It is a poignant tale of greed, chicanery, betrayal and manipulation which created an edifice of affluence in the middle of a desert. The public-private plunder had the sanction of the State for robbing the natives of their rich cultural inheritance. It was a misfortune that the natives were sitting atop the biggest coal reserves of the time that the political-industrial complex had aimed to wrest.
Projected to the outside world as an epic struggle over land between two Indian tribes, it has instead been a divide-and-conquer game played in disguise by the powerful and the corrupt. Judith Nies narrates the shocking facts behind the making of Las Vegas, the gambling capital, where the dark markets of America intersect with the upper world markets of ‘free-market capitalism’. Set in the late 19th Century, the phenomenon of usurping rights of indigenous people by giant corporations has continued ever since. In what was termed ‘low-intensity conflict’, thousand of tribes were driven away at gunpoint to labor camps, their sheep slaughtered and their children jailed.
Unreal City is a chilling account of the tribes’ struggle and the right amount of wrong by the government to edge out the so-called impoverished societies for the subsequent creation of Las Vegas, the Sin City, which has only altered perceptions: gambling substitutes for income, night is interchangeable with day and, the scale of excess refutes the idea of scarcity. But it is the scarcity that is haunting the city that gets 39 million fun-loving visitors each year. Having sucked it’s deep aquifers and with shrinking Lake Mead (created by the Hoover Dam) on the Colorado river not able to meet the city’s allocation, a multi-billion dollar water pipeline has been planned to tap a mountain aquifer 250 miles away to not only keep fifty golf courses green but to keep the showers and flushes running in fourteen of the largest hotels in the city. There is nothing ‘real’ about the city.
Award-winning author Judith Nies questions the wisdom behind the incredible cost of sustaining an unreal city. Located in the middle of the Mohave Desert, a water-guzzling city with just four inches of annual rainfall can only suck the nearby rivers and far-off aquifers dry. Shockingly, the new pipeline to feed the Sin City will be the only project in the world that lifts water twenty-nine hundred feet. Curiously, the city residents don’t seem anxious (like most urbanites elsewhere in the world) about where they get their water from, but support the political-business nexus that controls infrastructure. At the end, it is the business that flourishes at the cost of problems which only continue to amplify. No wonder, company like Bechtel, which started with two mules and a slip grader in 1898, is now one the largest multinational corporations.
Written with passion and precision, Unreal City is a painstaking work that narrates the undertold story of (mindless) development albeit euphemism for deceit, betrayal, corruption and despoliation. Apparently written for the North American audience, the first of the three sections of Unreal City may remain somewhat of a geographical puzzle for readers elsewhere. Rich in detail, Judith Nies painstaking narrative raises uncomfortable question which are often considered ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘anti-national’.
The Unreal City
by Judith Nies
Nation Books, New York
Extent: 292, Price: US$25.99