On Being “Good Danes”

During World War II John Steinbeck, one of my favorite fiction writers, wrote “The Moon is Down.” This work was so accurate to real life that real veterans of the resistance later asked Steinbeck how he, an American writer, had snuck into Denmark and snuck back out– his account so true that real veterans thought Steinbeck really witnessed it.

Steinbeck and others have argued that the Danish resistance to the Nazis hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves. Some go so far as to say the Danish Resistance was the pivotal factor that crippled the Nazi war machine, diverting resources and turning the tide in the war.

The Danes practiced sabotage, from the word “sabo” for shoe, referring to the widespread practice of throwing shoes into the machinery. At the onset of the occupation, the Nazis overestimated Danish support for the Nazi war effort and set up critical munitions factories in occupied Denmark. Big mistake.

The Danes resisted. One key component to popularizing the resistance was one particular handbill that was printed on a mimeograph machine. A nationalist appeal, the handbill was produced by the thousands and it was everywhere in occupied Denmark.

Across the top of the handbill were the words, “BE GOOD DANES.” Below that, a laundry list of things for “good Danes” to do. Chief among them, to disrupt the Nazi war effort. If you worked in the munitions factories, break the machines. If the machines were repaired, make bombs that won’t explode. Never give Nazis information. Harbor resisters. But most importantly, in the course of everyday life, seek out those millions of small ways you can disrupt the Nazi occupation and make it burdensome.

It worked. It worked fantastically.

The Nazis faced situation where they had to place soldier on every man, woman, and child in the country. So, some high-ranking Nazis went to the King of Denmark and demanded, at gunpoint, that he make radio address ordering his countrymen to cooperate with the Nazis and end the campaign of sabotage. The King of Denmark agreed. But, he said, he would have to write his own script for the radio address, arguing that his people would know if he was reading some disingenuous statement prepared for him. So the King of Denmark wrote his own radio address and got it approved by the Nazi commander.

The King of Denmark told his fellow countrymen to do as the Nazis ordered. He ended his radio address imploring every listener, above all else, to be “good Danes.”

Even the King of Denmark had seen that handbill. The Nazis had no idea what the King of Denmark had just pulled on them, that he had really inspired everyone to heighten their level of resistance, but the following day they didn’t get the compliance they expected. Instead, sabotage and disruption, sniping and ambushes were worse than ever. Widespread sabotage took down the Nazi occupation and was a decisive factor in the Nazi defeat.

I think we greatly underestimate the power of sabotage, the millions of little acts of resistance that every one of us can perform in the course of daily life, the small, low risk activities that accumulate over time, creating bottlenecks and slowdowns and disruptions in the systems of production and distribution. We underestimate our power, the power of one individual throwing a shoe into the machinery.

The Nazi munitions factory counts on all of us to do our jobs, to comply, to obey. The occupiers circle the fence line of our lives with their rifles, demanding our allegiance and cooperation. But they can’t see everything. And they can’t be everywhere.

It’s so easy to throw a shoe into the machine. And we have so many shoes. I think of the slogan of the best selling shoe: “Just do it.”

Yes. Just do it.

This is anarchist prisoner Sean Swain from somewhere inside the American torture complex. If you’re listening, BE… GOODDANES