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Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

Chris Hedges

(Nation Books; US: Jun 2012)

“It’s like a jungle, where a jungle is survival of the fittest…Unions communities, people – everybody’s gonna have to learn to accept that in the United States you have a capitalist society, and that capitalism, from a business standpoint, is survival of the most productive” (168).  However, what will occur if society deems you or a group of people as unproductive or interchangeable? You are simply pushed to the fringes of society and fully erased from our cultural and political landscapes.


Hence, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt chronicles the lives of the people who were once analogous to the machines and natural resources that were exploited to yield the highest financial gain. These are the stories of the individuals who slaved to achieve the chimerical American dream, but were ultimately exploited, alienated, and deemed expendable. Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent Chris Hedges unites with Joe Sacco’s award winning graphic and comic arts to rematerialize these lost voices and movingly communicate their testimonies while painting a portrait of enduring destitution.


Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a harrowing account of the exploited American underclass living in what the author defines as “the sacrifice zones” (xi). These are the forgotten vicinities where American citizens, workers, and natural resources are utilized and commodified to the extreme in the name of capitalism. But the people in the sacrifice zones are not those who experience the financial or social benefits of their own production. On the contrary, they are left to live in dire poverty and despair. It is their stories that shape Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt to be a mesmeric indictment of an America that has failed its populace.


The fact that the author and illustrator focus on domestic concerns is a change from their usual concentration on international plights. However, this becomes a vital point, because we must acknowledge that the poverty and despair of war torn and third world countries are not issues separated from those of us in ‘first world’ countries by thousands of miles. Rather, these issues are here in our own backyards as many who live here are only “one paycheck away” (68) from financial, political, and emotional paucity.


From the title alone it is evident that neither Hedges nor Sacco remain objective or shy away from the palpable condemnation of capitalism and the American government. Regardless, they develop an accurate account of the despondency that plagues and divides American culture. This is an imperative read in an era where widespread economic depression and grief reign supreme.

This book is sectioned into five chapters, each depicting a grim portrayal of the American days of destruction. The first, ‘Days of Theft’, centers on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Here Native Americans attempt to regain their lost cultures and histories while simultaneously battling poverty, violence, drug and alcohol abuse. ‘Days of Siege’, chapter two, takes readers to Camden New Jersey, where violence and political corruption effortlessly separates the extremely wealthy from the impoverished. The next sacrifice zone is the strip-mined coal mountains of West Virginia.  Here in chapter 3, ‘Days of Devastation’, coal companies not only exploit individual miners, but also destroy entire towns and mountain regions. 


Chapter four, ‘Days of Slavery’, follows the plight of the migrant worker camps assigned to pick tomatoes in Florida. Hedges and Sacco contend that the tomato picking industry’s relationship to its workers is a modern-day form of slavery.  Convincingly they demonstrate that the workers are not only coerced into inhuman working hours and conditions, but they are also paid below livable wage, forced to sleep ten to a trailer, and are subject to abuse or murder if they demonstrate any type of transgressive behavior. Thus, Hedges and Sacco argue that these draconian conditions not only dehumanize those directly involved, but will also become the reality for the majority of Americans. 


There is, however, a glimmer of optimism. Hedges and Sacco contend that this book is a call for hope and change. But it must be the hands of the people, not the corporations and their politico fat cats, that harness hope and mobilize for change. Thus the final chapter, ‘Days of Revolt’, showcases the Occupy Wall Street Movement in Liberty Square, New York. Hedges and Sacco pinpoint this movement as the investiture of a tyro collective that will create the dialogues that reinvigorate human agency and reconstruct reality in the vision of its peoples.


In general this is a compelling read, yet there are two content areas that are weaker than the majority of the book. First, Sacco’s illustrations are underutilized and this is a slight disappointment. The greater part of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is devoted to Hedges’ spectacular observations and analyses. Yet Sacco’s notoriously beautiful, riveting and moving graphics are infrequent despite being the most striking portion of the book. In spite of this the illustrations that are included are breathtaking; Sacco easily conveys the legacy of pain and indignation in the facial expressions and body postures of his informants. The artistic renditions stare into the eyes of the reader forcing us to experience their misery and rage. It is nearly impossible to remain unaffected.


Second, the inclusion of the Occupy Movement seems to be an addendum rather than a conclusion. In the introduction, Hedges writes that the Occupy Movement “arose on September 17, 2011, in Zuccoti Park in New York City, as we were in the final months of the book (xiii).”  Arguably, with the rapid spread of the movement, the author, illustrator, and editor bore witness to the “revolt [that] rooted our conclusion in the real rather than the speculative” (xiii). This is not to say that Hedges and Sacco are simple opportunists. On the contrary, the Occupy Movement fits the thesis and acts as the embodiment of hope.


Throughout, Hedges includes a sentence or two about the Occupy Movement thereby building towards his final chapter. But the writing describing the movement seems hurried. These inclusions can also take attention away from and muddy the narratives of the informants. For example, when discussing the tent cities in Camden, Hedges brusquely changes subjects and includes a quick sentence about the Occupy Movement: “like Banks, the organizers of the Occupy encampment would have to struggle to prevent those with addictions and mental illness, from bringing everyone down with them” (68). More so the final chapter moves away from individual narratives and emphasizes Hedges own rhetoric and moralizing. Without a doubt the Occupy Movement is important, and Hedges’ demonstration of solidarity is equally imperative. Even so, the Occupy Movement chapter deserves more time devoted to its development.


Despite these flaws, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is powerful and remarkable, arguably one of the best publications of the year. This book is a work of political activism as Hedges and Sacco bring awareness to a commonality that moves readers to act in solidarity and past major dominant practices and strategies. They force readers to contend with the reality that “all the airy promises of unfettered capitalism are starkly contradicted in the pockets of despair ” (xii). Through passionate writing, graphic illustrations, and poignant remembrances, Hedges and Sacco relocate the human element in a capitalist society as marred and denigrated for the sake of consumption.


But this is not the solitary point. More importantly, this is a time to agitate and mobilize not bereave; there is still hope. Hedges promises that “hope refuses to die. It flickers and wavers, a tiny flame in a sea of neglect, violence and despair… it comes with the decision made by one who is wounded to reach out to another who is wounded” (101). As Hedges and Sacco demonstrate, a homeless encampment in Camden, where residents can shower and take shelter, is the rebuilding of a community.  Or another example finds one of Hedges’ informants sincerely grateful to “friends who have carried me through the roughest times” (100).  And finally, as a participant in the Occupy Movement states “there is a radical inclusion going on” (251). This is the basis of democracy and not the pathos caused by ensuring the survival of the financially fittest.

Rating:

Elisabeth Woronzoff-Dashkoff is currently a graduate student in the American Culture Studies Ph.D. program at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green Ohio. She is interested in visual and musical popular culture, and wishes to research the ways in which the role of women in music, both contemporary and historically, have shaped the gender, political and cultural boundaries of the independent and mainstream music industry. I love music in all forms - but there is no way to tell what I will or will not like. One thing remains certain: I love everything Morrissey and Bruce Springsteen have created.


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