IN 1942, Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck wrote The Moon Is Down, a short novel that soon became a hit play. He wrote it with the support of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner to today’s CIA. It was a conscious piece of wartime propaganda, designed to give courage and hope to Europe’s anti-Nazi resistance.
In the book, an unnamed town in an unnamed place is conquered by an unnamed invader. Six of the town’s 12 young soldiers are killed in the first minutes. After that, all that’s left are the formal surrender and takeover of the town’s resources. The book’s opening lines are “By 10:45 it was all over. The town was occupied, the defenders defeated, and the war finished.”
Except—as the invaders (now occupiers) discover as the months drag on— there’s a crucial difference between being defeated in battle and being conquered. The citizens of the unnamed town refuse to be conquered. In the end, even as the invaders remain in control, everyone understands full well who has actually beaten whom. The peaceable, unorganized individual residents have crushed the morale and undermined the control of the occupiers.
Steinbeck’s novel was smuggled into Nazi-occupied Europe, where it was translated into many languages. It circulated widely even though mere possession of it was punishable by death. Despite the lack of specifics, readers universally recognized the occupiers as Germans.
Yet, unlike typical ham-handed war propaganda, The Moon Is Down is subtle and understated. It could be the story of any time and any place in which ordinary people have to protect their freedom against an overwhelmingly powerful oppressor.
Today, 70 years after it appeared, there’s a certain irony in the fact that The Moon Is Down was a tool the U.S. government used against fascist enemies. Because a lot of people who read it now see themselves in the villagers—and see the U.S. government as the occupying force.
Naturally, one of the very first things the triumphant soldiers do in the novel is disarm the people. By page five, they’ve begun rounding up the guns. They take shotguns and sporting rifles and pistols—even though they claim to believe the villagers are harmless yokels who will even come to love their conquerors. They know who has weapons because their fifth-columnist (a local businessman known for being everybody’s friend) has provided them with a list.
Our governments, federal and alltoo- often state, aim to disarm us, too. They tell us it’s for our own good, for the good of all. And like Steinbeck’s occupying force, they expect us to love them and be increasingly dependent on them.
The reality is that they fear us. They fear gun owners. They fear what we can do to them if we ever realize our real power—and their real intentions. And these days, they don’t need a fifthcolumnist to inform them of where the guns are. They expect us to report our own guns when they force all “legal” gun dealing to be done strictly using government databases. They expect us either to passively turn in whatever tools they deem “illegal” or buy licenses for whatever grandfathered weapons we’re “allowed” to keep.
Back in 1942, John Steinbeck had no idea that his message from the past would touch people of the future in a very different way. That’s one of the perils of writing from the past to the future. I’m writing from the past, too—though months past, not years. Print magazines have long lead times. As I write this, the U.S. Congress and multitudes of state governments are just getting underway with their plans to ban all private gun sales or turn our “assault weapons” into contraband. By the time you read this, many of those attempted slaughters of our rights will have been carried out; others will have failed.
Whatever the outcome of these particular battles, we all need to understand that the ceaseless effort to ban firearms— and it will be ceaseless—is only peripherally about guns. It’s a culture war. The gun controllers don’t primarily want our arms. They want to defeat us.
They want to kill and bury the traditions of individual rights and self sufficiency that we represent and uphold. They want to wipe away every force that tries to limit their power. Although they like to think that individualists and small-government advocates are throwbacks to some hoary era—easily disregarded in these governmentworshipping times—they can’t just ignore us. Because our guns, even when tucked away in safes and cabinets and the backs of closets, give us the balance of power should we ever feel desperate or angry enough to call on our ultimate, absolute last-ditch liberty tools.
Can mere individuals beat drones or tanks or bombs or all-out militarized forces? Of course not. Not directly. No more than Steinbeck’s villagers could beat the invaders’ powerful, highly organized, centrally directed juggernaut. Can the smallest, least important people nevertheless defeat the most powerful force in the world simply by wearing it down with unending unorganized, unpredictable resistance? Ask the peasants of Vietnam or the goat herders of Afghanistan.
We face a future where nobody might win and everybody might suffer. But we, the ordinary people, will prevail.
The very things that make strong central powers seem so invulnerable are actually the things that make them most vulnerable. Top-down command-andcontrol structures, inflexible planning, a superstitious belief in the power of laws and rules, the temptation to alienate people (and thereby increase resistance) by using overkill tactics, and an ultimate inability to predict, understand or cope with resistance that comes at them from every side and in thousands of forms.
As things stand now, we are neither desperate nor angry enough to allow our guns to speak for us against those who want to destroy us and all that we stand for. Let’s hope we’re never that desperate.
However, our passivity has led those who crave control to imagine they can obliterate us, our silly individual rights, and our very culture. They’re confident. And why not? When it comes to sheer force and the force of public opinion, the power seems to have shifted in their favor. As Rahm Emanuel so famously instructed, the forces of disarmament aren’t letting a crisis go to waste.
But resistance is building. When Reed Exhibitions, the British company in charge of the huge Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Pennsylvania, announced a Feinstein-esque policy banishing all ugly black guns and standardcapacity magazines, roughly one-third of their 1200 exhibitors dropped out— even though most of those brave exhibitors had nothing to do with selling guns. The show had to be canceled.
As states began to outlaw “assault weapons,” gun makers (one of the first being S.W.A.T. advertiser LaRue Tactical) stepped up to say, “If you won’t allow the people of your state to own our product, we won’t sell to your police or state agencies. Period.”
Visiting his local gun stores and observing the emptying shelves, gun writer Bob Owens noted, “This isn’t a society stocking up on certain guns because they fear they may be banned. This is a society preparing for war.” One of my blog readers commented that he thought that line was just typical Internet bluster—until he found out that “combat” boots were also on six- to eight-week backorder for the first time in his memory.
Whatever comes, whether the confrontation be violent or merely a war of wits, when it comes, we gun owners won’t have provoked it. Overreaching unconstitutional governments will have provoked it by attacking our rights, our culture and ultimately our very existence.
John Steinbeck liked to draw his book titles from literature. The Moon Is Down comes from an exchange in Macbeth. Banquo asks his son Fleance, “How goes the night, boy?” Fleance answers, “The moon is down; I have not heard the clock.”
In other words, it’s past midnight, but the exact time is unclear. It could just be a throwaway line—except that it sets a scene where dangerous deeds are about to occur—deadly deeds whose timing and consequences no one can know.