World War Z

World War Z

by

Max Brooks

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on World War Z can help.
Themes and Colors
Humanity vs. Monstrosity Theme Icon
Fear Theme Icon
The Fragility of Privilege and Modern Life Theme Icon
The Cost of War Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in World War Z, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Cost of War Theme Icon

The novel focuses on the events that led up to the fight against the zombies in various parts of the world, and it describes the various strategies that helped humans win the war. While the war was undoubtedly necessary for preserving the human species, it resulted in so much large-scale destruction and so many losses that humankind’s success against the zombies is a muted one. Through his portrayal of the myriad defeats and losses that the humans endured, Brooks suggests that even the winners of a war inevitably end up losing in many ways—even if the conflict is worth it in the end. As such, the novel emphasizes the importance of hearing and validating people’s individual experiences of war in order to understand its true cost.

Since the narrator pieces together interviews from various people around the world who are involved in the conflict, the novel details individual suffering and shows that the victory against the zombies was much-awaited but also tinged with sorrow and loss. Jesika Hendricks, who works on cleaning up and restoring Canada’s wilderness, tells the narrator that even though she tries not to be “bitter at the unfairness of it all,” she cannot understand why her parents died in the outbreak while some small-minded people survived. She is angry about the entire experience, and will probably continue to be so for the rest of her life. Similarly, Todd Wainio, a soldier in the U.S. Army, describes liberating some settlements from zombies where someone might yell, “My husband died two weeks ago!” or “My mother died waiting for you!” These memories still unsettle him. The scars of war do not vanish with the end of the fighting, and while the end of the war is worth celebrating, it is too late for too many. The narrator thinks it is important to focus on these individual stories, and on the “emotions and feelings” they are told with, rather on just the facts and figures that his boss at the UN wants him to write about. He believes that these personal losses and hardships are what will make the zombie wars relatable to future generations since people are linked through their sorrows.

While the individual losses that people suffered are tragic in themselves, humanity’s losses as a whole are devastating, too. The sheer number of people who died in the war is staggering. For instance, at the very beginning of the novel when describing the area of Greater Chongqing, China, the narrator states that the region once had a population of over 35 million and now has only around 50,000. This situation is similar in most other regions of the world, with many millions killed in the war. Also, the planet is in shambles. Terry Knox, who was an astronaut on the International Space Station at the time of the war, describes seeing Earth from space and says that it was “like looking down on an alien planet, or on Earth during the last great mass extinction.” There were fires burning everywhere and the atmosphere was covered in ash. The ecological disaster caused by the war will take a long time to heal from.

The zombie war left behind a broken world with emotionally broken people—but the novel suggests that sometimes war is undoubtedly necessary despite its costs, if it means accomplishing its purpose. Kwang Jing-shu, the Chinese doctor whose interview begins the novel, is one of the most optimistic at the conclusion of the war. He has suffered great personal loss, but marvels at the fact that people have “managed to pull themselves together, to rebuild and renew” their countries. Jingshu is confident that humanity will always succeed in doing this, and is proud that the newest generation doesn’t “know to be afraid” since the zombie danger has passed. He concludes his interview by saying that he is certain that “everything’s going to be all right.” Jingshu is optimistic not only about the efforts at reconstruction but about the resilience and positivity of human nature. The many interviews in this book prove that Jingshu’s view of human nature is indeed merited since the people within its pages—not only members of the armed forces, but civilians, too—have sacrificed a lot and taken unbelievably brave risks for the sake of their fellow human beings. Despite the in-fighting and destruction, the corruption and inefficiency, Brooks suggests that, on the whole, humanity is worth saving.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…

The Cost of War ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Cost of War appears in each chapter of World War Z. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
chapter length:
Get the entire World War Z LitChart as a printable PDF.
World War Z PDF

The Cost of War Quotes in World War Z

Below you will find the important quotes in World War Z related to the theme of The Cost of War.
Chapter 1: Warnings Quotes

Our report was just under a hundred pages long. It was concise, it was fully comprehensive, it was everything we thought we needed to make sure this outbreak never reached epidemic proportions. I know a lot of credit has been heaped upon the South African war plan, and deservedly so, but if more people had read our report and worked to make its recommendations a reality, then that plan would have never needed to exist.

Related Characters: Jurgen Warmbrunn (speaker), Paul Knight
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4: Turning the Tide Quotes

I know that the majority of psychobiographers continue to paint this man without a soul. That is the generally accepted notion. Paul Redeker: no feelings, no compassion, no heart. However, one of our most revered authors […] postulates that Redeker was actually a deeply sensitive man, too sensitive, in fact, for life in apartheid South Africa. He insists that Redeker’s lifelong jihad against emotion was the only way to protect his sanity from the hatred and brutality he witnessed on a daily basis. […] Those who knew him from work were hard-pressed to remember witnessing any social interaction or even any physical act of warmth. The embrace by our nation’s father, this genuine emotion piercing his impenetrable shell…

[…] I can tell you that that was the last day anyone ever saw Paul Redeker. Even now, no one knows what really happened to him.

Related Characters: Paul Redeker / Xolelwa Azania (speaker)
Page Number: 110-111
Explanation and Analysis:

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, 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:

Fifteen thousand dead or missing. […] “Go! Go! Fight! Fight!” It didn’t have to be that way. How long did it take the English to clear all of London? Five years, three years after the war was officially over? They went slow and safe, one section at a time, low speed, low intensity, low casualty rate. […] That English general, what he said about “Enough dead heroes for the end of time…”

“Heroes,” that’s what we were, that’s what our leaders wanted, that’s what our people felt they needed. After all that has happened, not just in this war, but in so many wars before: Algeria, Indochina, the Nazis…you understand what I am saying…you see the sorrow and pity? We understood what the American president said about “reclaiming our confidence”; we understood it more than most. We needed heroes, new names and places to restore our pride.

Related Characters: Andre Renard (speaker), The American President
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

Maybe not all the time but there’d be this one person, this angry face in the crowd screaming shit at you. “What the fuck took you so long?” “My husband died two weeks ago!” “My mother died waiting for you!” “We lost half our people last summer!” “Where were you when we needed you?” People holding up photos, faces. When we marched into Janesville, Wisconsin, someone was holding up a sign with a picture of a smiling little girl. The words above it read “Better late than never?” He got beat down by his own people; they shouldn’t have done that. That’s the kind of shit we saw, shit that keeps you awake when you haven’t slept in five nights.

Related Characters: Todd Wainio (speaker)
Page Number: 322
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8: Good-Byes Quotes

It’s comforting to see children again, I mean those who were born after the war, real children who know nothing but a world that includes the living dead. They know not to play near water, not to go out alone or after dark in the spring or summer. They don’t know to be afraid, and that is the greatest gift, the only gift we can leave to them.

[…] [I am] an old man who’s seen his country torn to shreds many times over. And yet, every time, we’ve managed to pull ourselves together, to rebuild and renew our nation. And so we will again—China, and the world.

Related Characters: Kwang Jingshu (speaker)
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:

We lost a hell of a lot more than just people when we abandoned them to the dead. That’s all I’m going to say.

Related Characters: Philip Adler (speaker), Kwang Jingshu
Page Number: 339
Explanation and Analysis: