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Deer Hunting With Jesus, Dispatches from America’s class war

Joe Bageant
Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2009 (first published USA 2007).

Reviewed by Marian Zaunbrecher.

Deer Hunting with Jesus is a prophetic, angry polemic.

It is prophetic because Bageant writes about the coming economic catastrophe in the USA, warning that unless there are changes in American corporate and consumer cultures there would be a resultant chaos.

It is angry because Joe Bageant, who classes himself as on of America’s sons originating from a small town in Winchester, Virginia, has had his eyes opened as to the lot of the working class in his country.

He revisits his home town after having escaped to go west to study and become a journalist. Upon his return he realises that there is a class war in America, where, while the underclass is heartlessly exploited for their labour, they nevertheless are the very people who voted George W Bush into office.

In his chapters he recounts stories and descriptions of family members and other residents of Winchester, who are rednecks, proud of being American, but 2 out of 5 do not finish high school, nearly everyone over 50 has serious health problems and no health care, and people exist with little or no knowledge of the outside world and provide fodder to the American war machine.

Bageant tells touching, even loving stories, about the people he meets again on Winchester and, like him we are driven to anger and frustration because of their plights.

He traces the history and development of his underclass, through the migration of the Scots-Irish (“The mark of the Scots Irish on Winchester’s people is clearly visible in the way we reject government while at the same time we are ultrapatriotic about ‘values’ such as ‘defending our way of life’, despite the fact that it has seldom if ever been threatened”) to the frontier areas of America as they opened up, carrying their own brand of religion, and defending their right to own guns.

He develops his theory about how they influenced the religious right in the USA to where they have an undoubted influence on politics.

Don’t read this book if you are squeamish about language, but do read it if you want to gain an insight into America.