Falling Stars; Monumental Misunderstanding
As a Canadian who has lived in the United States for over a decade, I found “A Metaphor for America” (November) to be a simplistic analysis. There is no doubt that many manufacturing-based towns like Scranton, Pennsylvania, have deteriorated over the decades as industries have moved to emerging markets.
Chris Hedges could have written about the struggles of such towns and perhaps attempted to offer some solutions. He could have pointed to former manufacturing cities like Pittsburgh, which has reinvented itself as a high-tech hub and centre for medical services (rather than deteriorating in the fashion of Detroit). He could have described Palo Alto, California, or Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, which over the years have grown by leaps and bounds as laboratories of American success and the country’s best hope for the future.
He did none of that. Instead, he used the decline of the manufacturing industry, and the suffering it thrusts upon the workers who once relied on it, to launch a clichéd diatribe against whatever he dislikes about the United States: capitalism, corporate America, fracking, the military, and, of course, the left wing’s favourite punching bag, Sarah Palin.
In short, “A Metaphor for America” inaccurately conflates disparate issues. Hedges does precisely what he criticizes those on the right for doing. Namely, he generalizes and tags certain groups and ideologies as the root of all the evils that will destroy America and lead to a country where “we await the barbarians.” His hyperbole detracts from what should have been the faces of his story: the suffering residents of these afflicted towns.
Monty S. Steckler
New York, NY
“A Metaphor for America” should be compulsory reading for all Canadian voters, as well as the generation now approaching voting age. Chris Hedges’ courageous, frightening description of the United States forcibly brings reality to our doorstep. His warning that through association Canada is in danger of becoming the “Hungary of Nazi Germany” should be taken seriously. Regrettably, our country is much farther down the road of self-destruction than how Hedges sees it. Under present management, it has been transformed from a peace- and freedom-loving nation to an aggressive, military-minded one. Social programs, education, sound environmental management, health care, and other matters vital to the public have been pushed aside by concentrated power and wealth. Our scientists have been muzzled to prevent disturbing environmental and other news from reaching the public. The expression of public resentment is becoming criminalized, and new detention centres are prepared to receive those who dare to protest against social, political, and environmental mismanagement.
As The Walrus might say, “The time has come” for Canadians to wake up and see beyond the deceptive political demagogy and patriotic slogans flooding our mainstream media. The time has come to put our present managers where they rightly belong: in the landfill of Canadian history.
Frank S. Tompa
Pender Island, BC
Chris Hedges is a forceful journalist who clearly has a heart. Unfortunately, his conclusions to an otherwise moving story prove that his heart is better than his head. He speaks with admiration for the “Welsh, German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Lithuanian immigrants” who came to America and forged communities, unions, and decent lives, but he fails to note that those determined and courageous workers were leaving behind the collapsed economies and bombed-out rubble of the Scrantons of their day. They did the same thing as the Okies who vacated the Dust Bowl for California; the African American plantation workers who became part of the great migration north; and the steelworkers from Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Hamilton, Ontario, who are building new lives in Alberta: when they had to, they moved. Creative destruction is no fun when it is your workplace and community that are being destroyed. You can either endure the long, declining roar, or get creative and do whatever has to be done to make a better life.
Like so many other left-leaning writers and critics, Hedges places the blame for what has happened in Scranton on the greedy “management” while conveniently missing the fact that a historic reduction in income inequality has happened over the past twenty years as trillions of dollars in wealth have moved from the rich OECD nations to the developing regions of Latin America, China, and South Asia, along with all of those jobs in the service and manufacturing sectors. Millions have left subsistence rural poverty behind and entered the working class, the same way our great-grandfathers did a century ago. Guangzhou, China, and Jakarta are slowly becoming “union towns,” too, but it does not fit Hedges’ critique to hold them responsible for the abandoned factories of Scranton.
His concluding jeremiad against America has been heard many times before. For at least a century, other voices have prophesied the destruction of the US, brought about by population explosion, environmental catastrophe, class warfare, Communist infiltration, crime, economic collapse, pandemics, or right-wing religious wackos. All of them—and now Chris Hedges—have one thing in common: they have all been wrong.
I went to college near Scranton. It was already dying back then, 30 years ago.
I disagree with Medeine Tribinevicius (“Macho Money,” November) when she asserts that the use of the Vimy memorial on the new $20 bill “looks back instead of forward.” The memorial symbolizes the moment when Canada first stood on its own, specifically during World War I and the Treaty of Versailles negotiations. Without this moment, Canada may never have had the opportunity to look forward as a nation, and the $20 bill reminds Canadians to reflect on the time and place of our debut on the world stage. To those who say this is a Harper conspiracy to make Canada a “warrior nation,” our new notes are designed by the Bank of Canada—at arm’s length from any political intervention.
This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue.