Fear and paranoia have become hallmarks of the modern American experience, impacting how we as a nation view the world around us, how we as citizens view each other, and most of all how our government views us.
Nowhere is this epidemic of fear and paranoia more aptly mirrored than in the culture's fascination with zombies, exacerbated by the hit television series The Walking Dead, in which a small group of Americans attempt to survive in a zombie-ridden, post-apocalyptic world where they're not only fighting off flesh-eating ghouls but cannibalistic humans.
Zombies have experienced such a surge in popularity in recent years that you don't have to look very far anymore to find them lurking around every corner: wreaking havoc in movie blockbusters such as World War Z, running for their lives in 5K charity races, battling corsets in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and even putting government agents through their paces in mock military drills arranged by the Dept. of Defense (DOD) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
All joking aside, however, zombies have become metaphors for our darkest fears: terrorist attacks, Ebola pandemics, economic collapse, environmental disasters, and militarized police. They also embody the government's paranoia about the citizenry as potential threats that need to be monitored, tracked, surveilled, sequestered, deterred, vanquished and rendered impotent.
For years now, the government has been carrying out military training drills with zombies as the enemy. In 2011, the DOD created a 31-page instruction manual for how to protect America from a terrorist attack carried out by zombie forces. In 2012, the CDC released a guide for surviving a zombie plague. That was followed by zombie disaster training drills for members of the military, police officers and first responders, allowing them to test their responses "to a deadly infectious disease, a mass-casualty event, terrorism event and security procedures."
The zombie exercises appear to be kitschy and fun--government agents running around trying to put down a zombie rebellion--but what if the zombies in the exercises are us, the citizenry, viewed by those in power as mindless, voracious, zombie hordes?
Consider this: the government started playing around with the idea of using zombies as stand-ins for enemy combatants in its training drills right around the time the Army War College issued its 2008 report, warning that an economic crisis in the U.S. could lead to massive civil unrest that would require the military to intervene and restore order.
That same year, it was revealed that the government had amassed more than 8 million names of Americans considered a threat to national security, to be used "by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law." The program's name, Main Core, refers to the fact that it contains "copies of the 'main core' or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community."
Also in 2008, the Pentagon launched the Minerva Initiative, a $75 million military-driven research project focused on studying social behavior in order to determine how best to cope with mass civil disobedience or uprisings. The Minerva Initiative has funded projects such as "Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?" which "conflates peaceful activists with 'supporters of political violence' who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on 'armed militancy' themselves."
In 2009, the Dept. of Homeland Security issued its reports on Rightwing and Leftwing Extremism, in which the terms "extremist" and "terrorist" were used interchangeably to describe citizens who were disgruntled or anti-government. Meanwhile, a government campaign was underway to spy on Americans' mail, email and cell phone communications. Recent reports indicate that the U.S. Postal Service has handled more than 150,000 requests by federal and state law enforcement agencies to monitor Americans' mail, in addition to photographing every piece of mail sent through the postal system.
Noticing a pattern yet? "We the people" or, more appropriately, "we the zombies" are the enemy.
So when presented with the Defense Department's battle plan for defeating an army of the walking dead, you might find yourself giggling over the fact that a taxpayer-funded government bureaucrat actually took the time to research and write about vegetarian zombies, evil magic zombies, chicken zombies, space zombies, bio-engineered weaponized zombies, radiation zombies, symbiant-induced zombies, and pathogenic zombies.
However, I would suggest that you take at face value the DOD's strategy, outlined in "CONOP 8888," recognizing that in an age of extreme government paranoia, what you're really perusing is a training manual for the government in how to put down a citizen uprising or at least an uprising of individuals "infected" with dangerous ideas about freedom.
So how does the military plan to put down a zombie (a.k.a. disgruntled citizen) uprising?
The strategy manual outlines five phases necessary for a counter-offensive. Phase 0 involves general zombie awareness training, surveillance, military drills, coordinated efforts between federal and state agencies, and preparations for a breakdown in law and order. Phase 1 is all about propaganda, intelligence sharing and foreign policy. In Phase 2, martial law is enacted, quarantine zones are instituted, and combat operations are begun against zombie populations within the United States that were "previously" U.S. citizens.