A book review of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt
By Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
Published by Nation Books
“Two years ago, Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and award-winning cartoonist and journalist Joe Sacco set out to take a look at the sacrifice zones, those areas in America that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement. They wanted to show in words and drawings what life looks like in places where the marketplace rules without constraints, where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize profit. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is the searing account of their travels.
“The book starts in the western plains, where Native Americans were sacrificed in the giddy race for land and empire. It moves to the old manufacturing centers and coal fields that fueled the industrial revolution, but now lie depleted and in decay. It follows the steady downward spiral of American labor into the nation’s produce fields and ends in Zuccotti Park where a new generation revolts against a corporate state that has handed to the young an economic, political, cultural and environmental catastrophe.”
Throughout this impressive book, the power of journalist par excellence Chris Hedges writing mixes with the expressive drawing and graphic skills of one of America’s great comic book artists, Joe Sacco. The effect is a compelling synergy of the depth of Hedges writing and the bold and expressive images of Sacco’s graphic drawings. There are times when I felt like a boy reading a Classic Comic that simply depicted some great literary work like Melville’s Moby Dick in its square frames. The black/white visuals gave a sharp truth to the narrative, which makes it easier to grasp the complexity of accompanying facts.
But here, too, we have the story of America sprawling across the plains of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, bringing us a historical background of the plight of its Native American people and their various conflicts with the White Man’s cruelty and reneging on treaties, causing the decay of these people into alcohol, drug abuse, despair and the junkyard landscape of poignant drawings. The fragments of simple dialogue in the drawings’ frames bring us close up to these bruised warriors. One young man’s life is followed as he descends into gangs, drinking, drugs, and finally becomes liberator of his community in “The Crazy Horse Ride,” celebrating the fearless leader’s life.
The book’s landscapes changes next to the urban siege of Camden, New Jersey—a city that has fallen into a sea of poverty and violence, turning loose the anger of repressed minorities who literally have nothing to lose but their chains. What they lose as residents who prey upon residents for any scrap of value is their humanity and sense of community. It’s not a pretty sight as drawn or told just how Camden turned from a vibrant port town to a battlefield for survivors only. The lost can be counted in the aged cemeteries, the streets, or the eyes of the young and deprived. Camden is the echo of so many cities once thriving, now wrecked, cities seen from the windows of trains that speed by to a future these cities will likely never see.
The landscape changes again, this time to rural Welch, West Virginia. We see and feel a landscape that has been ravaged for several centuries by the greed of coal mining, whole mountains decapitated by drilling, raw-edged, veins gouged, the coal dust covering every surface, windows, houses, the land, trees, the human face and skin, the lungs of the infected miners, sounding a death knell to man and nature alike.
These scenes and people are described in powerful and poetic words by Hedges with an impeccable historical knowledge, and depicted as brilliantly by Sacco in his heart rending drawings. Little do these two men know that they are making history telling and showing these “sacrifice zones” as they are; included in all the chapters are in-depth conversations with the residents, both in words and illustrated in drawings, making Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt ideal for use as a text for high school and college students as well as the most sophisticated readers.
Turning from rural West Virginia, we arrive at Immokalee Florida. Here fruit pickers come from across the Mexican border and as far as Central America to find the American Dream. What they find is a nightmare of slavery-like “employment” at the hands of brutal owners and their enforcers. This is the lingering anti-bellum slavery of a modern world, packing bodies of pickers in the backs of trucks, in rickety, over-crowded shacks to live, fenced-in in barbed wire compounds, depriving the workers of dignity and freedom.
Prostitution and rape are rampant as are beatings for men and women who protest or try to organize, sometimes successful, often losing the advance painfully. Alcohol and drugs haunt the scenes. It is sad to note this slavery still exists in 2012. It is uplifting to know that the pickers, the workers in spite of all, are organizing and succeeding in creating codes for employment, better working conditions, coming together as a single power, growing larger each day like the crops of the fields.
Finally, Days of Discontent, Days of Revolt turns to New York City and the Occupy Wall Street movement, the 1% versus the 99%, where those with little or nothing but their courage and convictions challenge the power of an over-armed police force bought and paid for by the investment banks and corporations pillaging America. In continuing their non-violent protest in the face of violent police, the Occupy movement widens its sympathetic audience and fellow Occupiers all over the country join in to have the truth told out loud and heard.
It is Hedges and Sacco’s hope that doing so will even the numbers till we are ready to Occupy America again as one people, with liberty, justice and freedom for all. That is the final message of Days of Discontent, Days of Revolt—that even if it takes a physical revolution beyond non-violent protest, that freedom, equality and justice will be delivered to the people, all the people, not just a cartel of sponges sucking the life-blood of this nation. My hat is off to Hedges and Sacco, wordsmith and artist, working brilliantly as one force to create a graphic text that speaks volumes and signals a major resurrection of the human spirit.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Hedges spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. His latest books are Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Death of the Liberal Class, and The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.