Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

Sometimes They Come Back

How this zombie game explains our failure in Afghanistan.

By , a defense writer.
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

It was zombies and a pair of Vegas hookers who gave me an epiphany of why America lost in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I was playing All Things Zombie, a board game where two Vegas streetwalkers must lead a party of humans to safety through a zombie-infested world.

As the human characters move across the map, they can search buildings. If they survive combat with zombies in the building (which they sometimes don't), then the humans can loot the place and possibly find guns. Guns are good for allowing people to blast zombies at a distance, because tough as those Vegas hookers are, even they want to avoid fighting hand-to-hand with creatures that chew off hands, and other body parts, too.

But in All Things Zombie, using guns has a catch. Every time the humans fire a shot, they must roll the dice. There is a 50-50 chance that the sound of each shot will attract the attention of other zombies, which means more undead pieces are placed on the map. Desperate to save yourself from a horde of homicidal monsters, you fire off six rounds from that Glock you were lucky enough to find in the farmhouse, only to discover that that three more have appeared with an insatiable appetite for your tasty flesh.

It was zombies and a pair of Vegas hookers who gave me an epiphany of why America lost in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I was playing All Things Zombie, a board game where two Vegas streetwalkers must lead a party of humans to safety through a zombie-infested world.

As the human characters move across the map, they can search buildings. If they survive combat with zombies in the building (which they sometimes don’t), then the humans can loot the place and possibly find guns. Guns are good for allowing people to blast zombies at a distance, because tough as those Vegas hookers are, even they want to avoid fighting hand-to-hand with creatures that chew off hands, and other body parts, too.

But in All Things Zombie, using guns has a catch. Every time the humans fire a shot, they must roll the dice. There is a 50-50 chance that the sound of each shot will attract the attention of other zombies, which means more undead pieces are placed on the map. Desperate to save yourself from a horde of homicidal monsters, you fire off six rounds from that Glock you were lucky enough to find in the farmhouse, only to discover that that three more have appeared with an insatiable appetite for your tasty flesh.

And with a blinding flash, like a zombie popping out from behind a door, I finally understood the fundamental dilemma of counterinsurgency. Don’t bomb the Viet Cong entrenched in the village, and they keep shooting at you. Bomb the village, and the villagers join the guerrillas. Don’t drone-strike the Taliban chieftain, and he plans another IED ambush. Blast him with a Hellfire missile, and the resentful locals join the insurgents.

And just like a zombie movie, no matter how many insurgents you cut down, they keep coming back…and coming back…and coming back. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. While the living dead may be damnation incarnate, they offer a valuable lesson. Don’t go down into the cellar. And don’t fight a counterinsurgency war in Asia.

Michael Peck is a defense writer. He is a contributor to Forbes Defense, editor of Uncommon Defense, and senior analyst for Wikistrat. Twitter: @Mipeck1

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