Looking at Nationalism : A Review of the Book WOOL by HUGH HOWEY

By Frank Cetera on

This is the author’s first book review analysis attempting to understand the root causes of dystopian fiction through the lens of political, social, and economic factors, for the purpose of understanding modern day realities of existence and struggle.

World War II expressed Nationalism in all of its glory as a rationale for empire.  The antagonist nation in wool did the same, but with the high

technology available to them, created an almost instantaneous “final solution” that led to hundreds of years of isolated life for the chosen few in huge underground silos that reached 140 stories downward.


Dystopian fiction can be classified in many categorical ways.  One popular theme is related to the form of disaster that initiates the apocalyptic future depicted - nuclear war (Riddley Walker), terrorism (The Handmaid’s Tale), economic collapse (World Made By Hand), and the list goes on and on, (all of which I look forward to exploring in future segments of this series).  What these thematic examples often fail to elaborate thoroughly upon, or provide any deep-seated analysis of, is the root causes of the focal events in these tales. Can we learn more, and come to a fuller potential understanding, of our current societal state by being aware of the root events  from dystopian fiction?

We can know that it is climate change and the resulting rising coastal waters, increased extreme weather phenomena, and encroaching desertification that an example population of dystopian survivors are living with; though what of the social, political, and economic legacies that led to this fictional reality in the first place?  But since these stories are often about just surviving the day, finding enough canned goods and safe spaces to see another sunrise, there is little time left for dealing with, or even thinking about, the mistakes of the past, and they are often hidden from the characters in the books.  

This is analogous to how our current media, political parties, and corporate powers attempt to hide the realities of today so as not to arouse a panic which would sink the Dow Jones index, the only apocalyptic state that would seem to frighten these power mongers.  And this is all too similar to what is happening in our modern times, with many people living paycheck to paycheck, if they have a paycheck at all, and our solutions often amount to no more than slowing the tide with philanthropic charity giveaways of food and clothes.  When looked at in such a lense, it’s just as fair to claim we are currently living in an apocalyptic dystopia as we have ever seen in a futuristic novel depiction.

With the story of Wool, upon review, it can be surmised that many of the events evolve out of a legacy of nationalism.  There is no better time than the current tide of nationalist politics, such as Donald Trump’s rise to popularity, to make sure we are aware of such a current.  Wool allows us to share a fictionalized, and entertaining yet frightening, depiction of nationalism with an extended audience, with an extended mission of education about this root cause of destruction for society.

In Wool, the nationalist state is completely hidden from the population and all the characters living in the silo, because they are completely isolated from any other segment of humanity.  The reality they live is the only reality they know, for the creators of the silos ensured that by using their nationalist zeal to destroy the rest of mankind.  The history of the human race before entering the silos is now a completely hidden non-reality, kept secret by the authoritarian leaders of Operation Fifty of the World Order.  Operation Fifty is a clandestine supreme authority bent on keeping the silo populations oblivious to the past in order to ensure a rise to greatness for this homogenous population at some undetermined point in the future.

The greatest fear for many civilizations has always been that a competing nation-state would be the culprit in a final warmongering devastation.  The fear in Wool arose from the actual fictional reality that the nation of the silo creators was crumbling, and that without action, their being would be eventually annihilated from any or many enemies.  So they took action first, not to care about humanity as a whole, but to ensure the people of their own nation-state would be the only ones to survive.

During the course of the current existence of the silo dwellers, the nationalism flourishes from many instances.  The authority, hidden wthin the IT (Information Technology) population sector of the silo (since it controls communications and information), creates a scarcity to keep people struggling for daily bread, preventing any semblance of ability to wonder what else might exist outside the walls of the silo.  They use a form of punishment that banishes offenders into the wasteland outside the silo, to die in the poisonous environment that exists on Earth. Yet the true reason for this punishment is the cleaning of the lens of the exterior cameras, to maintain the authority over, and unity of, the silo residents by continually reinforcing the view that only they exist, that the world outside the silo does not exist, and it is not worth spending time or energy thinking or doing anything about it.  


The name wool certainly pertains to the use of wool as the cleaning tool used to restore the clear and unobstructed view of the exterior world.  Yet we see that the true reality is that the book’s name refers to the pulling of the wool over the eyes of the silo inhabitants, to maintain the homogenous population’s obliviousness in the name of a nationalist utopia in the making.

Modern theory holds that for nationalism to arise and thrive, there needs to be three factors in place: an industrial economy capable of self-sustainability of the society, a central supreme authority capable of maintaining authority and unity, and a centralized language or small group of centralized languages understood by a community of people (from Wikipedia).  Wool demonstrates all three of these factors with each silo being designed to be self-sustaining including their own Supply and Engineering population classes, existing in the Operation Fifty of the World Order, and the survival of a singular segment of humanity as initiated by the creators of the silos. The creation of the silos that saved this particular population from the oncoming global catastophe of war were necessary at the time, for otherwise death and destruction would have potentially found all inhabitants of the globe.  The unfortunate decision made by Operation Fifty of the World Order was not to save their civilization, but to instill in it the continued traits of nationalism which likely led to the destructive wars to begin with.  Time (and sequels) will only tell if the unwilling participants of this dystopian future can lead themselves out of authoritarianism and  away from fear of any others that may exist in the other remaining silos, and into a re-established democracy as peoples of inalienable rights in equality with survivors of other silos - not as masters.