Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

Image of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt
Release Date: 
April 15, 2013
Nation Books
Reviewed by: 

“This is a punch-packing, heart-breaking, and ultimately invigorating book . . .”

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt brings to light a series of lives in four severely impoverished American places—the direct casualties of capitalism unchecked.

In a sequence of incisive personal interviews and graphic illustration, we begin to understand exactly what happens when everyday life is eviscerated by corporate greed. These vividly described accounts neatly slice through our tendency to convince ourselves that negative circumstances aren't such a big deal—unless they're happening to us.

This hard-hitting reportage is a generous act: the product of two men who devoted years of their lives to diving into the heaviness and darkness that stop most of us in our tracks.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who logged two decades as a New York Times foreign correspondent in some of the world's worst war zones, and illustrator Joe Sacco, the renowned creator of war-reportage comics, here graphically delineate the inner and outer landscapes of those most burned by raging greed.

These war zones include southern West Virginia, where coal-mining giant Massey Energy has completely gutted the local landscape; contaminated air, soil, and drinking water; and flatly refused to comply with any legislation locals can pass through a corrupt legal system. It's a striking example of how megacorps have plundered local resources to expand their own coffers while leaving community residents with Third World problems.

Such predators have completely removed 500 mountains in West Virginia alone. The entire Appalachian landscape has been radically and permanently altered–and rendered almost unlivable.

The rape of nature—and humanity—is also a constant in Immokalee, FL, where scores of enslaved migrant laborers are interned in shockingly cruel circumstances. Captive workers are routinely forced to work countless hours in 90-degree heat for sub-minimum wages that are often withheld from them or applied against an enormous fictitious "debt" they're required to pay.

Gouged by everyone from landlords charging $2,000+/month for overcrowded, ramshackle trailers, to company stores, to viciously abusive crew leaders, these people live lives that are in some ways more desperate than the original Southern slaves' lives were.

Ill from constant pesticide exposure, they lack any form of job protection or security, medical coverage, Social Security, food stamps, or legal protection. And when employers are done with them, they're left with no income, food, or housing.

Much of the workers' suffering is directly caused by the unreasonable stipulations of large chain grocers and restaurants, such as WalMart, Burger King, and even Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Their demands on suppliers to keep prices at rock-bottom has meant that migrant workers now receive even less than their previously minuscule wages.

Mr. Hedges' careful descriptions read like verbatim records of hell. If your heart is still intact, this is an emotionally draining book to ingest. And infuriating, as these stories chronicle suffering that could easily be prevented if corporations considered their impact on human beings.

The authors know that corporate compassion is unlikely. As Mr. Hedges notes, "Corporate culture absolves all of responsibility. This is part of its appeal. It relieves all from moral choice."

Employees of Goldman-Sachs can jeer at Occupy protestors, while reassuring themselves of their own personal innocence as their employer jacks up commodities on the global food market, forcing millions of people to go hungry and die of starvation each day.

The technical jargon they've learned in business school masks the true nature of the proceedings, helping them conveniently ignore their own bloody hands.

The authors also take on the political landscape, which has played a huge role in the American death spiral. While politicians everywhere are known for their corruption, Mr. Hedges helps us understand how their bribe-taking leaves nothing to "trickle down."

A prime example is Camden, NJ, where not only has the city's entire economy been sent overseas, but the chance of a recovery is nil thanks to crooked politicians like George Norcross, who pocket government relief funds.

Mr. Hedges has a talent for synthesizing intellectual concepts and what is happening on the ground, creating summative statements that dazzle with their elegance. Among the best:

"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.

“The 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."

And hope and possibility are front and center in the book's concluding chapter, Days of Revolt. Mr. Hedges hunkered down with Occupy in Zuccotti Park and chronicles its history and principles.

He attributes some of Occupy's success to forging new systems that operate outside traditional lines, instead of attempting to work within a broken system. He asserts, "The only route left is to disconnect as thoroughly as possible from the consumer society and engage in acts of civil disobedience and obstruction."

The authors make the fine point that nonaction is equivalent to complicity, that standing on the sidelines and declaring one's innocence is tantamount to enacting radical evil.

This is a punch-packing, heart-breaking, and ultimately invigorating book, the one that those of us who have felt so disheartened in the last five years have been waiting for. It demonstrates a truth that's easy to understand and hard to ignore: for most, corporate greed has shredded what was once possible in America.