World War Z is told through UN Postwar Commission agent Brooks during a series of interviews. Patient Zero in the zombie pandemic is a young boy in China who is bitten – the ultimate origin of the outbreak remains unknown. The Chinese attempt to cover up the zombie pandemic at first, coming up with a cover story of a crisis in Taiwan. The black market trade in organ transplants slowly spreads the infection worldwide until a major outbreak in South Africa reveals the ongoing catastrophe to the public.
Israel is the only nation which takes the zombie outbreak seriously at first, sealing its borders to everyone other than uninfected Jews and Palestinians. Iran and Pakistan annihilate one another with nuclear weapons following Iran’s attempt to keep Pakistani refugees from crossing the border. The US is caught largely unprepared. Special Forces are deployed to help keep local outbreaks under control, but the country never engages in a nationwide strategy as the military is tied up keeping a lid on smaller outbreaks. Worse still, a fraudulent vaccine is making the rounds, giving citizens an unwarranted sense of safety. Once the world wakes up to just how serious things have gotten, a global panic (called the “Great Panic”) immediately gets underway.
After New York City falls, the Army creates a highly visible base and defense system in Yonkers to contain the fallout of the zombie war in the area as well as to improve morale. Unfortunately, the military fights this war as if they were facing human opponents, failing with tactics like wounding to demoralize the enemy; and as everyone knows, whether or not they’ve read World War Z, there’s no such thing as demoralizing a zombie. The US military is forced to retreat, on live TV no less – and much the same story unfolds around the world as humanity faces a very real threat of extinction.
Led by government official Paul Redeker, South Africa decides to clear easily defensible areas of zombies and establish safe zones; in the process, the government leaves many of their own citizens to fend for themselves against the zombie hordes. Variations of this plan are adopted by many other nations – and other countries opt to evacuate entirely, including Japan. In North America, many people decide to make for the Arctic wilderness, since zombies are unable to function in cold temperatures. Unfortunately, they’re almost entirely unprepared to survive in the harsh environment of the Canadian Arctic and about 11 million succumb to exposure and starvation when winter comes.
Seven years into World War Z, world leaders meet aboard the USS Saratoga near Hawaii to discuss how to proceed. Most nations express their wish to simply wait out the zombie war, but the President of the United States makes a case for fighting back as the only way to survive and sways the assembled world leaders.
The U.S. decides to be an example for the rest of the world and the American military adjusts to fighting an entirely different kind of war. Speed is out, as are fully automatic weapons; instead, soldiers are trained to use semi-automatic rifles and to use a slow and steady approach, going for the head shots which stop zombies in their tracks. A new weapon, the “Lobotomizer” (or Lobo, as it is called by the troops) is created to allow soldiers to kill zombies in close quarters. With this new strategy, the military works outwards from the safe zone it has established in the west, beginning a three year campaign to destroy all zombies, dividing the country into north, central and south zones.
Even after the zombie war has officially ended, millions of zombies remain around the world, which has been changed forever by World War Z, as it is known by survivors. Cuba, now a democracy, has become the world’s financial capital. After civil unrest precipitated by the destruction of the Three Gorges Dam and the assassination of the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership by ballistic missiles launched from a Chinese submarine, China has also become a democracy.
Now free of Chinese domination, Tibet has become home to the world’s largest city. Russia has become a theocracy bent on expansion – and the entire population of North Korea seems to have vanished, either into underground bunkers or turned undead. The people of Iceland have all fled or become zombies and the country is now the world’s most zombie-infested.
The UN organizes a military force to hunt down zombies in areas which are still overrun and to take out frozen zombies as well as those which emerge from the oceans. The human race has been brought close to extinction and the world’s population at the time that Brooks gives his history has been greatly reduced. During the war, many species of animals have suffered a similar fate, as have many of the world’s ecosystems, due both to the actions of the zombie hordes as well as those of humans driven to desperate measures in order to survive.
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