I came to this book because of my enthusiasm for the work of Joe Sacco, but finished it searching on the internet for more info about the ideas of Chris Hedges, who for me is one of the most articulate radicals i have come across in a very long time.
Sacco is one of a kind, a political investigative journalist through the media of comic strips. I have several of his books, and particularly enjoyed "Safe Area Gorazde", an account of the conflict in Bosnia. He puts you on the ground and introduces you to his friends and associates.
He does the same thing here as he and Hedges visit four areas, where interestingly four different racial groups have been chewed up and spat out by corporate America. These are Pine Ridge Indian reservation, Camden New Jersey where departing manufacturing industry has left little but a drug culture, the Appalachian mountains, where mountains are literally taken apart in open cast coal mining, and Florida where Central American immigrant labour is exploited in tomato picking without any kind of regulation.
The common theme is that corporate industry has bought and sold government at police, state and federal levels in such a way that whereas lipservice is paid to liberal and constitutional ethics and standards, in practice justice is not a commodity that is generally available for poor working class people, at least not without a fight.
As an English person several of these scenarios were new to me. Corruption is not quite as entrenched or uninhibited I don't think in my country, although it works in a similar way.
The section on Pine Ridge stands out because the travesties of justice go back a hundred and fifty years or more, and we realise that what we are seeing now all over was always the American way when ethics come up against profit.
Hedges' writing is very impressive. If you research him on the internet as I have done you discover he has a track record of reporting oppression and over the years has put himself at risk in a number of situations, he seems a fairly committed guy.
He is also very thoughtful and spiritual as a person. His point of view is never negative imo. A lot of people found this book depressing according to the reviews. I didn't. I found it truly shocking, and I speak as a guy who has thousands of books on his shelf, many of them about history and politics. This book is shocking because it talks to real people, depicts them, and then comes up with a poltical narrative built up from their experience, and it demonstrates the conflict between the "democratic" narrative and reality.
The final chapter is about the Occupy movement, and Hedges gives his poltical credo. I am not sure what I think about this but it is cohesive, clearly put, and far more intelligent than any other such credo I have read for several decades at a political level. it is easy to criticise and not easy to come up with a plan, and this is a fairly intelligent and unflinching attempt at least.
This book is an up to date indictment of modern capitalism and put together in an extremely thought-provoking way
on 26 November 2012
The American Dream is one of the most powerful myths of all time. It is so powerful because one of its main tenets appeals to a basic sense of justice which dictates that if you work hard, you should be rewarded in kind. This is America's promise. In 'Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt', Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco show this promise to be tragically hollow.
Hedges is a former New York Times journalist who has previously won the Pulitzer prize. Joe Sacco is the pioneer of 'comics journalism', and the author of a number of excellent works in that genre. 'Days of Destruction...' is largely a collection of prose reportage supported by detailed drawings by Sacco, along with a number of longer comic strips which tell particular parts of a certain character's story. It is an interesting idea, and one which is executed with mixed success.
The book contains five sections in total. The first four focus on places in America facing extreme poverty and exploitation at the hands of corporate and governmental elites - Pine Ridge, South Dakota; Camden, New Jersey; southern West Virginia; and Immokalee, Florida. The fifth section looks at Occupy Wall Street and what it might mean for the future. All concern people who have done what they were supposed to for their share in the American Dream, and were dispossessed in the name of power and profit.
Hedges is foremost an excellent writer. His prose is simple, crisp, and engaging. He provides vivid portraits of characters, places and their stories; fitting them neatly into a wider context, and in some cases even adding a bit of theoretical background to bolster his arguments. He is clearly disgusted at what he has seen in his country, writing furiously in the hope that the stories he tells will gain wider attention. This lends him an air of deep compassion, but also, at times, a degree of sanctimoniousness. From time to time I felt that his sympathy for the people he interviewed (and indeed the fact that he avoided interviewing anyone on the opposing side of an issue in all but one case) skewed the reality of the stories a stroke too far, but then again, this isn't supposed to be objective reporting; it's a worthy expression of outrage at needless indignity and squalor. Particularly interesting was the part about Camden, New Jersey. Though it tells a story similar to that of many East Coast cities, the corruption and brutality of Camden's experience is both moving and depressing, evoked sensitively by Hedges. The Pine Ridge, South Dakota story is also very good, but is difficult to read since it portrays the diminished and broken people living on a native American reservation, forgotten by the rest of America, condemned to a life of alcohol, drugs, and crime.
The contributions by Sacco are fewer, but when set alongside prose, they serve to highlight the largely unrecognised strengths of 'comics journalism'. While Hedges with his writing can sometimes lapse into tracts of righteous indignation, the form Sacco works with allows him room only to let the subjects speak. There is no space for preaching. As a result, the reports are often stark and shocking in the terseness - perhaps even the banality - with which they tell of endless heartbreak, tragedy and suffering. It is true that Sacco has to take liberties with his drawings, which because they seek to put together a story from the past, he must base to a good extent on his own imagination. But his gift for capturing important moments, and teasing out a person's humanity make his journalism uniquely affecting. I was a little disappointed there were not more comic strips from Sacco in this book, but I can imagine it probably took him just as long to do what he did as it took Hedges to write the other 200 or so pages, such is the detail of Sacco's work.
One thing that left me unconvinced was the final section on Occupy Wall Street. While I am broadly sympathetic to its cause and appreciated the insight the piece gave, I felt Hedges avoided looking at some of the deeper issues it raises. For example, I am not sure there is a better alternative to a properly regulated free-market economy, and Hedges didn't question any of his interviewees about the possibility that capitalism may be a good thing, and that better regulation rather than dissolution could be a safer and more beneficial solution to what we have now. I was also concerned about the kinds of anarchistic power structures which seemed to develop there. Though in an ideal world I could be happy living in an anarcho-syndicalist community, in reality this seems completely impossible for a number of reasons. Hedges accepted this anarchistic take on the organisation without raising any of the general problems with the theory. Nonetheless, I found the details of the way the organisation developed quite compelling, and the intelligence, empathy, and eloquence of the people interviewed was heartening.
'Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt' is an important work which shows how people in America have been brutally beaten down by the quest for profit, but also how they refuse to be defeated by continually fighting back and never losing hope. There is a brilliant quote by H. L. Mencken which is included in the book which perfectly sums up the attitudes of the authors and those they met:
"The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair."
Though the traditional American Dream may be a lie, these people still love America and are doing their best to help make it into the place they know it can become.
on 16 November 2012
This is essential stuff for anyone who is interested on the dynamics driving contemporary america. The first four chapters each are brilliantly written investigative pieces on some of the places at the sharp end of the contemporary crisis in industrial capitalism. The first chapter excavates Americas past through looking at the bloody legacy of the creation of the country and how it bleeds into the present. It takes in life and death on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and looks at the issues of dispossession that the Sioux people have to live with. The second chapter looks at the inner cities (specifically, Camden NJ.) and charts many of the processes that anyone who has seen The Wire will be familiar with. Chapter 3 looks at West Virginia and the murder of communities of the rural poor by the Coal industry. In chapter 4 we're in the Florida and looking at the fresh produce industry.
The themes that connect each of these chapters is the degradation of the physical landscape, the dispossession of its population and their sacrifice before the altar of an increasingly rapacious and destructive capitalism. In illustrating this Joe Saccos drawings are brutally illuminating. The comic strips that intersperse the text, each of which tells the life story of one of the inhabitants of these areas, also brings the stories of these people and their world to life in uncomfortable and uncompromising detail.
The last chapter details what the author hopes, and what many of us still hope, is the beginnings of a large scale fight back with the occupy movement. Its good that the author finishes on a note of hope. Seriously, after reading about West Virginia I was genuinely puzzled as to why america doesn't have more indigenous terrorists in the Appalachians going all ELF on the bastards and taking out a few of those big ass multi million pound earth-rapers the mining companies use. You could see it couldn't you? A few hillbillies baking up batches of backyard dynamite in their out houses or pilfering it from the mining companies themselves, merking some heavy equipment and disappearing off back into the hills. I suppose he does answer this one indirectly by making the point that most people tend to opt for escape (either physical through internal migration or figurative into the haze of OxyContyn) as a less dangerous option. I suppose when you stand up and fight its because you have something to fight for and by god they aren't leaving them much of that.
The authors commentary on the Occupy movement and its methods of organisation and resistance do a lot to balance some of the nihilism of the previous chapters. In it though you can see some of the issues and contradictions that would become more apparent as occupy spread across the world, and a few of the very real problems with it are left unaddressed. That said, it is nice to have an insiders account of the beginnings of something that I at least have confidence will be seen as a real turning point.
I've seen other people dismissing this book as polemic. Well, I think thats fair enough, but its necessary to counteract the constant one sided braincandy pumped out by the mainstream media. The carnival of consumerist apologia has given enough air space and time to the system and its defenders, frankly more is not needed. There is an urgent need in fact for more of this kind of stuff and I hope it gets the airing it deserves.
A collaboration comprising Hedge's reportage and Sacco's comic book journalism presents a harrowing account of what daily life looks like in four so-called "sacrifice zones" - screwed-up places in America where dire poverty is rife, and where human (eg, workers) and natural resources (eg, land) are exploited to the extreme in the name of profit. That is, squeezed dry of profitable yield, then ruthlessly discarded. Hedges hard-hitting tragic life-stories based on interviews, and the expressions of pain, misery, indignation, rage and despair on faces in Sacco's moving graphics, allow characters and situations to speak for themselves. This combination of text and comic book journalism works well when put-together, to show in all four "sacrifice zones" the obscene greed of vulture (free market) capitalism as practised by corporate power in its rapacious use of land and resources to maximise profits.
Days of slavery: the most shocking section of the book (IMO), follows the plight of migrant workers in camps in Immokalee, Florida who endure modern day slavery. Paid less than a living wage picking tomatoes, workers are subjected to squalid living conditions (ten to a trailer in trailer parks), nights spent squeezed inside locked sheds without toilets or, as is routinely the case, if in debt bondage to the crew leader, locked in enclosures behind a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire to prevent escape; are subjected to inhuman working hours and conditions doing back-breaking labour in punishing heat; face being abused or beaten by crew leaders if they protest or are too sick to work. In the Florida tomato fields where profit margin is the bottom line, workers are not seen as human beings but are merely "tools for work". Other deadly hazards facing the migrant workers are severe respitary problems and acute pesticide poisoning arising from exposure to toxic chemicals and pesticides.
A shocking exposure of the obscene naked greed of corporate bloodsuckers in America.