SHAKO: Gone With The Wind – and Zombies

July 4, 2013 at 4:45 pm 1 comment

Lessons in Resilience

Seeing as how we are in the midst of a historical “Perfect Storm” of Independence Day, the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War – and the 150th anniversary of that war’s biggest battle at Gettysburg, it seems like a good time to speak of zombies.Many newspaper columns, newscasts and blog postings today will recount the three-day battle in Pensylvania in 1863 and what it means to Americans today. But your 4GWAR editor thinks it’s worth considering how we would survive future catastrophes.We recently finished re-reading Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Gone With The Wind” and have been struck by the parallels between that epic book and the popular cable-television series “The Walking Dead.”

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First, like “Gone With The Wind” – from here on referred to as GWTW – much of “The Walking Dead” (which we’ll call TWD from here on) is set in and around Atlanta, an Atlanta that has been shattered by catastrophe. In the book the catastrophe is war and invasion. In TWD, it’s another type of invasion: a strange plague that reanimates corpses into mindless predators of the living. As we read about main character Scarlett O’Hara’s escape from Atlanta through the war-ravaged countryside (in the novel, not the 1939 film above), we were reminded of the desolation and destruction TWD’s protagonist, Rick the sheriff’s deputy, encounters as he rides into a silent Atlanta filled with abandoned vehicles and corpses – some of them hungry and walking around.

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But there are other parallels. Both the book and TV show deal with the ruination of a civilization: the former, a Southern autocracy based on cotton and slave labor; the latter a modern day America, stripped of all the vestiges of modern society from clean water and food to electricity, medical care and government services and civil order.

How the characters deal – or fail to deal – with a world turned upside down is the basic story in both works. Many of the characters are unable to cope with the new reality – especially when they realize that the world they knew isn’t coming back. Lee’s surrender doesn’t end the hunger, poverty and social chaos that has engulfed the Southern gentry since Sherman’s march through Georgia.

And Rick and his frightened, cantankerous and despairing companions spend almost as much time bickering among themselves about survival and how much of their humanity they must jettison to achieve it as they do looking for food and shelter in a world menanced by ruthless humans as well as the canibalistic undead.

Both of these works of fiction give pause and make one wonder what will become of us if the lights, cell phones, cable and air conditioning don’t come back on after disaster. What will become of us if we can’t go home again? If society doesn’t right itself after the emergency has passed? That’s a reality still being faced by the survivors of natural disasters like the earthquake/tsunami that struck Japan or Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy.

Of course, the idea of the dead rising and stalking the living for food is a macabre fantasy but it stands in for a lot of real disaster scenarios like earthquakes, the collapse of civil society, pandemic or widespread failure of the electrical grid for a prolonged period of time. But some organizations have used a zombie apocalypse as a generic example of how civil society can quickly break down, although at least one Republican senator has criticized the Department of Homeland Security for participation in such an exercise.

“If you are prepared for zombies, you’re prepared for anything,” says the Website of Zombie Squad, which encourages citizens to prepare to survive a zombie apocalypse, but failing that: “When the zombie removal business is slow we focus our efforts towards educating ourselves and our community about the importance of disaster preparation. If you are prepared for zombies, you’re prepared for anything. To satisfy this goal we host disaster relief charity fundraisers, disaster preparation seminars and volunteer our time towards emergency response agencies.”

It all sounds very tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a message every bit as serious as the Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared.”

When your 4GWAR editor was working for a homeland security publication, we attended several conferences and press briefings where business groups urged their members to be prepared not only for disaster but for how they would resume conducting their business and serving their customers if their headquarters was destroyed or their communications infrastructure was badly damaged or their workforce suffered a large number of casualties.

The buzz word at the time was resiliency. Not only were government and the private sector expected to block or prevent catastrophes, but also have a game plan for responding immediately to one and another plan for returning to normal — or a semblance of normal — as soon as possible.

People in Israel continue to ride buses even after a bus bombing. After the bombing of the Boston Marathon last April, people were back out running on the streets and organizing marathons to show their support for the victims and their resolve not to be cowed by terrorism.

Something to think about.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

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Entry filed under: Disaster Relief, Homeland Security, International Relief, Lessons Learned, SHAKO. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. The Navy's Grade 36 Bureaucrat  |  July 5, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Great post! How often are we so sure about what conflict will come next, then get completely blindsided with what actually hits us? We really do need to think about what we take for granted and how to compensate (and more importantly, practice compensating to see if it really works) in the event it goes away.

    Reply

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