They did to it to themselves, and so did we all. In the same way that Native Americans agreed to trade vast tracts of land for beads and whiskey and guns, slaves consented to their slavery, and likewise we Americans have traded our freedom for the promises of liars and the daydreams of fools.
You can't make anybody do anything they don't agree to do. You can trick them. You can trap them. You can convince, cajole, connive, and conspire, but you can't really compel. At some point a slave agrees to do what somebody else wants him to do. There are forces and circumstances that make that easier. Their fear of pain. Their hunger. Their ignorance. These were just a few of the tricks of the slave trade. But regardless of what horror story you've got saved up—and I bet I've heard the most horrific, far more horrific than your little anecdote, more terrible even than the twisted coprophilia-laden fever-dreams of Martin Bashir—it's impossible to make somebody do anything they don't agree to do.
It's possible to imprison a person. It's possible to injure, torture, and kill a person. It's impossible to make them work. What are you going to do? Grasp their small hand in your large hand and make it close around a tuft of cotton? Grab their arm and shove the hand around and into the sack? Peel their fingers apart to let that tiny bit of cotton fall amongst the other tiny tufts? How many times will you do it? Have you really made them do anything? You say that at some point a person will do anything to escape sufficient pain, hunger, fear? That's true for most people. However, when you surrender to evil, no matter how compelling the circumstances, still—when all is said and done—you did surrender; didn't you? Jesus never surrendered. I bet he's not the only one. If we could go back a few hundred years, I bet their were some African captives who refused to be slaves.
All of us today, we grow up doing the easiest thing. If you want to know what our motto is—mankind's motto—it's probably: "Go with the flow." We take the easiest path. We do as we're told. We rarely question authority, and when we do it's because some other people told us to. We're not supposed to break the rules, but most people don't even know what all the rules are, much less why they are. For the last fifty years Americans have been losing a little bit more of their freedom every day. Every freedom lost is another nail hammered in. The recent vote by the US Senate to overturn 200 years of filibuster tradition regarding presidential appointments is only another nail hammered in. The fifth liberal appointed to the DC court of appeals with 52 votes is only another nail hammered in.
The number one rule in the military is never volunteer. Don't stick your neck out. Be careful. And yet in spite of all that common sense wisdom, our soldiers charge the hill, they throw themselves on the grenade, they fight, they get injured, maimed, killed. The pain they felt, the pain they feel, the fear, the hunger, the desperation and hopelessness is as real, as terrible, as horrific as that experienced by those slaves several hundred years ago. The difference is that one surrendered and the other didn't.
There are a few patriots going against the flow, desperately prying at nails already hammered in, but they are by far the minority. America agreed to lay down in its own coffin, and the politicians that we elected have been at work nailing down the lid for half a century. All that's left now is the crying and the shoveling of dirt. But remember that before you start pointing fingers and accusing everyone else...we did it to ourselves.