way into the community and had to be fought off... (full context)
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...scraping noise, like scratching rats.” When they looked through their scope, they saw hundreds of zombies swarming on their hull, with more arriving every second. They knew the zombies couldn’t make... (full context)
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...as the military’s spy birds, but they used it to spot the huge hordes of zombies moving across central Asia and the American plains. (full context)
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...sensors and were appalled thinking of the people who couldn’t escape the rising waters because zombies were outside their doors. The president of China had called it an “unavoidable accident” which... (full context)
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...about the U.N.’s Honolulu Conference where the attendees exchanged methods and tactics to fight the zombies. Olguin was there to help restart international trade by using Chile’s navy for support. Then,... (full context)
Chapter 7: Total War
Humanity vs. Monstrosity Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
The Cost of War Theme Icon
...He tells the narrator he was shocked and reluctant to go to war against the zombies. He was afraid he’d be sending his soldiers to die since there were 200 million... (full context)
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...they got ready for battle at Hope, New Mexico. The Canine Units were bringing the zombies in and the soldiers loaded their guns and waited. They could see “Gs on the... (full context)
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...of corpses and the soldiers kept shooting “every head that popped over the top.” The zombies started approaching from all directions, and the soldiers were ordered to form a Reinforced Square,... (full context)
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At around 4 a.m., the number of zombies started reducing, and finally stopped. The officers began looking relieved. In the light of the... (full context)
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...job was triage, or to sniff out the infected. Later, they were trained to lure zombies towards the soldiers, like at the Battle of Hope, and also to work as decoys... (full context)
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...the ocean as Choi tells the narrator that his war hasn’t ended since millions of zombies are still being washed up on beaches everywhere. That’s why he is diving now to... (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
...great depths. While mesh suits are much more agile, they don’t protect the wearer from zombie bites, which the ADS does. Also, ADS models have 48-hour life support, so divers can... (full context)
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The minisub reaches the ocean floor, and Choi spots some zombies. The narrator sees around 60 of them approaching. Choi begins to fire darts at their... (full context)
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...all the other countries had it easy compared to those like him who battled the zombies under Paris, which has several tunnels underground. A quarter million civilians tried to take shelter... (full context)
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They had to fight the zombies at very close range, just inches from them, because they couldn’t use firearms underground since... (full context)
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...used them. They had to wade around in water in the tunnels, and sometimes the zombies attacked them from under the water. At such times, they retreated and sent the Cousteaus... (full context)
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...brother, too, had died in the war while storming a hospital filled with hundreds of zombies. (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
...accompanied Todd Wainio to a  neighborhood picnic in Victory Park. There hasn’t been a single zombie sighting all spring. Wainio says the entire campaign to eliminate the zombies in America took... (full context)
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...heavy fog. Also, they had promised to help the armies in Canada and Mexico fight zombies after they had secured America, which extended the fighting, though Wainio was discharged before that.... (full context)
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...people the army nicknamed LaMOEs (Last Man of Earth) who had successfully fought off the zombies and didn’t want the army to show up and change their lifestyles—and so attacked them,... (full context)
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...Wainio says that each one was a struggle. One area was surrounded by a million zombies, and liberating it made the Battle of Hope seem small in comparison. Some of the... (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
...they were still very high. Also, the statistics ignored deaths that were not caused by zombies and there were plenty of those. Many soldiers died of illnesses. Others died from LaMoEs... (full context)
Chapter 8: Good-Byes
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...result, perhaps the overseas campaigns were a little slower. In any case, not all the zombies have been purged yet, and the war is still on.  (full context)
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...she regrets that she couldn’t continue to serve Russia after they had eliminated all the zombies in the country—she would have liked to help liberate their former territories of zombies, too.... (full context)
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...addicted to murder, like some war vets, and gets a rush after he kills a zombie. When he stopped killing zombies, all he could think about when he met or spoke... (full context)
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...hopes that will be him someday. And if not, he says that after the last zombie is killed, “the last skull [he’ll] crack’ll probably be [his] own.” (full context)
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...[her] generation.” She wonders what future generations will say about them. They cleaned up the zombie menace, but they are also the ones who allowed it to become such a problem. (full context)