Shoot Them In The Head

The anonymous multi-author blog Popehat has a lot of good stuff, but earlier this week, blogger “Patrick” posted some irresponsible alarmist claptrap that I cannot in good conscience allow to remain unanswered. I’m talking, of course, about his long-winded and poorly-reasoned discourse on the so-called “zombie apocalypse.”

Patrick tries to frame the debate as a question of whether we should be more frightened of slow-moving or fast-moving zombies, apparently hoping we will blindly accept the preposterous premise that zombies are an existential threat to humanity.

The best depiction of such things in action comes from the films of George Romero, specifically Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead (avoid the shoddy and inferior “remake”), and Day of the Dead, cautionary fables based in actual fact, concerning the remote but ever-present possibility of worldwide holocaust at the hands of the hungry dead.

I’m not a zombie denialist, and I certainly have no sympathy for the zombie coddlers who advocate we follow a live-and-let-rot policy. Nevertheless, zombie outbreaks are purely a local problem. Talk of a “worldwide holocaust” is at best misinformed and at worst a deliberate manipulation for political or financial gain.

There are six main reasons there won’t be a zombie apocalypse.

The first reason is the simplest to understand, and it provides the title of this blog post. Zombies will not overcome humanity because we can shoot them in the head. Or chop their heads off, or blow them up, or crush them under the wheels of a truck…anything, really, that stops the brainstem from controlling the body.

This always works. In every account of a zombie outbreak, regardless of whether the zombies are fast or slow, regardless of whether they are caused by an infection which makes people violently insane or whether they are truly the risen dead, shooting them in the head always, always ends the threat.

And the really great thing about shooting zombies in the head is that everybody knows about it. In every new zombie movie, the hapless victims may gape in slack-jawed fear at the zombies’ resistance to damage, but the audience is yelling “Shoot them in the head!” at the screen.

(Documents recently declassified by the Obama administration reveal that the “two to the chest, one to the head” police gunfight tactic introduced in the 1980’s was not driven by fear of assailants wearing body armor as claimed in the training manuals, but was in fact part of a DOD civil defense initiative intended to covertly prepare first responders for zombie outbreaks.)

The second reason there won’t be a zombie apocalypse is the inverse of the first. When you think about it, it shouldn’t be so surprising that a bullet to the head works on zombies, because a bullet to the head works on a lot of problems, including people. We’re as vulnerable to a headshot as the zombies are. But here’s the important part: Zombies don’t shoot people in the head.

That’s because zombies are not tool users. They show almost no sign of being able to use weapons, and in the few reported cases of weapon use, they were largely ineffective. Some dim memory of humanity may allow a zombie to fire a gun, but there is no evidence that they have the forethought, wisdom, or manual dexterity to load a gun.

The third reason there won’t be a zombie apocalypse is revealed in the walking v.s. running debate: Some zombies may follow you in a slow walk, and some zombies may charge you in a dead run, but no zombie is ever going drive a car to catch you. The most advanced motorized conveyance ever used by zombies is a shopping mall escalator.

So when the living dead come after us, we can just hop in our cars and drive away, while the army drives a few battalions of troops into the heart of the zombie infestation to shoot them in the head.

Whenever I lecture on the importance of not overstating the zombie problem, the most common objection is that since our dead will turn into zombies, the more of us they kill, the larger their army grows. They will get stronger as we get weaker, until they outnumber us.

The truth—and the fourth reason there won’t be a zombie apocalypse—is that we vastly outnumber them, and we always will.

Sure, when someone dies during an ongoing zombie incident, there’s a possibility that their body will rise up to become another zombie, but the idea that people killed by zombies will turn into zombies is a fiction that irresponsible film makers have foisted on the public. It makes for great drama when someone receives a mortal wound from a zombie, but limps back to his brothers in arms, only to die and rise as a zombie against them. But in real life—as both the film makers and the they-will-outnumber-us alarmists are conveniently forgetting—it almost never happens that way.

The reality is that most zombie-caused fatalites are due to an individual’s being outnumbered and overwhelmed by the undead, with the inevitable result that the victim is eaten. It’s kind of hard to rise from the dead when your flesh has been stripped away by a ravenous hoard of ghouls. This is especially true when the zombies are the brain-eating variety, since having their brains eaten is provably just as bad for zombies as shooting them in the head.

The fifth reason there won’t be a zombie apocalypse is that zombie resurrection can be prevented by routine public health practices with regard to disposal of dead bodies. The CDC recommends that bodies should be disposed of by direct cremation in times of zombie infestations. If convenient cremation is unavailable, or if families object, hospital personnel (or first responders in the even of an unattended death) can discretely sever the deceased’s spinal cord at the base of the skull.

At the risk of repeating myself, I should also point out that in emergency situations, the responsible state agencies—or even groups of concerned citizens—can quell zombie activity among human casualties by shooting them in the head.

The sixth reason there won’t be a zombie apocalypse is that zombies just aren’t very effective combatants. In addition to not employing weapons or vehicles as force multipliers, zombies lack coordination at even the tactical level, and they are incapable of developing and promulgating evolving combat doctrines.

In the 1940’s the free world beat back the industrialized might of Germany and Japan, and throughout the remainder of the century we were prepared to do the same to the Soviet Union. By comparison, zombies are a weak, disorganized, low-tech threat, comparable to terrorists or small insurgencies at best.

Even that gives us too much credit, because insurgent warriors can sometimes fend off a large industrialized opponent by hiding out among the general population and only attacking when they are certain to obtain a tactical victory. Through this process, they wear down the morale of their opponent’s civilian population or the will of their government until the opponent eventually gives them what they want.

This is standard revolutionary doctrine, but it won’t work for the zombie hoards because (a) they lack a sense of a common goal, (b) they are unable to restrain themselves from attacking even in cases where they will clearly lose, (c) they are unable to hide among the general population, and (d) no matter how far our morale drops, we’re never going to give them what they want, because what they want is to eat us.

For all these reasons, zombies are not a significant threat to national or species security. Zombies victories are almost always the result of an unexpected outbreak hitting a small group of people. Once the alarm is sounded and professional counterzombie forces are brought to bear on the problem, it is quickly resolved. At the end of the day, we just have to shoot them in the head. 

5 Responses to Shoot Them In The Head

  1. “Whenever I lecture on the importance of not overstating the zombie problem”

    Hey Mark – let me know when and where you will be giving your next zombie lecture. I’d like to attend.

  2. My publicist doesn’t have any lectures scheduled right now, but he tells me that’s because of the poor economy. He assures me that once the economy recovers, I’ll be really hot on the lecture circuit.

  3. I don’t know…Max Brooks makes a compelling argument that “World War Z” would be a bit more difficult than you have presented. Max’s zombie premise derails your theories and it has great social commentary.

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