Hedges discusses his new book with Moyers and the totally unchecked corporate power that is destroying our democracy.
BILL MOYERS: Here we are, barely halfway through the summer, and Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have stepped up their cage match, each attacking the other, throwing insults and accusations back and forth like folding chairs hurled across the wrestling ring.
Governor Romney pummels away at the economy; President Obama pummels away at Mr. Romney—when he was or wasn’t at his company Bain Capital, his tax returns and his offshore accounts. All the while, as they bob and weave their way through this quadrennial competition, punching wildly, the real story of what’s happening to ordinary people as capitalism runs amok is largely ignored by each of them. But not in this book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt”—an unusual account of poverty and desolation across contemporary America. It’s a collaboration between graphic artist and journalist Joe Sacco, and my guest on this week’s broadcast, Chris Hedges.
CHRIS HEDGES: All of the true correctives to American democracy came through movements that never achieved formal political power.
BILL MOYERS: This is just the latest battle cry from Hedges, who, angry at what he sees in the world, expresses his outrage in thoughtful prose that never fails to inform and provoke. As a correspondent and bureau chief for “The New York Times,” he covered wars in North Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East—leaving the paper after a reprimand for publicly denouncing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In such books as “War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning,” his weekly column for the website “Truthdig” and freelance articles for a variety of other publications, Chris Hedges has taken his life’s experience covering the brutality of combat and shaped a worldview in which morality and faith, and the importance of truth-telling, dissent and social activism take precedence, even if it means going to jail. …
Tell me about Joe Sacco. He was your companion on this trip. And he was your, in effect, coauthor. Although he was sketching instead of writing.
CHRIS HEDGES: I’ve known Joe since the war in Bosnia. We met when he was working on his book, “Gorazde.” And I was not a reader of graphic novels. But I watched him work. And I certainly know a brilliant journalist when I see one. And he is one of the most brilliant journalists I’ve ever met.
He reports it out with such depth and integrity and power, and then he draws it out. And I realized that an extremely important component of this book was making visible these invisible communities, because we don’t see them. They’re shut out. They’re frightening, they’re depressing. And they’re virtually off the radar screen in terms of the commercial media.
BILL MOYERS: This is a tough book. It’s not dispatches from Disneyworld. It paints a very stark portrait of poverty, despair, destructive behavior. What makes you think people want to read that sort of thing these days?
CHRIS HEDGES: That wasn’t a question that Joe Sacco and I ever asked. It’s absolutely imperative that we begin to understand what unfettered, unregulated capitalism does, the violence of that system, which is portrayed in all of the places that we visited.
These are sacrifice zones, areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. And we’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed. And because there are no impediments left, these sacrifice zones are just going to spread outward.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean, there are no impediments left?
CHRIS HEDGES: There’s no way to control corporate power. The system has broken down, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. And because of that, we’ve all become commodities. Just as the natural world has become a commodity that is being exploited until it is exhausted, or it collapses.
BILL MOYERS: You call them sacrifice zones.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
BILL MOYERS: Explain what you mean by that.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, they have the individuals who live within those areas have no power. The political system is bought off, the judicial system is bought off, the law enforcement system services the interests of power, they have been rendered powerless. You see that in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia.
Now here, in terms of national resources is one of the richest areas of the United States. And yet these harbor the poorest pockets of community, the poorest communities in the United States. Because those resources are extracted. And that money is not funneled back into the communities that are sitting on top of, or next to those resources.
Not only that, but they’re extracted in such a way that the communities themselves are destroyed quite literally because you have not only terrible problems with erosion, as they cause when they do the mountaintop removal, they’ll use these gigantic bulldozers to push off all the trees and then burn them.
And when we flew over the Appalachians, and it’s a terrifying experience, because you realize only then do you realize how vast the devastation is. Just as when we were both in the war in Bosnia, you couldn’t grasp the destruction of ethnic cleansing until you actually flew over Bosnia, and village after village after village had been razed and destroyed.
And the same was true in the Appalachian Mountains. And these people are poisoned. The water is poisoned, it smells, the soil is poisoned. And the people who are making tremendous profits from this don’t even live in West Virginia—
BILL MOYERS: You said something like, “While the laws are West Virginia are written by the coal companies, 95 percent of those coal companies—”
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
BILL MOYERS: “—are not in West Virginia.”
CHRIS HEDGES: That’s right. They no longer want to dig down for the coal, and so they’re blowing the top 400 feet off of mountains poisoning the air, poisoning the soil, poisoning the water.
They use some of the largest machines on earth. These draglines, 25-stories tall that are very efficient in terms of ripping out coal seams. But by the time they left, there’s just a wasteland. Nothing grows. Some of the richest soil, some of the purest water, and these are the headwaters for much of the East Coast, You are rendering the area moonscape. It becomes inhabitable. And you’re destroying you know, these are the lungs of the Eastern seaboard. It’s all destroyed and it’s not coming back.
And that violence is visited on these communities. And you see it played out. I mean, Camden, New Jersey, which is the poorest city per capita in the United States and always, the one or two in terms of the most dangerous, it’s a dead city. There’s nothing left. There is no employment. Whole blocks are abandoned. The only thing functioning are open-air drug markets, of which there are about a hundred.
And you’re talking third or fourth generation of people trapped in these internal colonies. They can’t get out, they can’t get credit. And what that does to your dignity, your self-esteem, your sense of self-worth.