I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Military and The Living Dead, Part One

In the beginning of the 1985 film Return of the Living Dead, a foreman named Frank (played by James Karen) tells a scary story to a teenage employee named Freddy (Thom Mathews). He explains that the film Night of the Living Dead is a fictional story, but that it was based on true events. (This is funny because the same person who wrote the book this film is based on, John A. Russo, also co-wrote Night of the Living Dead with George Romero.) It seems the military had created a gas called 245-Trioxin, an agent they intended to spray on marijuana plants. When 245-Trioxin was released into the morgue in the basement of a Pittsburgh VA hospital the bodies there began to move about as if alive. "How would Frank ever find out about such a story?" Freddy wonders. To answer this question, Frank takes Freddy into the dark basement of the Uneeda medical supply warehouse.

In the basement are three military vats of a mysterious chemical. Upon looking through the transparent dome atop one of the canisters, Frank and Freddy see the remains of one of the bodies from the morgue. It seems that these three barrels were accidentally sent to Uneeda instead of the military storage facility where they were supposed to go. Freddy questions Frank about the safety of storing such a dangerous chemical in the basement of the warehouse, but Frank is confident. He explains that they were made strong by Army engineers, and to prove his point he slaps the side of a container. The barrel springs a leak and the entire complex is invaded by the 245-Trioxin vapors which effectively animate the dead.

A Facebook friend once posted a Facebook rant regarding this very topic. He wondered (never) to himself (because it's Facebook, duh!), "Why is the military always portrayed in such a negative light in zombie films?" If you don't know what we're talking about here, you need only see the film 28 Days Later. (Some of you may stop me right there and make the claim that the enemies in 28 Days Later weren't actually zombies. They were, in fact, infected. For the sake of this article, however, zombies, infected and revenants are all included under the umbrella word zombie.) In this film, we watch civilians running here and there in order to escape the speed-demon zombies all around them for somewhere near an hour before they are finally "saved" by the military. While the immanent threat of zombie evisceration seems scary enough, the threat of execution and rape at the hands of these crotch-driven soldiers makes this movie truly horrifying.

I used to be the kind of guy who was against even the idea of a military. Force only begets force. Violence only begets violence. There is no such thing as a just war. I perceived those who joined the military to be either crazy, foolish or inhumane, and that's not even counting the ones who were convinced that their financial poverty gave them no other choice. At first, I was incredibly frightened that some of my friends were considering going into the military. The first close friend I remember going off to serve our country was Tom Steenwyk. Tom could be a hothead, but he was also one of the kindest, most loyal guys you could know. He tended to his relationships as best as he could and embodied virtue wherever possible. After that was Jeff Kingsland and Stephan Mathos, kids who really seemed to stand for something, but who had also dreamed of joining the Navy since they were in diapers.

Tom joined the Army and served for several years, often in hotbeds like Iraq, before devoting himself to the family life. Jeff and Stephan went to the Naval Academy immediately after graduating from high school. Stephan continues to work toward his lifetime goal of becoming a Naval aviator. He recently got his wings after working hard at the base in Corpus Christi, Texas. Jeff has become a Navy seal and a legend to those who meet him. My brother and I have randomly encountered people who went to the Academy at the same time who were in awe when we mentioned that we know Jeff Kingsland. Whatever I had previously believed about the military had to change. At the very least, the military was home to three of the best men on the face of the planet.

But three men do not a military make.

My awareness of the American military, it's policies and it's various endeavors began in 2001. The terrorist attack of September 11 happened when I was less than a month into my first semester in college. I was in a strange place where I didn't really know anybody when I found out about the catastrophe. But then I kept hearing about more catastrophes. About faked information regarding weapons of mass destruction that guided America into a war where a whole lot of people my age were dying on both sides of the gun. As soon as American soldiers were deployed overseas, reports started coming in that some of these soldiers were responsible for horrible breaches of human rights. I don't want to go too far into depth, but I think the words Abu and Ghraib might be enough to bring home the point. It seemed that there were crimes being committed at nearly every link in the chain of command. It made a good chunk of the population doubt the nobility of our nation's military and the administration that sent them their marching orders. I'd be a liar to say I wasn't similarly affected.

It seems awfully difficult to decide which way the United States military would fall in the event of a zombie apocalypse. In Return of the Living Dead, the military quickly resorted to dropping a nuclear bomb on American soil to stop a possible outbreak of infection. But the anti-American, radical Muslim, terrorist ideology that brought about the destruction of the two towers of the World Trade Center and as a result the subsequent wars that America would become entrenched in, that ideology was treated as an outbreak that needed to be contained and stopped as well. We had decided that the perpetrators of this horrendous crime were in one of a couple particular areas, and yet we didn't resort to nuclear arms in this situation. For some, this might be enough to suggest that the military ought to get more credit in zombie films. Others realize, possibly because of the last decade of violence, that a great deal of atrocities can be committed without the use of nuclear weaponry. It is far from clear whether or not the critique of the military seen in zombie films is accurate, but so long as there is a seed of reason to the indictment we ought to follow this line of thought further.

Part Two of The Military and The Living Dead can be accessed by clicking here.

No comments:

Post a Comment