World War Z and the Definition of War

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS.

Zombies are all the rave and no one knows the zombie apocalypse better than Max Brooks, lecturer on zombie apocalypse survival skills and author of the best-selling books The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. An Oral History of the Zombie War.

World War Z is a compelling read, inspired by the journalism of Studs Terkel. But there is something that bothers me with this book and that is how the story brings the zombie apocalypse to an end. The brave, new post-apocalyptic existence is difficult to believe in because the solution to end the war is not plausible.

As an historian I study what it is that makes us human. One of the things that separates human beings from other living creatures is that we wage war against one another. In other words, a big part of an historian’s job is to study warfare.

World War Z chronicles the world war against a zombie infestation through survivor testimonials. We follow the spread of the global epidemic from its outbreak until its fragile containment through stories told by all kinds of people, from the teenager who watched her parents’ reaction to the outbreak to the government representative who was given the task of finding a solution to an insoluble situation.

To understand the problem we must first look at what war actually is. On the surface level “war” is two entities fighting each other with lethal means by using specialized groups. In other words, war is soldiers, guns and ammo.

PEO_Fires_Inaugural_Light_Machine_Gun_Shot
Source: http://www.pica.army.mil/PicatinnyPublic/news/images/highlights/2011/Maddux_gunrange.jpg

But for there to be soldiers, guns and ammo, there needs to be a society whose sole purpose is to support the ongoing war. That is to say, a society’s entire economic and political structure needs to be geared towards war. Industrial production, food distribution, financial investments and recruitment of the work force need to be adjusted to provide a steady supply of soldiers, guns and ammo until the conflict ends. This is why we talk of a society being in a “state of war”.

The turning point of the zombie war in North America comes when the government decides to change its war tactic. Backed up against the wall of the Pacific Ocean, what remains of the United States of America decides to strike back by supplying unlimited guns and ammo to those of the remaining population who are willing to fight. Piece by piece the lower 48 are reconquered from the zombies and the United States then goes on to offer other countries help in their fight against the plague.

The problem with this end to the war is that the zombies have turned North America into a wasteland. In other words, there are few soldiers and there is no industry, no agriculture and no financial sector to secure the production of guns and ammo.

Brooks admits this to be the case but goes ahead with the solution anyway, drawing a parallel to World War II. According to one of the testimonials, during the zombie apocalypse, the United States were in the position of the Axis Powers (Japan, Germany, and Italy) whose resources were limited in comparison to the Allies (mainly the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the Soviet Union), here represented by the zombies. However, this parallel is not sustainable since the Axis Powers did have resources to maintain an offensive war strategy as long as the United States and the Soviet Union stayed out of the conflict. The Axis Powers ran into trouble after 1941 when new strength and new resources (combined with Italy defecting to the Allies) were added to the already ongoing conflict. These problems were exacerbated by the fact that the Allies took over or destroyed Japanese and German industrial facilities, some of which were located in areas taken by force and staffed with slave labor.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  WORLD WAR II/PERSONALITIES
The leaders of the Allies — Winston Churchill (UK), Franklin Roosevelt (USA), Joseph Stalin (USSR) – at Yalta, Crimea, 1945.
Source: DefenseImagery.mil (US Department of Defense)

In World War Z, it would be as if the North American reconquest began at the point in time when the Red Army was knocking on the door to Berlin and the United States were about to launch their final offensive against Japan. By that time the days of the Axis Powers were numbered and everybody with their heads screwed on right knew it.

It is obvious that Brooks has a passion for history and I’m glad that he has chosen this way of expressing it because World War Z is a good book. But still, as a writer of fiction you can’t skip over certain facts. In this case that the state of war engages a society’s entire structure and that soldiers, guns and ammo are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Note:
Images have been downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.

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The 20th Anniversary of the Democratic Constitution of Belarus

During the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine, one European former Soviet republic has kept a low profile. I am talking about Belarus. Belarus borders on Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland and is a dictatorship run by Aljaksandr Lukashenka. But twenty years ago, Belarus was headed in the direction of democracy and on March 15, 1994 adopted a constitution to fulfill that goal. What happened?

Belarus is approximately one third of the size of Ukraine and has a population of 9,441,000 (2013), 1.9 million of which live in the capital Minsk. Belarusians constitute the largest ethnic group, followed by Russians. Before World War II, Jews were the second largest ethnic group in Belarus. The Belarusian language is the official language but Russian is used on all levels of society.

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The location of Belarus is marked in red.
Source: Nationalencyklopedin

Throughout history Belarus has been a region located in between the cultural and economic regions of the Baltic and the Slavs. From the middle of the ninth century, the area that was to become Belarus was part of the state of the Kievan Rus, originating in present-day Ukraine. Kievan Rus collapsed when the Mongols invaded and during the thirteenth century, Belarus constituted the western-most part of the Mongolian realm. Meanwhile, Lithuania on the Baltic increased in political power and during the course of the fourteenth century, Belarus instead became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which in 1386 entered into a political union with Poland. This political union lasted until the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, and 1795) when the Polish-Lithuanian area was divided in accordance with Russian interests.

Due to Polish-Lithuanian governance, Belarus became integrated into the Polish-Catholic cultural sphere while distancing itself from the Slavic-Orthodox. This development is confirmed by the fact that during the Middle Ages, Belarusian towns and cities adhered to the so-called Magdeburg Law. The City of Magdeburg, today located in east Germany, was an important trading place at the intersection of the Germanic and Slavic regions. Towns and cities of lesser importance and stature adopted the city laws of major cities to be able to participate in European trade and exchange. Magdeburg was a city whose law was adopted by several other cities. Lübeck, on the German Baltic coast, was another such city. The fact that Belarusian cities adopted the Magdeburg Law indicates their affiliation with the European continent rather than the landmasses ruled by Kiev and Moscow.

Following the partition of Poland, Belarus became part of the Russian Empire and continued as such until the Empire’s collapse during the Russian Revolution and the ensuing Russian Civil War (1918–1920). During this period, Belarus, together with Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, declared independence. Belarus became part of the Soviet Union, once again after being divided, this time in accordance to the borders between Russia and Poland as constituted by Poland’s First Partition in 1772. The new borders of Belarus was determined by the Treaty of Riga, signed by Russia and Poland in 1921. Of these new-born independent states, Finland was the only one not to become part of the Soviet Union.

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Current flag of Belarus.
Source: Zscout370

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Flag of Belarus, 1918–1921, 1991–1995.

The Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991. The reason why the Soviet Union collapsed was because the Soviet Republic of Belarus, together with Ukraine and Russia, agreed to create a Commonwealth of Independent States instead of the Soviet Union. Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were soon joined by other Soviet Republics and the CIS began functioning on December 21, 1991, with its administrative center located in Minsk.

Soon after independence work on drafting a constitution began. While working on the new constitution, the legislators looked towards the legal foundations of sovereign states such as the United States, France, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden, while constructing a legal system based on the principle of the Russian Federation. The constitution was adopted on March 15, 1994.

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Constitution of Belarus. Title written in Belarusian, followed by Russian.
Source: Zscout370

The constitution created the office of President as the new nation’s leader. In July 1994, Aljaksandr Lukashenko was elected to the post and has ruled the country ever since, amending the democratic constitution through two non-transparent and highly criticized referendums in 1996 and 2004, respectively.

Today, Belarus is the only dictatorship in Europe. The country has no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom of organization and its domestic economy is in shambles. Its prisons hold political prisoners and the government has executed several of its imprisoned dissidents.

To stay in power Aljaksandr Lukashenko needs both Ukraine and Russia. Lukashenko needs Ukraine because that country is one of Belarus’ main trading partners. Therefore, Lukashenko needs to stay on friendly terms with whomever is in power in Kiev.  Lukashenko needs Russia because Russia is one of his few supporters. But Russia’s support of the Lukashenko regime is based on strategic interests. If Russia loses interest in Belarus as an ally, Lukashenko’s days are numbered.

And that is why no voice on the Ukrainian crisis is heard from Minsk.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Sources:
Nationalencyklopedin Vitryssland
Nationalencyklopedin Litauen: den ryska tiden
Nationalencyklopedin Magdeburg
Britannica.com Belarus
Britannica.com Commonwealth of Independent States
Wikipedia Constitution of Belarus
Belarusbloggen Varför tiger Lukasjenka om Krim?

Note:
There is no standard set for transcribing Belarusian names in English.
Images of Belarusian flags and constitution downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.

Five Reasons Why You Should Go To Mississippi

Richard Pryor once said in a stand-up performance that no one goes to Mississippi on vacation. “Who in their right mind would say, Let’s go to Biloxi!” Well, Mr. Pryor, I haven’t been to Biloxi, but I do go to Mississippi on vacation. So I guess I’m out of my mind.

I first went to Mississippi in 2005. What brought me there was the blues. I discovered the blues in my teen-age years through Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin and I always wanted to know where that music came from.

Since my first visit in 2005, I have been back to Mississippi four times. Mississippi is a fascinating place in so many ways.

Here are five reasons why Mississippi is such a special place and why you should go there.

1 The American Spirit
During the first half of the 20th century, the State of Mississippi was one of the richest in the union. By the end of that same century, it was one of the poorest. King Cotton had passed away and his kingdom had crumbled.

When I first visited Clarksdale, MS, in 2005, the town was like a ghost town. There was little activity going on and if you wanted to have a meal after five o’clock in the afternoon you had to go somewhere else. There were a number of people working to get the town to come alive again – The Delta Blues Museum, Cat Head, Ground Zero – but overall it was slow.

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Cotton, Tunica, MS
Photo: EH Kern

On my visit last year, signs of revival could be seen all over Clarksdale. The early pioneers had been joined by others. Musicians, artists, writers, restaurants and cafés. Locals shaping their own destiny and people moving in from out of state. And tourists.

Clarksdale is not alone in this. Just north of Clarksdale is Tunica. Tunica was at one time the richest county in the United States, only to plummet to being the poorest. Today, Tunica is on the rise, too. Casinos have brought in money and Tunica is the third largest area for gambling after Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Median wages have risen and Hwy 61 is now a four-lane highway. And there are tourists.

The examples of Clarksdale and Tunica are examples of the American Spirit. No matter what hits you, you keep on fighting. It’s not a matter of how you fall. It’s how you get up.

2 The American History
Mississippi is what you could call a nexus. Here many of the threads and developments that shape the way America looks at itself and relates to itself come together. Mississippi was the scene of some of the most brutal fighting during the Civil War. Mississippi had some of the harshest Jim Crow-laws. Mississippi had some of the most violent Civil Rights-clashes.

If you want to know what makes the United States the United States, you will find the answer in Mississippi.

3 The American Storyteller
No one tells a story like a person from Mississippi. And they do it so well that you don’t mind having your whole day interrupted just so you can listen.

In Mississippi you will hear stories that involve William Faulkner, whiskey bottles and shotguns.

A blues musician and Vietnam veteran named Switch Blade will tell you the meaning of life.

A woman will preach love and compassion through Christ when you come looking for Pinetop Perkins.

And if you hang around long enough, you will be part of the story. That’s how I ended up participating in the recording of a blues album at a juke joint.

4 The American Music
To me one of the most important contributions of the United States to the world is music. It was music that originated in Mississippi that helped tear down the Iron Curtain.

There are a number of music genres that are indigenous to the United States. Of these genres the blues, country and rock and roll come from Mississippi. All of them stem from the musical expression of the African-American population.

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Po Monkey’s . In front of the building is a Blues Marker. Markers of this kind are placed by the State of Mississippi at locations important to the history and development of the blues.
Photo: EH Kern

Can you imagine a world without blues, country and rock and roll? I can’t.

If you go to Mississippi you will find their origins and you will find how people play them today. Sometimes by blowing three trumpets at one time. Sometimes by playing the harmonica through your nostril. Sometimes by just grabbing your snare drum and sit in with whatever band happens to be playing.

Furthermore, the State of Mississippi is the birth place of Oprah Winfrey, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Rodgers, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, William Faulkner, BB King, Robert Johnson, Tennessee Williams, Jim Henson (and consequently Kermit the Frog), and many many more.

5 Moving Forward
Mississippi is a fascinating place. It has a controversial history and many things are waiting to be corrected. There is still segregation in Mississippi. Not racial segregation, but economic segregation that often run along the same lines. There is poverty and limited opportunities for young people, most often African-American. However, since I went to Mississippi for the first time in 2005 much has changed. And for the better.

Just the fact that the state slogan now reads The Birthplace of America’s Music says a lot.

If you want ideas as to where to go when you visit Mississippi, Book Riot can tell you what to do in Oxford, MS.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Sources:
Mississippi Quick Facts

The First Rambo came from Sweden

One of the most successful movie franchises is the Rambo franchise, starring Sylvester Stallone as Vietnam war veteran John Rambo. We were first introduced to John Rambo in the novel First Blood by David Morrell, published in 1972. Since then, John Rambo has appeared in four movies: First Blood (1982), which was an adaptation of the novel, Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rambo III (1988) and finally Rambo (2008). But did you know that the name Rambo was introduced to North America by a Swedish immigrant in the seventeenth century?

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Sylvester Stallone in Sweden to promote Rambo III
Source: Towpilot

In 1640 the ship Kalmar Nyckel arrived in the Delaware River carrying settlers from Sweden. One of the passengers was Peter Gunnarsson Rambo, a twenty-eight year old unmarried man intending to settle in this new world.

Peter Gunnarsson Rambo was born in 1612 on the island of Hisingen, outside of the newly founded city of Gothenburg. It is not known why he left Sweden for North America, but what we do know is that he took the name “Rambo” when he arrived in Delaware. In Sweden he had been known as Peter Gunnarsson.

The name Rambo is most likely derived from the place where Peter Gunnarsson Rambo was born, Ramberget. Ramberget is a rock on the island of Hisingen, today a part of the city of Gothenburg. The name means “Raven’s rock”. In Swedish the suffix -bo means “homestead” or “farm”. Consequently, “Rambo” means the “Raven’s homestead”.

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Ramberget on Hisingen, Gothenburg, Sweden (2007)
Source: Spito

When Peter Gunnarsson Rambo arrived in Delaware he was one of a couple of hundred settlers in the Swedish colony of New Sweden. The colony of New Sweden existed between 1638 and 1655 on the river Delaware where the states of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland today border on one another. Cities such as New Castle, Wilmington and Philadelphia were founded on top of Swedish seventeenth-century settlements.

Sweden during the seventeenth century was one of the major political players in Northern Europe. Sweden had been on the victorious side of the Thirty Years War (1618–1648) and controlled the entire Baltic Sea. The country wished to compete with England, France and the Netherlands on equal terms. One way of doing so was to found colonies in North America.

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The Swedish Empire in the Baltic, 1658
Source: Fenn-O-maniC

Even though Sweden was politically powerful, it was economically weak. The national economy could not sustain settlements on the other side of the world. Moreover, the colony on the riverbank of the Delaware was seen as a provocation by the Dutch. Consequently, in 1655 the colony was lost and became part of the New Netherlands.

After the Dutch take over, many of the settlers, including Governor Johan Risingh, returned to Sweden. Peter Gunnarsson Rambo decided to stay, having married Brita Matsdotter in 1647. Peter Gunnarsson Rambo died in 1698 and is buried together with Brita in the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in Philadelphia.

Peter and Brita had six children who reached adult age: Gunnar, Andreas, Peter, Gertrude, Katharine and John.

John Rambo (1661–1741) became a politician and was elected to the council of New Jersey. He married Birgitta Cock, also of Swedish origin, and together they had eleven children.

Today the descendants of Peter Gunnarsson Rambo constitute one of the largest and most thoroughly researched families in the United States.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Sources:
Wikipedia Peter Gunnarsson Rambo
Wikipedia John Rambo
IMDB.com First Blood
IMDB.com Rambo: First Blood Part II
IMDB.com Rambo III
IMDB.com Rambo
Rambo Family Tree

Note:
Images of Sylvester Stallone, Ramberget and map of Sweden’s Empire have been downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.