Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt
By Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco. Knopf Canada, 320 pp, softcover
“Camden is a dead city. It makes and produces nothing. It is the poorest city in the United States and is usually ranked as one of the most, and often the most, dangerous,” writes Chris Hedges of the small city in New Jersey. The scenes in his new book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, unflinchingly depict the pockets of America in the worst shape, with the highest unemployment, poverty, and crime rates. The book includes black-and-white illustrations and short graphic narratives by Joe Sacco, whose graphic novel Palestine won the American Book Award in 1996 for its depiction of life in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Hedges, a former foreign correspondent who spent nearly two decades covering wars and protests around the world, sees a parallel between the decay in these places—the product of rampant and amoral corporatism, he argues—and the destruction America has wreaked in the Philippines, Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. “The tyranny and exploitation,” he writes, “have become our own.”
Each chapter, save for the last, is set in a hidden nook such as Pine Ridge, South Dakota; Welch, West Virginia; and Immokalee, Florida. In each, Hedges and Sacco convey the despairing lives of America’s dispossessed and disenfranchised.
Native American men living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, with no future prospects, turn to drugs, crime, and alcoholism. We meet Michael Red Cloud, for instance, who speaks of growing up with only AIM (American Indian Movement) members—“the guys, you know, who sold drugs and walked around packing pieces”—as role models. Michael’s tale of a life of crime is told through Sacco’s illustrations, running 14 pages and making vivid some particularly horrid scenes.
In Camden, Hedges speaks with Angel Cordero, who is running for mayor, about the infusion of tens of thousands in state funds that went to the corporate friends of sitting politicians. “All this happens,” Cordero says, “while we drink water contaminated with lead, while our pipes burst and raw sewage leaks in our houses. Kids get locked up for selling drugs even when they don’t have any drugs or sell any drugs. The community has lost the will to fight. People are so repressed and have been abused for so long they think abuse is normal.”
And this may only be the beginning. The trends in the economy are bleak enough that these unglamorous places, Hedges and Sacco warn, might prove to be harbingers of a future we do not want. There is hope of revolt, however. Occupy and other nascent movements, Hedges and Sacco insist, speak to what they’ve witnessed, and announce a certain resilience and willingness to continue the fight against the forces of destruction.