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Saturday, March 30, 2013

  The book is Days Of Destruction Days Of Revolt. It is a team effort between Chris Hedges (writer/journalist and Joe Sacco, (writer/cartoonist) showing us the down and awful of daily life in four centers of 21st-century American poverty. Hedges’ is the muckraker with facts and opinion. . Sacco’s contributes words of real people  whose story  ivisualized in a dramatic cartoon form.  Both authors had reported on the ugly effects of various wars around the world.  In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt they take us to the bombed-out and collapsed areas of  our own country. Sacco’s part, I think is the better of the two. You see the people and their surroundings, read their stories and draw your own conclusions.  Hedges fills in the background and then opines in a very forceful manner. For one, I mostly agreed with his conclusions. They ownly fueled my anger. Perhaps, I am a revolutionary at heart. You own reaction would, no doubt, depend on you present political views.
If you’ve seen your town fade and then crumble with jobs shipped overseas, unions’ broken, corrupt and bribed government taken over and drugs and violence endemic like Camden, New Jersey you’d be angry too. Perhaps you live in the “rust belt.”
Anyone who grew up near a postindustrial area — who has seen a middle-class town become a pocket of destitution — will not find any one chapter in this book too shocking. What is shocking is the degree to which this depth of poverty is found everywhere, from rural Indian reservations to near-slave conditions in Florida tomato fields. These are not pleasant stories. They are the very sort of thing we all prefer to forget so that we can focus on our daily lives, and this makes it all the more important that they are recorded.
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is split into five chapters focusing on different regions within America.  There is the life of the Native-Americans in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, a reservation where the average salary can range between $2,600 to $3,500 a year. Alcoholism, violence, and sexual abuse are a regular part of their lives. Their current plight finds its historical roots in a policy that can only be described as genocide

Coal mining and its dehumanizing effects are the subjects of another chapter, taking place in Welch, West Virginia: "Disease in the coalfields is rampant... More than half a million acres, or eight hundred square miles, of the Appalachians have been destroyed... Along with an estimated one thousand miles of streams."
Joe Sacco doesn't glamorize his drawings of the miners, emphasizing gestures, wrinkles, poses brimming with both resignation and defiance. They sweat tears, covered in grime, struggling against both the planet and their supervisors to eke out a meager living.
What makes this section so damning is what Julian Martin, a seventy-four-year-old retired high school teacher, says about the reasons for the coal mining and the devastation that has leveled the region. They consider it "...a sacrifice zone. It's so the rest of the country can have electric toothbrushes and leave the lights on all night... and shit like that."
If I felt bad about lights, I felt even worse about eating tomatoes with the fourth chapter that takes place in Immokalee, Florida. Illegal immigrants have a tough life, and this because they chase their dreams of making enough just to support their family. Farm work is one of the toughest professions around, and pesticides and chemicals make their already rigorous tasks deadly. With no legal rights, their lives verge on bondage with unbearable living conditions that they are forced to bear. We see this with Ana who started her life in Guatemala. Her husband came to the States first and she crossed the border afterward. The illegal smuggling is depicted in harsh illustrations with corpses and snakes littering the way. She trudged through the desert, clinging to the hope of something better. When she met her husband in Philadelphia, she was shocked at the poor condition of the house they shared with many others. Moving to Immokalee was supposed to be better. But, as she says: "...In the trailers where we had to live there were rats and cockroaches... The reality is we're not free; we're treated badly... Americans don't look at us as human beings. They look at us as tools for work."

 These are tough chapters to read. This isn't just some distant region Hedges is describing. This is our own backyard, these are the people who walk invisibly among us, persecuted and denigrated as the cause of our economic woes when, in fact, they are the labor force that contributes to making our produce at markets so cheap.
Hedges makes the "corporate state" out to be the primary culprit of all that has gone wrong. "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 plagues our communities with foreclosures and unemployment."

I found myself respectfully disagreeing, not on the symptoms, which are clearly disastrous, but the medicine he proposes, particularly the more extreme calls he makes. Call me naïve, but I still believe in the American system and its capacity to change, however slow it might seem. I also thought that his demonization of corporations was too general, because even with all the examples of corruption, there are still many companies that don't follow that path. Of course I don't want to get into a political discussion. I only mention my disagreement to emphasize the point that this is where the book might risk alienating certain readers. The quotation about revolt as the only hope, taken out of context, could also turn off potential readers. But that would be a big mistake because this book should be read, regardless of the readers' inclinations and beliefs. Hedges carries the mantle of Upton Sinclair, Howard Zinn, George Orwell, and all the agitators in fighting for the soul of nations when so many have forgotten what that means. His eloquence is in the eloquence of the lives he presents, and Sacco lovingly animates them. It's rare that a book carries so much courage and conviction, forcing reflection and an urge to immediately rectify the problems.
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, is a memoir not just of the impoverished, but one of all of us. It's a call to start rewriting the forthcoming days by redressing these issues now. I imagine Hedges's hope is that we can eventually all have new chapters, ones we can proudly draw out with the brush strokes of our own lives.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco.....


1 comment:

Folkways Note Book said...

troutbirder -- I am afraid that much of what you identify in your review is so true. I too believe in our country but it is not the country I grew up in. We definitely are in trouble. Our humanity is being bought. Out judicial system is being bought. Our government is being bought. Our industrial underpinnings have disappeared. We recycle money to stay afloat. All very scary to me. --- barbara