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A Great Passage from "The Moon is Down"

Some passages from the great novels are too good to not share. Instead of an original post today, we want to share John Steinbeck’s words:

    "Of them all, only Colonel Lanser knew what war really is in the long run.
    "Lanser had been in Belgium and France twenty years before and he tried not think what he knew--that war is treachery and hatred, the muddling of incompetent generals, the torture and killing and sickness and tiredness, until at last it is over and nothing had changed except for new weariness and new hatreds. Lanser told himself he was a soldier, given orders to carry out. He was not expected to question or to think, but only to carry out orders; and he tried to put aside sick memories of the other war and the certainty that this would be the same. This one will be different, he said to himself fifty times a day; this one will be different.
    "In marching, in mobs, in football games, and in war, outlines become vague; real things become unreal and a fog creeps over the mind. tension and excitement, weariness, movement--all merge in one great, grey dream, so that when it is over, it is hard to remember how it was when you killed men or ordered them to be killed. Then other people who were there tell you what it was like and you say vaguely, “Yes, I guess that’s how it was.”

I've written before about The Moon is Down before here and here.

eleven comments

Nice quote, but kinda sad.

This is more anti-war propaganda written by an author that never served in any military. He wants to show how terrible war is and how ineffective through a narrative of someone who never existed. It’s stupid. He (and you) think violence can’t solve anything, talk to holocaust survivors or soldiers who fought in the pacific. No one is even a real passivefist anyway. You say you are and I punch you. How many times do I punch you before you fight back. I say one. There are real evil people that need to be stopped and you con’t do that if you’re not fighting back.

I know one of the few holocaust survivors left, he works in the anti-war movement here in Germany. John Steinbeck was a war correspondent in the European theater in WWII and accompanied US commando raids in the US Navy´s “beach jumpers” program in the Mediterranean. My favorite pieces of “stupid literature”/literary classics from someone who “never served and thinks violence can’t solve anything” is Vonnegut´s Slaughterhouse Five, or Heller´s Catch 22 but thats just me.

There’s a number of deeper points of discussion that are being rushed in the previous post. The question of passive response to attack is more complex than you hit someone and wait for a response. We tend to associate passivity with Ghandi and intentionally endangering the self to reach a percieved higher goal. In response, a passivist would likely defend themselves but only to the extent that they remained in danger. It’s the same driving princple to most major martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do. You learn to defend yourself not to attack others but to disable a threat until it is no longer a threat or until you can evade that threat.

As for the existence of evil people, I agree. There are people who only wish to do others harm. But these people are fewer in numbers that do harm because they believe the act is righteous.

The quote is interesting, and whether we agree with it personally or not, we cannot summarily dismiss the sentiment as “stupid,” as it may reflect an actual point of view.

One of the reasons I encouraged Eric C to post this particular passage is the second paragraph. The idea of a “grey dream” perfectly describes remembering war. I am sure some of my soldiers would vehemently disagree with me and others would say I didn’t even remember that. It has greyed and the experiences themselves have greyed.

As for proudsoldier’s disagreements, he brings up several points. As to the pacifist problem, which he sums up quite quickly, that is the philosophy of violence. I cannot solve the problem or provide an adequate response in this comment, I can merely say wait for more posts on Violence, warfare, pacifism and philosophy in the future.

But the bigger question is, can John Steinbeck write about war when he never served in the military? Steinbeck never served, but he did write as a war correspondent during WWII. War correspondents write more about war than anyone else, we have to allow them their say. Another funny detail is that anti-war authors can be condemned for their lack of service, but ostensibly pro-war authors, like Robert Heinlein served but never saw combat. Which author has more claim to the truth about war and violence, the author who served but never saw combat or the journalist who never served but saw combat?

What I think is ironic is that the book was effectively used as pro-war propaganda (and had noting to do with pacifism) that was distributed among Nazi occupied territories, and here you get criticism for republishing anti-war propaganda.

Memory repression can be a defense mechanism for memories you would rather forget, and I hope it is just vague and it isn´t that way for you. For some other people they can remember their experiences in hyper-realistic detail, they can remember the consistency of the sand beneath their feet, the smells, the weight on their shoulder from a gun strap etc.

As for service, Tom Clancy´s military service consisted of failing to pass an eye exam to get into the US military, and no one ever questions his military expertise, but I guess you´ve already covered that point.

Chris- We haven’t taken on Tom Clancy yet but it goes along with what I said. Art is too complicated to dismiss out of hand because some one may or may not have served. Also, the biggest war boosters of the previous administration had never served in combat situations, particularly Cheney.

As to memory, I see it as a combination of hyper-realistic, defined memories, and then plenty of grey for the moments that weren’t defined well.

Matt- That Tae Kwon Do analogy sounds like your next guest post.

For more information on “The Moon is Down”, please read the post (No Villians) or

(The Best Kind Of Propoaganda). It basically explains how this book was pro-war (specifically World War 2) propaganda.

Ironically, I think proudsoldiers comments sparked a pretty good discussion.

I do want to say I appreciate proudsoldier’s comments as well. We want discussion on these issues and I hope he checks back in.