‘World War Z’ Author Max Brooks Talks Pandemics and Response: “This Is a Wakeup Call”

     March 13, 2020


As COVID-19 winds its way through countries and populations, varying countries have had differing responses. South Korea has been able to significantly get ahead of the virus through rigorous testing whereas Italy fell behind and has had to lock down the entire country. Plague is nothing new to humanity, and yet we were seemingly caught off guard by the speed and dispersal of coronavirus. How did this happen? Author Max Brooks, who grounded his zombie plague novel World War Z in reality (which is why the book is so much better than the movie), went on Reddit to explain why we’re so unprepared for these kinds of events:

“I think human beings are slow to realize a threat. We instinctually want to deny danger. It’s an ego-defense mechanism. The problem is, if you deny too much, and are caught unprepared, panic sets in. I think we’ve been gutting our global health institutions for too long. In rich countries like the USA, we now take public health for granted. We don’t have that gut-churning fear our grandparents used to have when Polio and other disease raged through the population. This, hopefully, could be a wakeup call for us to spend the necessary money to reinforce our public-global health networks. I’m just so sorry that this wakeup call is coming too late for people who are already sick.”

I think Brooks is spot on in his assessment. We’re very good at processing immediate threats, but poor at assessing the theoretical or the slow-moving (hence our lack of response to something like climate change). It’s only when something in bearing down on us that we react, and by then, it could already be too late. Like Brooks, I hope that coronavirus is a wake-up call that systems like our pandemic response team, should never be dismissed like they were back in 2018 when Trump got rid of our experts and responders. We need these people to be permanent fixtures because if human history tells us anything, pandemics will happen again.

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