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Days of Destruction, Days of Revoltby Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
Chris Hedges's writing and reportage is consistently trenchant and unequivocal, notable for its discerning examinations and penetrating insights. Joe Sacco's award-winning work as a cartoonist is as distinctive as it is compassionate. Combining the immense talents of these two men can only result in a devastating, powerful book of timely importance. So it is with Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.
The decline of America is a story of gross injustices, declining standards of living, stagnant or falling wages, long-term unemployment and underemployment, and the curtailment of basic liberties, especially as we militarize our police. It is a story of the weakest forever being crushed by the strong. It is the story of unchecked and unfettered corporate power, which has taken our government hostage, overseen the dismantling of our manufacturing base, bankrupted the nation, and plundered and contaminated our natural resources.
Two years ago, Hedges and Sacco set out to visit areas of the United States that have long been the victims of varying forms of exploitation, neglect, and degradation. The common thread shared by these forlorn locales is that each, in its own way, has served as the sacrificial setting (with individuals, families, once-enduring ways of life, and the environment as the sacrificed) to the insatiable appetites of corporate profit and greed. Their book recounts the time they spent in these places, ably portraying the stories of not only the locations themselves and their sorrowful declines, but also the inhabitants and citizens that have long borne witness and suffered (and continue to suffer) the abuses they are all but powerless to combat.
The four "sacrifice zones" that Hedges and Sacco immersed themselves within are the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota (with the lowest life expectancy for males  anywhere in the Western world, save for Haiti); Camden, New Jersey (a once-flourishing industrial center that is now home to the highest poverty rate per capita in the United States); southern West Virginia, where coal companies, via the abhorrent practice of mountaintop removal, have laid waste to the landscape and befouled air, soil, and water, further endangering the lives of an already-impoverished class of once-proud rural miners; and finally Immokalee, Florida, where migrant agricultural workers (many undocumented) are forced to work in dangerous, deplorable conditions that "replicate slavery." While each of these four settings is beset by their own unique array of circumstances and challenges, they share a commonality in that they have all been preyed upon by the forces of an unrestrained capitalism whose only goals are ever-greater profits and the relentless conversion of resources (be they fossil fuels or people) into aggregated wealth. The individuals with whom Hedges and Sacco met, while each marginalized, neglected, and exploited in their own way, represent far more than the destitute and bereft — they are vassals in the neofeudalistic system that enrich the corporate elite at the expense of everyone and everything else.
As societies become more complex they inevitably become more precarious and vulnerable. As they begin to break down, the terrified and confused population withdraws from reality, unable to acknowledge their fragility and impending collapse. The elites retreat into isolated compounds, whether at Versailles, the Forbidden City, or modern palatial estates. They indulge in unchecked hedonism, the accumulation of wealth, and extravagant consumption. The suffering masses are repressed with greater and greater ferocity. Resources are depleted until they are exhausted. And then the hollowed-out edifice collapses. The Roman and Sumerian empires fell this way. The Mayan elite became, at the end, as the anthropologist Ronald Wright notes in A Short History of Progress, "...extremists, or ultraconservatives, squeezing the last drops of profit from nature and humanity." This is how all civilizations, including our own, ossify and collapse.
As Hedges and Sacco were nearing completion of their book, a group consisting of a few hundred activists in a lower Manhattan park "unwittingly triggered a global movement of resistance that would reverberate across the country and the capitals of Europe." Occupy Wall Street took aim at corporate greed, corruption, cronyism, and the undue influence corporations have over democracy. As an antipode to the impotence found in the desolated regions they visited earlier, Zuccotti Park represented a vitality and intensity that offered a differing account to the one proffered by the monolithic corporate media. As they had done elsewhere, Hedges and Sacco listened, interviewed, and reported upon the burgeoning movement as it grew from its infancy. Whereas hope had been but an abstraction in Camden, Pine Ridge, Immokalee, and West Virginia, in New York City they witnessed collective aspirations amounting to a clarion call for restorative justice.
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is an often unsettling, upsetting book. The clarity and empathy with which Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco crafted this book is colored by its unyielding potency. Their work serves as a steadfast documentary on the calamitous effects of allowing plutocratic rule to proliferate. As we observe the increasing criminalization of dissent, growing disparity of wealth, and rapidly advancing debasement of the ecosystems upon which we depend for survival, a new narrative is taking form. With their book, Hedges and Sacco have made a laudable effort in so eloquently contrasting these opposing forces. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a blistering indictment of unfettered capitalism, a lament for the inhumane and callous treatment of those it deems expendable, and, perhaps most importantly, a rousing portrait of what our future may look like if it is permitted to endure.
The devastation of Pine Ridge, in Camden, in southern West Virginia, and in the Florida produce fields has worked its way upward. The corporate leviathan has migrated with the steady and ominous thud of destruction from the outer sacrifice zones to devour what remains. The vaunted American Dream, the idea that life will get better, that progress is inevitable if we obey the rules and work hard, that material prosperity is assured, has been replaced by a hard and bitter truth. The American Dream, we now know, is a lie. We will all be sacrificed. The virus of corporate abuse — the perverted belief that only corporate profit matters — has spread to outsource our jobs, cut the budgets of our schools, close our libraries, and plague our communities with foreclosures and unemployment. This virus has brought with it a security and surveillance state that seeks to keep us all on a reservation. No one is immune. The suffering of the other, of the Native American, the African American in the inner city, the unemployed coal miner, or the Hispanic produce picker is universal. They went first. We are next. The indifference we showed to the plight of the underclass, in biblical terms our 'neighbor,' haunts us. We failed them, and in doing so we failed ourselves. We were accomplices in our own demise. Revolt is all we have left. It is the only hope.
Recommended by Jeremy, Powell's City of Books
Synopses & Reviews
Camden, New Jersey, with a population of 70,390, is per capita the poorest city in the nation. It is also the most dangerous. The city's real unemployment — hard to estimate, since many residents have been severed from the formal economy for generations — is probably 30 to 40 percent. The median household income is $24,600. There is a 70 percent high school dropout rate, with only 13 percent of students managing to pass the state's proficiency exams in math. The city is planning $28 million in draconian budget cuts, with officials talking about cutting 25 percent from every department, including layoffs of nearly half the police force. The proposed slashing of the public library budget by almost two-thirds has left the viability of the library system in doubt. There are perhaps a hundred open-air drug markets, most run by gangs like the Bloods, the Latin Kings, and MS-13. Camden is awash in guns, easily purchased across the river in Pennsylvania, where gun laws are lax.
Camden, like America, was once an industrial giant. It employed some 36,000 workers in its shipyards during World War II and built some of the nation's largest warships. It was the home to major industries, from RCA Victor to Campbell's Soup. It was a destination for immigrants and upwardly mobile lower middle class families. Camden now resembles a penal colony.
In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and American Book Award winning cartoonist Joe Sacco show how places like Camden, a poster child of postindustrial decay, stand as a warning of what huge pockets of the United States will turn into if we cement in place a permanent underclass. In addition to Camden, Hedges and Sacco report from the coal fields of West Virginia, Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and undocumented farm worker colonies in California. With unemployment and underemployment combined at far over ten percent, as Congress proposes to slash Medicare and Medicaid, Food Stamps, Pell Grants, Social Security, and other social services, Hedges and Sacco warn of a bleak near future — where cities and states fall easily into bankruptcy, neofeudalism reigns, and the nations working and middle classes are decimated. A shocking report from the frontlines of poverty in America, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a clarion call for reform.
"An unabashedly polemic, angry manifesto that is certain to open eyes, intensify outrage and incite argument about corporate greed....A call for a new American revolution, passionately proclaimed." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In the vein of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author Chris Hedges and American Book Award winning cartoonist Joe Sacco bring us a searing on-the-ground report on the crisis gripping underclass America and crime.
About the Author
Chris Hedges, a Senior Fellow at The Nation Institute, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans, with fifteen years at the New York Times. He is the author of the bestsellers War is Force That Gives Us Meaning, American Fascists, Empire of Illusion and Death of the Liberal Class. He currently writes for numerous publications, including Harpers, the New York Review of Books, Granta, and Mother Jones. A columnist for Truthdig, he lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
Joe Sacco is a Maltese citizen currently residing in Portland, OR where he makes his living as a cartoonist and journalist. Sacco was a recipient of the prestigious American Book Award in 1996 for Palestine. His first post-Palestine work, the short story "Christmas with Karadzic," appeared in Zero Zero (#15), the leading alternative comics anthology. The story was the subject of a major feature on Sacco in The New York Times in June of 1999, and set the stage for the success of his next major opus, Safe Area Gorazde. (It has since been collected in the book War's End.)
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