The Pentagon Created a Plan to Defend the US Against a Zombie Apocalypse: Read It Online

For keen observers of pop cul­ture, the flood­tide of zom­bie films and tele­vi­sion series over the past sev­er­al years has seemed like an espe­cial­ly omi­nous devel­op­ment. As social unrest spreads and increas­ing num­bers of peo­ple are uproot­ed from their homes by war, cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe, and, now, COVID-relat­ed evic­tion, one won­ders how advis­able it might have been to prime the pub­lic with so many sce­nar­ios in which heroes must fight off hordes of infec­tious dis­ease car­ri­ers? Zom­bie movies seem intent, after all, on turn­ing not only the dead but also oth­er liv­ing humans into objects of ter­ror.

Zom­bies them­selves have a com­pli­cat­ed his­to­ry; like many New World mon­sters, their ori­gins are tied to slav­ery and colo­nial­ism. The first zom­bies were not flesh-eat­ing can­ni­bals; they were peo­ple robbed of free­dom and agency by Voodoo priests, at least in leg­ends that emerged dur­ing the bru­tal twen­ty-year Amer­i­can occu­pa­tion of Haiti in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The first fea­ture-length Hol­ly­wood zom­bie film, 1932’s White Zom­bie, was based on occultist and explor­er William Seabrook’s 1929 book The Mag­ic Island and starred Bela Lugosi as a Hait­ian Voodoo mas­ter named “Mur­der,” who enslaves the hero­ine and turns her into an instru­ment of his will.

Sub­tle the film is not, but no zom­bie film ever war­rant­ed that adjec­tive. Zom­bie enter­tain­ment induces max­i­mum fear of a relent­less Oth­er, detached, after White Zom­bie, from its Hait­ian con­text, so that the undead horde can stand in for any kind of inva­sion. The genre’s his­to­ry may go some way toward explain­ing why the U.S. gov­ern­ment has an offi­cial zom­bie pre­pared­ness plan, called CONOP 8888. The doc­u­ment was writ­ten in April 2011 by junior mil­i­tary offi­cers at the U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand (USSTRATCOM), as a train­ing exer­cise to for­mu­late a non­spe­cif­ic inva­sion con­tin­gency plan.

Despite the use of a “fic­ti­tious sce­nario,” CONOP 8888 explic­it­ly states that it “was not actu­al­ly designed as a joke.” And “indeed, it’s not,” All that’s Inter­est­ing assures us, quot­ing the fol­low­ing from the plan’s intro­duc­tion:

Zom­bies are hor­ri­bly dan­ger­ous to all human life and zom­bie infec­tions have the poten­tial to seri­ous­ly under­mine nation­al secu­ri­ty and eco­nom­ic activ­i­ties that sus­tain our way of life. There­fore hav­ing a pop­u­la­tion that is not com­posed of zom­bies or at risk from their malign influ­ence is vital to U.S. and Allied Nation­al Inter­ests.

Sub­sti­tute “zom­bies” with any out­group and the ver­biage sounds alarm­ing­ly like the rhetoric of state ter­ror. The plan, as you might expect, details a mar­tial law sce­nario, not­ing that “U.S. and inter­na­tion­al law reg­u­late mil­i­tary oper­a­tions only inso­far as human and ani­mal life are con­cerned. There are almost no restric­tions on hos­tile actions… against path­o­gen­ic life forms, organ­ic-robot­ic enti­ties, or ‘tra­di­tion­al’ zom­bies,’” what­ev­er that means.

This all seems dead­ly seri­ous, until we get to the reports’ sub­sec­tions, which detail sce­nar­ios such as “Evil Mag­ic Zom­bies (EMZ),” “Space Zom­bies (SZ),” “Veg­e­tar­i­an Zom­bies (VZ),” and “Chick­en Zom­bies (CZ)” (in fact, “the only proven class of zom­bie that actu­al­ly exists”). It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see a mil­i­tary doc­u­ment absorb the many com­ic per­mu­ta­tions of the genre, from George Romero’s sub­ver­sive satires to Pride and Prej­u­dice and Zom­bies. No mat­ter how fun­ny zom­bies are, how­ev­er, the genre seems to require hor­rif­ic vio­lence, gore, and siege-like sur­vival­ism as key the­mat­ic ele­ments.

Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor Daniel W. Drezn­er, author of The­o­ries of Inter­na­tion­al Pol­i­tics and Zom­bies, has read the Pentagon’s zom­bie plan close­ly and dis­cov­ered some seri­ous prob­lems (and not only with its zom­bie clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem). While the plan assumes the neces­si­ty of “bar­ri­cad­ed counter-zom­bie oper­a­tions,” it also admits that “USSTRATCOM forces do not cur­rent­ly hold enough con­tin­gency stores (food, water) to sup­port” such oper­a­tions for even 30 days. “So… maybe 28 days lat­er,” Drezn­er quips, sup­plies run out? (We’ve all seen what hap­pens next….) Also, alarm­ing­ly, the plan is “trig­ger-hap­py about nuclear weapons,” adding the pos­si­bil­i­ty of radi­a­tion poi­son­ing to the like­li­hood of starv­ing (or being eat­en by the starv­ing).

It turns out, then, that just as in so many mod­ern zom­bie sto­ries, the zom­bies may not actu­al­ly be the worst thing about a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse. Not to be out­done, the CDC decid­ed to cap­i­tal­ize on the zom­bie craze—rather late, we must say—releas­ing their own mate­ri­als for a zom­bie pan­dem­ic online in 2018. These include enter­tain­ing blogs, a poster (above), and a graph­ic nov­el full of use­ful dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness tips for ordi­nary cit­i­zens. The cam­paign might be judged in poor taste in the COVID era, but the agency assures us, in the event of a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse, “Nev­er Fear—CDC is Ready.” I leave it to you, dear read­er, to decide how com­fort­ing this promise sounds in 2020.

via Messy­Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Where Zom­bies Come From: A Video Essay on the Ori­gin of the Hor­ri­fy­ing, Satir­i­cal Mon­sters

How to Sur­vive the Com­ing Zom­bie Apoc­a­lypse: An Online Course by Michi­gan State

Watch Night of the Liv­ing Dead, the Sem­i­nal Zom­bie Movie, Free Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Even Steven says:

    So what we have here is a gov­ern­ment clear­ly pre­pared for a Zom­bie Apoc­a­lypse but not a com­mu­ni­ca­ble virus. That ain’t right.

  • Chris DiFonso says:

    @Even Steven A lot of good the plan to defend against zom­bies did. We have a zom­bie in every posi­tion in the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion.

  • V says:

    I sure am glad to see our tax dol­lars going toward grownups writ­ing fan­f­ic, prob­a­bly for months or years, to come out with this. They’re cer­tain­ly earn­ing their pay­checks. [/s]

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