Fiction as Truth: “The Walking Dead” as World War II
By Gregory C. Eaves
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Have you watched the TV show “The Walking Dead” (2010-present)?
It occurred to me that “The Walking Dead” could be re-written; re-written and set in the real world instead of a fantasy world. Instead of zombie hordes taking over Georgia and parts of the U.S. East Coast, the story could be set in the vast Eastern European Plain during the late 1930s and early 1940s. “The Walking Dead” could be more-interestingly set on the Eastern Front of World War II.
Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Germany invaded Russia in June 1941. This eastward drive lasted until the Battle of Stalingrad from August 1942 to February 1943. Russia’s subsequent great westward drive toward Berlin lasted until May 1945. Armies sweeping right and left across the Eastern European Plain. It was an environment — a non-environment, with no rules and no civilization — ripe for collaborationists, traitors, victims, perpetrators or opportunists, and for family units and friendship bonds. Death and destruction abounded. It required one totalitarian state to destroy another totalitarian state. Indeed, no democracy was willing to endure the losses required to defeat a totalitarian state. It’s arguable that the Eastern Front was worse than zombies in Georgia.
The guys who wrote the comic book series “The Walking Dead”, and then those who made the TV show, didn’t need to beg, borrow or steal the concept of zombies. War would have done. As we all know, George Romero invented the modern zombie with his movie “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). He took an obscure Haitian voodoo religious practice, where a spirit reoccupies a corpse, and turned it into a creature to terrify our urban-coddled Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964). They loved it, as the proliferation of zombie media ever since has shown. However, you didn’t need to use the fantastical to create an Evil Other. You could have used humans ourselves, for the crimes we have committed against each other far, far outweigh anything an imaginary zombie horde could do to us.
Sidenote on Zombies: I guess zombies are like the cross, the symbol of all the various Christian churches, cults and sects. It’s a “True Opposite.” Just as a tool once simply used to execute people — the cross, kind of like a Roman guillotine, I guess — became a religious symbol, so, too, but inversely, did a Haitian voodoo religious practice become urban America’s greatest gore-infused post-apocalypse fear-inducing monster human. One went from a murdering machine to a religious symbol, and the other went from a religious practice to a mythical brain-eating beast. Zombies & Crosses:both are True Opposites.
Imagine the opening scene of “The Walking Dead” season one. A guy wakes up in a hospital, with death and destruction all around him. Set that scene in, say, Warsaw in late 1939, or perhaps in some rural Polish hospital. Make the main hero an ethnic German, perhaps, but a resident of, like, Ukraine or Poland or something, so he can speak both Russian and German, plus a few other local tongues.
Our hearty group of survivors has to move, always on the move, but keep out of sight of the Nazis and the Red Army alike, both as evil or more evil than zombie hordes. There will be a limit on ammunition, gun training and practice for self defence, living in hiding in the woods, never enough food or drinking water, constant fear of being audibly heard, guards posted at night, et cetera. This is what a band of survivors would do to live through a war, much like the band of soldiers in the mountains in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1940). “The Walking Dead” is set in a sanitized war survival world. I say, remove the zombies. Remove the sanitization. Make the story real and much, much more human.
The role of Atlanta in “The Walking Dead” season one could be played by the city of Lemberg/ Lviv. The role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could be played by, say, some large church or religious site: the last hope for humanity, consumed in Valhalla’s flames.
In season two, let’s say our band of hearty survivors finds an isolated, somewhat safe, farm in this vast emptiness that is Poland, Belarus or Ukraine; somewhere in that corner of the globe where Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania meet. Let’s place “The Walking Dead” in Austro-Hungarian Galicia or somewhere. The farm owner, Hershel Greene, could keep, say, Red Army or Nazi prisoners in his barn, feeding them live chickens with broken legs.
As the seasons progress, of course, just as there are no bounds binding the scriptwriters of “The Walking Dead”, there would be no bounds holding down the scriptwriters of this new “The Eastern Front: Walking Dead”. (Note: In February 2019, “The Walking Dead” was renewed for a 10th season, to air beginning October 2019.)
Anything can happen during war, revealing what we do to each other during times of stress. There’s real potential here. We don’t need zombies or make believe. We are evil enough on our own. We could write all of this based on real life historical scenarios.
If you don’t like the Eastern Front between Germany and Russia, we could place the whole “The Walking Dead” series in mainland China in the 1930s and 1940s. That war was worse than the Eastern Front, and longer, and involved more armies, more prisoner camps, and even more rebellion movements. (Heard of Mao?) This adaptation would sell better in East Asian markets, I would suspect.
On the Eastern Front in Europe, in that great sweeping seesaw series of battles between the behemoths of Adolf and Joseph, all across the Eastern Europe Plain, from Danzig to Stalingrad and back to the banks of the Spree, there were only about 15 million deaths and about 10 million soldiers captured. Add in the Holocaust, and it gets to some 21 million deaths. Japan, looking from across the Eurasian Supercontinent, sneered down at those figures and politely said, “Please hold my beer,” as it bowed deeply and unscabarded its katana.
Japan, never one to do things by halves, increased those horrific figures by about two or three fold. During Japan’s invasion of mainland Asia, just one of the many sequential wars that Japan started, the Second Sino-Japanese War alone, had some 15 million military deaths plus about 20 million civilian deaths.* That’s 35 million deaths in just one of Japan’s wars across mainland East Asia, the one played out mostly in mainland China. That’s also not counting the U.S.-Japan Pacific War, which was a side theater of sorts, fought on an entirely different front.
Japan’s slow-creep occupation of mainland Asia started in 1876 with the Gangwha Treaty when it first got its insidious post-Meiji claws into the withering Joseon corpse. The First Sino-Japanese War was 1894-1895, fought in Korea and over Korea. The Russo-Japanese war, fought in Manchuria and over Manchuria, was in 1904-1905. Both were launched by an unprovoked sneak attack that was performed independent of Tokyo by a passionate field army that had no official orders from the Diet. (See: Pearl Harbor.)
This racist militarism was covered by a fig leaf of legal imperialism with the formal annexation of Korea in 1910. The Japanese Army then proceeded to assassinate Manchurian warlords (1928), launch unprovoked invasions across national boundaries (1931), create puppet states (1932), and commit acts of insubordination against its own superior officers back in Tokyo (1932 and 1936, among others). There was the unprovoked Manchurian Incident from September 1931 to February 1932. The Lytton Report came out in October 1932, and so in a huff Japan withdrew from the U.N. (whatever~) in March 1933. The unprovoked Marco Polo Bridge Incident was July 1937. The Rape of Nanking was December 1937 to January 1938. The carefully planned Operation Ichi-go was April to December 1944, and just by itself created 800’000 military deaths plus about 500’000 civilian deaths.
Needless to say, the Japanese military would make great zombies. Creative writers could easily place “The Walking Dead” among the great China-Japan war that took place in the first half of the 1900s. Again, there’s more than enough evil within us, as humans, to recreate the fantasy post-apocalyptic world of “The Walking Dead”.
Art truly does emulate reality. A painting of a bowl of fruit is art representing reality. Well, the art of “The Walking Dead” represents the reality of the evils that humans can commit upon ourselves.
So if AMC is looking for spin off stories for its main money-making TV show, I recommend setting “The Walking Dead” on either the Eastern Front or else in the China-Japan war.
*Source: Wikipedia, the “Second Sino-Japanese War” and “Eastern Front (World War II)” entries, maximal estimations.