MARCH 14, 1942
WASHINGTON, Friday—Yesterday I finished John Steinbeck's new novel, "The Moon Is Down." It is quick to read and you will hardly want to lay it down. Mr. Steinbeck has laid the scene in a small conquered country, but, of course, it is pertinent to any country where free men live.
The mayor of the town describes himself as a "little man." In other words, he is one of the people. Therefore, in explaining to the colonel of the invader's regiment why he simply cannot order certain things to happen, he says: "You won't believe this, but it is true; authority is in the town. I don't know how or why, but it is so. This means we cannot act as quickly as you can, but when a direction is set, we all act together."
From this it follows logically to the conclusion, where the little man knows he is to die. The mayor turns again to the conqueror, who can never conquer the souls of free men, and says, "You see, sir, nothing can change it. You will be destroyed and driven out.... The people don't like to be conquered, sir, 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, so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars."
This book is written dramatically, and I understand the play will open in New York City at the end of this month after a very short try-out in Baltimore. It should be a stirring dramatic performance. Difficult parts, perhaps, to act, for the tendency will be not to make these people ordinary people. If that can be done, however, how very heartening it will be to all of us everywhere to see ourselves on the stage and to realize that not only great people win wars and rise to heroic moments, but you and I, the average people, play great parts and have great moments too.
Mr. and Mrs. William R. Bascom came to lunch today to bring me casts of African bronzes from Nigeria. The originals of these casts were in an exhibition brought back by Mr. Bascom from Nigeria and shown in New York City last winter.
Mr. Bascom is an expert on West Africa, having had a research fellowship in social studies among the people there. There is a great dignity about the heads which he brought me, and I know the President will be much interested in seeing them. These continents where there are natives practically untouched by our type of civilization, will become increasingly interesting to us when this war is over.