Study Guide

World War Z Education

By Max Brooks


My father was a simple man, a day laborer. I can't blame him for his lack of formal education, his dream of a better life for his family. And so we settled in Khayelitsha, one of the four main townships outside of Cape Town. It was a life of grinding, hopeless, humiliating poverty. It was my childhood. (2.5.2)

The zombie threat can symbolize many worldwide problems. Here, we see that lack of knowledge can be just as deadly as rabies.

[…], how [Yonkers] proved the old adage that armies perfect the art of fighting the last war just in time for the next one. Personally, I think that's a big 'ole sack of it. Sure, we were unprepared, our tools, our training, everything I just talked about, all one class-A, gold-standard clusterf***, but the weapon that really failed wasn't something that rolled of an assembly line. It's as old as… (4.7.56)

The problem with Yonkers isn't that the military only applied the lessons from the last war. The problem is they forgot to go back to the basics. You need to remember the basics whether you're starting trigonometry or engaged in a war of zombicide.

[My father] was so caught up in the Great Panic. He told us it would be like an extended camping trip. We'd live on moose-burgers and wild berry desserts. He promised to teach me how to fish and asked what I wanted to name my pet rabbit when I caught it. He'd lived in Waukesha his whole life. He'd never been camping. (5.4.6)

Let's face it most of us have no idea how to survive in a world without the Internet or refrigerators. We don't care how many episodes of Man vs. Wild you've seen; until you've actually field-dressed your own moose, you haven't earned your survivalist badge.

I'd say it was the largest jobs training program since the Second World War, and easily the most radical in our history. (6.1.8)

The chapter "Turning the Tide" focuses a lot on the education of people, both in the formal reforming of civilization and the school of hard knocks. And the school of hard knocks is about as awful as we'd imagine it would be.

[The president] knew America wanted a Caesar, but to be one would mean the end of America. (6.2.13)

The novel presents the zombie war president as an excellent politician at least in part because he educates himself with history. When Caesar took over Rome, democracy went out the door.

Ignorance was the enemy. Lies and superstition, misinformation, disinformation. Sometimes, no information at all. Ignorance killed billions of people. Ignorance caused the Zombie War. Imagine if we had known then what we know now. Imagine if the undead virus had been as understand as say, tuberculosis was. (7.2.2)

Well, gee, do we really have to analyze this one? "Ignorance caused the Zombie War." All right, Brooks. We got it.

Like us, he'd been compiling the same facts. But whereas we'd been memorizing them, he'd been analyzing them. (7.4.7)

Facts are great. But you can't just memorize facts; you have to use them. So, the SAT might get you into college, but it won't help you against the inevitable zombie invasion. (Did we say "inevitable"? Forget we said that.)

That was the centerpiece of our whole new battle doctrine, back into the past like everything else. We massed in a straight line, two ranks: one active, one reserve. The reserve was so when anyone in the front rank needed a weapon recharge, their fire wouldn't be missed on the line. (8.2.18)

And how does World War Z suggest we educate ourselves? By visiting, of course: looking into the past. Here, the American military uses linear tactics dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Most countries were just copying the Israeli method of sending people past dogs in cages. You always had to keep them in cages, otherwise they might attack the person, or each other, or even their handler. (8.3.3)

The Israelis educate themselves to deal with the new situation, but the suggestion here is that education doesn't end with simply learning something new. What if you can improve upon what you learned? Seems you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Nice to be able to say, "Hey, don't look at me, it's not my fault." Well, it is. It is my fault, and the fault of everyone of my generation. (9.5.2)

What's Mary Jo have to blame herself and her people for? It's not a lack of education since they educated themselves. Our guess is that it's because she didn't recognize the need for education until a zombie was already smashing through her sliding glass doors.