“The people don’t like to be conquered, and so they will not be. Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars.” This powerful quote voices Steinbeck’s views on freedom and democracy and his severe criticism on the dictatorial “one leader” concept and the Nazi despotism. Although I’ve heard that Steinbeck was considered a “Communist”, there is no mistaking here of his support of democracy.
Steinbeck wrote The Moon is Down to uplift the morale of the allied forces during World War II. Modelled on the Nazi occupation in Norway, it tells the story of a military invasion on an unarmed small town in Northern Europe and the subsequent rise of the conquered against the conqueror. Having published it in 1942, Steinbeck expresses both his wish and belief that the “conquerors” (the Nazi) may not have their own way for long and the “conquered” (the people of the invaded countries), with the assistance of the friendly allies, will rise against the conquerors and defeat them thoroughly.
The story in itself isn’t easy to read. The clash between the two sides and the ruthless suppression of the unarmed by the armed is grim and difficult to stomach. And it is a mercy that the story was short. However, the voice is clear and the message conveyed across is powerful. Steinbeck’s ordinarily colourful writing is replaced here with an impressive vitality that suited the subject of the story. The story’s end mark Socrates’s last words to Crito (as was noted in Plato’s Phaedo) where Socrates requests his friend to pay his debt and Crito answers “the debt will be paid”. These words were pertinent and prophetic. The “debt” was finally paid when the war came to an end in 1945, but at what cost?
This was a moving tragedy. Though the story was a little too much for my sensitive mind, I’m glad to have read it. The story prompted me to write a small tribute. Please check it under the poetry category of my web page.