on July 9, 2012
Chris Hedges has a great capacity for evoking the misery and hopelessness that is increasingly common in this country. This is often a depressing book--but it is strongly based in reality. Periodically in the book there are--provided by Joe Sacco--illustrations and comic book depictions of the lives of the individuals profiled in the book.
In the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota, Hedges describes one of the poorest and most socially dysfunctional areas in the United States. Why are Pine Ridge residents in this predicament? Hedges finds the answer in the subduing of Indian resistance in the late 19th century. The basis for traditional Indian culture was wiped out, including the buffalo. The US government successfully used racist and murderous military violence to subdue native resistance. That violence included rape; Hedges quotes George Custer's chief of scouts as telling the historian Walter Camp that captured squaws in the 1868 raid on Washita were used as sex slaves. Custer selected one for himself. Custer was a big part of the US military operations designed to steal the Black Hills region from the Lakota Sioux. The Black Hills had been granted to the Indians by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie but gold, coal and other minerals were soon discovered in the region. A great many avaricious white people flooded into the region. The US military soon went into operation to steal Black Hills for white economic interests. The US government suppressed Indian language and culture. They instituted elected reservation governments that were easily controlled by the US government. An example of these puppet governments is pointed to by Hedges: the Pine Ridge tribal council in the 70's under the thuggish, corrupt leadership of Dick Wilson, a man very friendly towards white economic interests wishing to exploit Indian land. Wilson was a violent enemy of the American Indian Movement.
Hedges profiles several Pine Ridge residents including people who have set themselves toward living constructive lives after years of destructive activities like alcoholism and gangs. According to Hedges, such people have gotten on the right path by participating in old Lakota rituals like sun dances and sweat lodges. Hedges writes that this rediscovering of roots has had a strong influence in helping Indians fight against the tendencies towards destructive lifestyles that Pine Ridge's poverty and hopelessness encourages.
The next chapter is about Camden New Jersey. Camden is almost exclusively inhabited by persons of color, mostly African Americans. The city's residents face bleak job prospects, the housing and infrastructure have long crumbled and crime, drugs and prostitution afflict the city. One of the people examined in this chapter--citing reports from the Philadelphia Inquirer and other newspapers-- is George Norcross III, the insurance magnate and a dominant force in state politics. The Camden County Democratic Party appears to be the most docile instrument utilized by Norcross's political machine. Camden itself has been under the control of an unelected state government board since it went bankrupt a decade ago. Norcross seems to exercise very substantial influence with this board. He is in the habit of threatening to destroy local and state government officials and politicians who cross him; he has been caught on tape doing so using very profane language. If they cross him, these politicians run the risk of compelling Norcross to use his substantial influence to try to defeat them at election time. While Camden's resident's deal with contaminated drinking water, crumbling infrastructure and a downsized police force, the politicians he supports make sure that tax dollars flow to him and his business allies through government contracts and millions of dollars in subsidies for urban renewal projects. Hedges writes that while Norcross is a Democrat, he is also an ally of New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie.
The next chapter is about southern West Virginia. This region has been economically ravaged, experienced massive population flight and has many towns that are almost ghost communities. In this miserable environment, some residents have become drug addicts. Strip mining and mountain top removal mining seem to be the only thriving industries in the area but these create dreadful externalities. These operations spread toxic soot all over surrounding communities. Hedges examines the resistance of the town of Sylvester to the pollution sprayed upon it by a subsidiary of Massey Energy. This pollution severely contaminates the water supply, soil and air; the area is prone to high rates of cancer, respiratory ailments and other medical problems. Elderly people are predominant among Hedges's interviewees in this chapter. For example there are the elderly women active in the fight in Sylvester and the retired man refusing to bow to pressure to leave his ancestral property surrounded by mining operations. This retired man and another anti-mining activist, a woman in her early 40's, report being subjected to various acts of intimidation including drive by shootings, repeated vandalism to their property and killings of their pet dogs.
Next is Imoakalee Florida, a center of immigrant agricultural labor, mostly Latino. The immigrants are housed in horrible conditions; subjected to extremely low pay; back-breaking labor; and serious respiratory problems, acute pesticide poisoning and other aliments caused by exposure to pesticides like Methyl Bromide. It is not uncommon for these workers to be held in literal slavery, have their paychecks stolen and subjected to physical abuse. The legal system in Florida appears willing to prosecute cases of slavery but the immigrants are very afraid to come forward for obvious reasons. Hedges interviews activists from the Coalition of Imoakalee workers, a very impressive organization--he describes their struggle to secure a minimum level of decent conditions.
Hedges ends his book with a stop at Occupy New York's home base. He argues that the Occupy movement and historical figures--including Crazy Horse and Eastern European communist era dissidents--are models for resistance to the corporate tyranny that afflicts us. Hedges paints a vivid picture of the landscapes he and Sacco visit and the people they talk to. Sacco's illustrations are engaging.
on June 4, 2012
a grim but exceptional book, as expected from Hedges, Sacco's art is a brilliant compliment to the writing, Chris Hedges is truly a hero, I urge evryone to watch his CSPAN book TV inteview on you tube. This is a guy that walks the talk and puts his ass on the line for freedom and human rights, BRAVO!
BTW, I paid the full price at our local independent bookstore, Amazon is fantastic, a real lifesaver, especially in rural areas, but lets not forget to support our local businesses
on July 29, 2012
Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" was seen to be a literary project that humanized the people ground down by the Great Depression. I would like to think that this book by Hedges and Sacco does the same, only it is not a story. It's what Hedges does best: it is reporting. Sacco's drawings are highly effective and I would like to think that they may bring thoughtful discussion about this topic to people who would not be likely to slog their way through an essay by Hedges, Chomsky or Henry Giroux.
I particularly like the inclusion of Pine Ridge because it implicitly illustrates how long America's habit of discarding inconvenient people has existed. But all of it is good.
IF you have never read Hedges expect to be discomfited. Sit with it and keep reading. Know that this may not represent your reality but it is real enough for too many people. In the back of your mind, in the dark of the night, do you fear that this reality will be the reality of your children and grandchildren? I certainly do.
And again, with out trying to and almost begrudgingly, Hedges demonstrates a deep spirituality and paints a manifestation of the best of Christianity though certainly not that which you will see illustrated all too often by people who would call themselves religious leaders.
Read it preparing to be challenged. I think this book AND I HOPE THIS BOOK will find it's way into various college and high school classrooms. It has the possibility to take many students beyond the read and regurgitate style of so many classrooms today.
IT'S KILLING ME to see this book take it on the chops for how well it translated to electronic media. I guess if you are in the decision phase of buying this book then I would say buy the real thing not the virtual model. The way the written content and the graphic content interfaces is very much an important part of this design. It's a cutting edge format. And it is unfortunate that that did not turn out to be a great consumer experience for those who plunked down the dollars for the e-model. It's well worth it...buy it as book. I may buy it to give to people. Just read it.
on August 1, 2012
This book starts off pretty rough about the Native Americans in Pine Ridge and their tragic cycle of poverty and abuse. It continues on to Camden New Jersey and the devastation of deindustrialization and a government that did not plan for it.
Although Hedges and Sacco are obviously progressives, they don't spare the corrupt Democratic political machine in Camden nor do they spare the corrupt union leader who took over after John L. Lewis for the mine workers in West Virginia.
This book has a clear, consistent and overwhelmingly persuasive thesis- that unless we take control of the corporate behomoth that is slowly strangling America, we can expect the same fate as those we have ignored up until now- the coal miner, the Native American the farm workers who are virtual slaves in Florida.
I already see it happening in education as here in California. Corporate "reformers" are trying to attach a student test score to teachers as if all my students learn in my class is on a multiple choice test. I went into education so I wouldn't be a commodity but now, like everyone else, I will be a commodity forever associated with one number on a multiple choice test.
The price of the book is worth it alone for just the first few pages in the last Chapter discussing the uprisings in Eastern Europe in 1969 and then 1989. Fabulous, riveting and a book I will always cherish and keep. I will be buying copies so my students can read this book. Thanks to Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco.
on August 2, 2012
In 1980 Howard Zinn published A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, presenting America "through the eyes of the common people rather than political and economic elites," as one summary put it. 1980! Of all years to publish! It was the year Ronald Reagan won the White House and the commencement of the moneyed interests' take-back of America, as through the corporation-beholden presidencies of Reagan, the George Bushes, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, the New Deal and Great Society would be dismantled.
And now we have Chris Hedges' and Joe Sacco's DAYS OF DESTRUCTION, DAYS OF REVOLT, published in 2012 - shortly after Howard Zinn's death - a state of the union address told through people at the bottom of the continuously deepening hole into which America's standard of living his fallen. Through three decades Howard Zinn had periodically updated A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES but now that he isn't around to continue doing so, DAYS OF DESTRUCTION, DAYS OF REVOLT picks up the gauntlet, reporting the latest, gravest facts on the long poor (Native Americans, African-Americans, immigrants) and new poor (blue collar workers and the Occupy movement). Dealt out of the New Deal and now residing in a Grate Society, more and more all the people living in America have left is one another.
Because if nothing else the people are the majority, DAYS OF DESTRUCTION, DAYS OF REVOLT reminds us, a vast majority, a majority of 99 percent. The power over the one percent was always there, if it manifests in the rebellion it will take to prove it.
Read DAYS OF DESTRUCTION, DAYS OF REVOLT.
on August 8, 2012
I find it very odd that a handful of bad reviews all came in on the same day, all complaining about issues using on various e-readers. That has nothing to do with the merit of the book itself, and unfortunately those complaints bring down the ratings significantly.
Don't listen to people who gripe about not being able to read this book on their iPad. I suspect those reviews were planted deliberately (and all it cost them was about $40). Also consider who is writing them. Odds are they only have one (this) review or only a hand full and are done all on the same one day/week. Seems like the types of people getting paid to do this (planting negative reviews). Neo-conservatives. Shame on them. Whether the e-readers are a failure or not, Amazon's mistake shouldn't drive down the rating for the printed book. They could at least still leave a 3 or 4 star review and still mention the e-reader problem in the title.
Don't listen to the guy who thinks Chris has nothing important to say. Or that he causes more problems that helps. Honestly, the first and most important part to any solution is hearing the truth. The raw reality of how things are. And Chris does an amazing job of being honest. Things are NOT getting better. Better times are NOT around the corner. The 'economy' (whatever that is) 'turning around' (whatever that means) isn't going to make life all rosy. That's what the media, politicians, corporations, etc all want you to believe. To even remotely consider alternative ways of living, perhaps even radical ways of living, we first have to see the truth so we feel compelled to reject the larger system we are a part of. If we remain blind, numb, comfortable, then we won't ever be motivated to do anything differently or to take charge in our lives. You need to look at the larger spectrum, to look at history, to look at what happened over the past 100 years to make sense of certain situations of today. You will start to see the trends of manipulation, greed, recklessness, selfishness, domination, and deception of the masses to comply with the small few who supposedly know best.
Camden wasn't always a bad place to live. South Jersey used to be a booming economic and industrial area. But today I try to avoid Camden County entirely. It's totally disturbing when you have a run down inner city town with beat-up rowhomes and only 15 minutes away you have swank suburbs in a place like Cherry Hill or even better, Mount Laurel (which I believe is that way merely because it's in a different county, despite it's proximity to Camden).
To complain about Chris not being some saint is preposterous. He's just one man. To even think a single person can be put on a pedestal is ridiculous. Just because he's not the savior of the world doesn't mean his words are useless. Sometimes people are better at some things than others. Whether he makes a comfy living or not is beyond the point. The kind of raw ugly truth that our society is inherently destructive is perhaps the very message we need to hear so we decide to live radically differently. Every last person has a responsibility to live in a sustainable way and to create goodness around them. Perhaps it's because we believe that a small group of people (leaders) can represent everybody, that we are in this mess. Maybe people ought to represent themselves. History has proven that people are largely self-interested, especially the larger the things they have control over.
We have this foolish idea of what options there are for control/power. We seem to be under the illusion that if we are to participate at all, we need to do so on a grand scale, that either we lead the world or we wait to be led. On a large scale of change, leadership, control, etc I think this mentality of all or nothing will end up making most people give up and let the small few who are determined enough to control everything do what they want, and foolishly believe that they somehow care about all of us (and not some agenda). But the thing that I think we fail to see is that power/control doesn't need to be an all-or-nothing thing. We ought to live in smaller independent communities, towns, etc and then participation isn't something so frightening or discouraging. It doesn't feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. So personally, I don't think we can or should expect much of anything from any one individual. We each have the responsibility to participate in our system, and maybe it's best that we do so in a system where participation isn't so overwhelming - on a small community scale, where our web of interdependence isn't so complex that destruction and powerlessness are inherent.
Chris may not have all the answers, and maybe is a bit naive about 'Occupy Wall Street' actually making things better - but to show what mainstream media will not bother discussing - I think it's worth noting and congratulating him for his efforts. At the very least, his writing ought to open your eyes to a very disturbing view of the world, and hopefully open up an interest in seeking the truth in it's many levels through the countless other history/sociology/political books that show society for the sham that it is.
on April 6, 2014
I believe Chris Hedges is probably the most gifted, credible, honest and relevant intellectual of our time (having recently inherited that mantle from Chomsky).
The man scarcely puts a foot wrong on any issue.
If you are not familiar with him, go to TruthDig and read his columns from start to finish.
By the time you are done, you will have a clearer understanding of why the world is as screwed up as it is, why the US is to blame for most of it, and why the US is in terminal decline (except for the privileged few).
If this doesn't make you very very angry - then check yourself for a pulse.
Chris Hedges is one of those rare people, speaking truth to power right in the moment when it is CRITICAL to speak truth to power.
With this book he and Joe Sacco lay bare numerous examples of what he terms America's "sacrifice zones" - zones of people and places who have fallen by the wayside ... tossed aside ... forgotten.
Where the "American Dream" has turned into a nightmare of almost unimaginable dimensions.
And this nightmare is not getting better - it is getting worse.
It is impossible not to be touched by the heart-rending stories of the people whom they interview - people who for the most part have done very little (if anything) wrong, but who are being run into the ground under the bulldozer of misbegotten corporate and legal power.
It was Plato who said "the people who see past the shadows and lies of their culture, will never be understood, let alone believed by the masses."
Well, Chris Hedges is carrying a torch for truth, and we would do well to listen to his clarion call.
If you want to see an amazing 9 minute video of Hedges which sums this all up nicely, then Google "Chris Hedges Inverted Totalitarianism Youtube"
Buy the book. Give it as a gift. Share it widely. We need to hear these people's stories.
on September 5, 2012
Let's be brutally honest here (because this is a brutally honest book).
The individuals whom Chris Hedges writes about and whom Joe Sacco draws are not the individuals who will buy and read this book. The individuals in the book are reservation Indians whose life are a powerful and volatile mix of alcohol, poverty, and sexual abuse. They are West Virginia coal miners whose land and whose livelihood is being taken away from them in exchange for tuberculosis and cancer. They are the illegal Mexican and Guatemalan migrants who are modern-day American slaves to corporate agri-business.
The lives of these individuals are so far removed from the readership of this book, smart left-leaning intellectuals who went to good schools and read all the right books. It is mentally taxing and painful for the readers of this book to try to understand the impossibly unfathomable poverty and hopelessness and misery of America's underclass, and as a result this is not a book that is pleasant or easy to read. But it is necessary, and the final chapter -- about the Occupy Wall Street movement -- is so powerfully moving that it's well worth the journey to Zuccotti Park. Here's Chris Hedges powerfully stirring the latent emotions of his readers:
"There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt or you stand on the wrong side of history. You either obstruct through civil disobedience, the only way left to us, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. You either taste, feel, and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt, or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. You are either a rebel or a slave."
on June 24, 2013
This book shows just what a huge harvesting but destructive combine, the corporate state is. The incredible destruction of West Virginia is unbelievable. The coal company ravaging of W.VA. is a cautionary tale of what will happen to the rest of us. It is a also a great place to think about what's also being done to others, in "lesser" countries! This book is a good place to start for all of you who think you are free because you live in USA, or, are the greatest and most elite person because you are tucked in to the colony of USA. It will help you remember that working Americans are simply fodder.
The mass loss of jobs and industry in USA will continue, the devastation of our cities and infrastructure will continue. This book is a call to face the reality of that pillaging and ask ourselves what can be done to change, stop, block, or create a whole new system all together. Maybe there is hope but it looks to me like a long hard struggle is ahead and it might be best not to put any faith in the system we currently have.
on June 3, 2013
This is a book that is not ashamed of pointing fingers- at Obama corpocrats, corrupt New Jersey Democrat-run unions, evil union-busting Republican West Virginian coal companies and moguls, latter-day slavers in Florida and at self-destructive demons that took hold of many Native American reservations which now subsist almost entirely on white man's welfare. Almost every vignette in this book is an exercise in outrage; even when the authors encounter the rare good person who has managed to stay emotionally healthy in the midst of senseless violence and despair, these heroic figures seem to be taking on the system without really hoping true change will happen some day. The system is so corrupt that it appears to have corrupted hope itself.
It is a wonder how outfits such as Massey Energy have been able to buy off the entire political ecosystem, getting away with (literally) murdering thousands of people, polluting their towns and destroying their health - while convincing them that the enemy is the guy in cotton pants who is telling them they;'re being poisoned by toxic gases, sludge and metals in their drinking water. I thought things like this only happen in China - but apparently coal companies carry on as if their clocks stopped in late 19th century.
All parts of the book were sad, perhaps the saddest was the exploitation of illegal immigrants - often by their own kin who act as capos in concentration camps. What is happening in Florida is an extraordinary assault on human dignity, with the aim to add to the bottom line of the likes of Walmart, Publix, Safeway and, I was surprised to read, Trader Joe's. I've been shopping at TJs and avoiding Whole Foods because the latter is owned by a venal libertarian corpocrat; having learned that TJs might not be that different (despite their assurances) was a blow. I'll have to see if there is a more wholesome way to buy veggies.
There is a lucid depiction of why Occupy Wall Street crumbled - the infiltration by junkies and homeless, the hapless attempts at "people democracy", the lack of leadership or articulated and codified demands. It was a noble but quixotic and doomed attempt that, however, did bring a bit of fear to faceless WS drones. The greatest danger were not demonstrations per se but the fact that they were joined by so many outraged regular folks who are usually content to stay out of the limelight. These - educated young & old middle class demonstrators -were the portents of real hope and real change, not the scruffy anarchists and certainly not the junkies.
A good, eye opening book. It's Achilles heel is the pessimism and lack of constructive ideas. But it does pump up your adrenaline.